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Follow Up Five: Q&A With Eric Nelson of Fanschool


Eric Nelson

With the news of three Minneapolis EdTech companies joining forces this week, we caught up with Eric Nelson (the founder of Fanschool and now focusing on strategic partnerships with school districts and non-profit organizations in the newly rebranded Fanschool) for a quick chat about education, grades, and — of course — Sesame Street. You mentioned some “big news” when we talked last summer. This seems like it! How long have these plans been in the works and how did you connect with the Kidblog and InsertLearning teams?

Eric Nelson: I’d love to say “decades” with a nod to school-based entrepreneurs talking to each other everywhere, but it’s been about a school year since we all started working together in earnest. Thanks for publishing our first lines of code together, the teacher Wall of Fame in May! Talk us through aligning on a new — or maybe just refined? — vision for the new Fanschool. How does having all three companies under one “roof” change how you can achieve that vision?

Eric Nelson: While I was creating fantasy sports-like games for student-players from my classroom, the Kidblog team was turning students into owners of learning in real life through publishing, and InsertLearning was adding a coaching layer on top of all the real-world content online. We were immediately all fans of simply bringing the best players, coaches, and owners around school under one roof, especially to (as the kids used to say) “raise the roof” on what school can be. In clearer words: It made total sense that Play, Publishing, and People should revolve around a Student’s owned lifelong learning profile. Education and schooling has been a rollercoaster during the pandemic. As a former teacher, what are your thoughts on how things have been handled? How do you think remote learning can be refined going forward? And what role does Fanschool play in that?

Eric Nelson: I kind of think “distance learning” was a dumb marketing phrase. Students should be closer to their learning than ever before these days! But the story in the end is that it unfortunately took a pandemic to show us all that, “There’s no place like school.” I had also learned as a teacher and a founder that I couldn’t do it that well alone, and that no homeschool/microschool/privateschool/charterschool/publicschool really figured it out until they got everyone involved in giving students space to come to power and elevating teachers and parents do the real work. Admins also need to get better at paying for things their learning cultures need: Recycle your fax machines, people! You mentioned the need for a “growth book” — not another grade book. Can you elaborate on that concept a little more?

Eric Nelson: Yeah, we’re coming for Powerschool, to flip the entire power model at school 🙂 But seriously, there’s two C’s in Success and grades just sort kids, not grow them. As educators and lifelong learners, we see better ways and are now building spaces online where students can showcase their own “invisible learning” in much more powerful ways, with parents and with teachers, so that admins and organizations can elevate and amplify their work in smarter, safer, and more social ways. Lastly, a bit of a light-hearted outro. What’s the single greatest education TV show ever created and why is it Sesame Street?        

Eric Nelson: Like the real purpose of school, this is an undisputed and undefeated opinion 🏆. Let’s play!

Alex Skjong
Alex oversees the content produced for BETA, Twin Cities Startup Week, and When he’s not writing or editing, there’s a good chance he’s enjoying a refreshing brew and explaining the merits of heavy metal (of which there are many).