Edutech Showcase and Forum enlightens Minnesota


A sizable group of individuals concerned with knowledge, learning and technology convened at the University of Minnesota McNamara Alumni Center yesterday for the second annual Edutech 2012 Showcase and Forum.
Jam-packed with relevant content for teachers, entrepreneurs, investors and various champions of education from across Minnesota, the mission was to “Foster the awareness, growth, and continuing success of early-stage EduTech companies, expanding the connection between EduTech market participants, and strengthening our leadership in education innovation across the globe.”

While there could have been a stronger emphasis on the early stage companies themselves (deeper dive, panel session, earlier vs. later in the day, etc.), the program is the only one of its kind that offers a platform for Minnesota entrepreneurs operating exclusively the edutech domain.

Spearheaded by TiE Minnesota and the University of Minnesota CEHD, together with a cohort of volunteers, the gathering represents one of the more meaningful annual technology events to occur in Minnesota given the nature of impact. Few applications of technology are as timely and critically important as that of education, particularly in K-12.

Charles Miller
Charles Miller delivered an opening keynote “Transforming Learning through Design,” sharing select initiatives from inside what is one of the U of M’s best kept secrets — the  LT Media Lab.
AvenueASL, he says, has grown to over 60,000 users and 4 million video tasks from some 30,000 student users while Flipgrid is about to launch and there’s also a partnership in the works with EMC Publishing.

Tech entrepreneur Carter Tatge gave a presentation about video games as learning tools and ‘making STEM cool.’  He made no public mention at this time of the fact that his startup STEM Fuse had actually moved out of state due, in part, to the fact that Minneapolis Public Schools was unwilling to consider using his software for free to increase STEM education across the seven high schools within the district. What a disappointment.

Chad Dorsey, President and CEO of The Concord Consortium in Massachusetts, spoke towards “Realizing the Promise of Educational Technology.” As a physicist turned educator with a passion for technology integration, it was nice to see the event draw on the perspective of an outsider from the east coast who also happened to be a St. Olaf graduate.

KidWind Project followed Dorsey as CEO Michael Arquin provided an enthusiastic overview of how their mini wind turbine kits are being used by classrooms across the country to increase awareness of alternative energy.

Next, back-to-back panel sessions offered unique perspectives on how technology is impacting the lives of students. Educators, faculty and administrators from Byron, Minnesota shared their thoughts and lessons learned integrating iPads and using mobile applications with students.  Naiku co founder Adisack Nhouyvanisvong and Early Learning Labs co founder Scott McConnell discussed how assessment and similar learning technologies can methodically improve instruction.

John MoravecJohn Moravec provided the freshest take of the day on ‘edutech’s big picture’ through his “Noble quest for edutech in Knowmad society” luncheon keynote. A local author and director of The Invisible Learning project, Moravec explained how society is transforming from an era of “packaged brains” to the knowledge society.

“3.0 schools aren’t being built with software or hardware, but mindware,” he said in regards to the future of design learning. “We cannot expect the University of Minnesota — or any traditional institution for that matter — to lead this transformation,” he boldly declared.

Equally thought provoking was the “engaged discussion” led by renowned tech executive Phil Soran who sold Compellent to Dell for nearly a billion dollars last year. Soran candidly described how his personal and philanthropic objectives moving forward would be focused on education reform, beginning here in Minnesota, where “the achievement gap between students of color and caucasian is amongst the worst in the nation.”

Phil SoranAlso participating in Soran’s moderated session was Eden Prairie ISD Superintendent Curt Tryggestad and serial entrepreneur Dale LaFrenz whose latest e-learning pursuit, RE@L, is so ambitious it didn’t appear that anyone really knew what it was exactly — although it most certainly involved apps and tablets.

“GO BIG OR GO HOME!” LaFrenz bombastically exclaimed, invoking a mixture of fear and laughter from the otherwise relaxed crowd.

LaFrenz’s energy, however, was well timed as a line-up of showcasing companies would soon take stage in sequential format to pitch their respective initiatives. Unfortunately for them, much of the audience had checked-out by the time they had their moment to shine.

Charlie KratschBut at least one notable figure deemed this aspect of the event to be worthwhile to stay for. Infinite Campus CEO and Ernst & Young Upper Midwest Entrepreneur of the Year Charlie Kratsch “loved the energy and purpose” on display.

“This…” he said with an ear to ear smile, “Is what it’s all about.” Indeed it is.

And with the 2012 Edutech Showcase and Forum now behind us comes the renewed promise of a better tomorrow.