From today's NY Times we learn:
Piazza, the Italian term for a public square, is part of a growing group of technology start-ups hoping to disrupt the education market. Its peers include Kno and Inkling, two platforms for interactive, digital textbooks. The trend has also given birth to its own Silicon Valley-based incubator, Imagine K12, which announced its first batch of investments in June.
“Education is a big focus area for us. You’re going to see big fundamental shifts in the way education is performed,” said Aydin Senkut, an investor in Piazza who made his fortune as an early Google employee. “With Piazza, it’s about turning data into actionable intelligence. We want to empower people to ask and answer questions, and we’re going to measure every aspect of it.”
It's been a while since there were buckets of cash in Silicon Valley for education technology for schools. What gives?
In part, the tools have advanced a long ways. We're far, far away from multimedia CDs (which were generally built for consumers, or the kids of consumers, and were then marketed to schools). Social-networking tools in combination with online databases and boatloads of free content have changed the way teachers think about technology. (They still _might_ think that it's a better resource for them than it is for their students, but they are damn sure that it's important for them.)
As important, the topography of tech in education has radically changed in higher education. Ten years ago, professors were unclear about how to incorporate new tools into teaching. Today there is much more widespread adoption and experimentation.
So. Last time I was around a bunch of Silicon Valley cash for ed-tech, I observed some pretty miserable, non-student-centered innovations. PLATO and its offshoots (WASATCH or SASQUATCH or SOMETHING, if I recall correctly). Using algorithms to deliver remediation to kids automatically, based on their quiz results. Large-scale teacher-replacement tools. With funds shifting to Voyager and other companies making high-end (and costly) multimedia content to be delivered via videodisc and CD. Again, wildly inappropriate for K12 schools.
The emergence of the internet as a key factor in the development and use of technology -- I don't have numbers or comparable numbers to back this up -- started to constrict spending on ed-tech. (We are perhaps talking 1999 to 2000 and with a follow-on drop after the internet bubble burst in 2001.) The internet makes things cheap, more user-centered, more collaborative. Sites like BigChalk were providing content and professional development, but they lagged in terms of social features, which were emerging, and they had lousy revenue models.
It'll be interesting to see where these new pots of cash show up, and how much difference they really make in schooling.