Wednesday, October 17, 2012

We Already Have the Platform: It's the Classroom

It is an exciting time in education technology. I see announcements for new ed-tech startups every week. Most of them have clever names, most of them have slick websites, and most of them are worthless.

And that is because most tech startups in education are platforms: they gather course material from others and deliver it to the individual or the classroom. Making platforms is easy because you write the code and wait for others to fill your library with content and wait for customers to flock to your site. The problem is that we don't need any of them because the classroom is the original platform and still the best.

Though some of these course delivery sites are great for adult learners who want to take a Stanford computer science course from home, we at Clickademics care about students K-college. These kids don't want to watch a professor online to improve their mind, they just want to pass math class. The best person to recommend educational material is the teacher who knows the student's ability and the requirements of the class. The teacher can recommend online material faster and better than any algorithm.

The other problem with online platforms is that there just isn't enough quality content. If you ever browse the course offerings of these platforms, you see the same things:
  • Slideshows made ten years ago, mostly with text. It's basically a textbook in Powerpoint.
  • Upper-division university courses where a professor parked a handycam in the back of the classroom.
  • How-to videos that help you learn to cook or care for your parrot.
You know what is sorely lacking? Lessons on grammar, biology, history, study skills - topics that real students have to know for school. They are lacking because they are boring and incredibly hard to make - for most people. We love our work at Clickademics because we enjoy creating these lessons. After years in the classroom, we know how much students need help with core concepts, so we are energized to make content that students need.

Our first offering, Essay Engine, teaches students expository writing, something every student needs in almost every class. It was challenging to create since every video lesson is a mini-movie, but it solves a real world problem: how can a student get help on an essay at 9:30 the night before it's due? 

So let teachers recommend online lessons. All this education startup energy should go into building great content. Of course, the people that are best at creating content that really helps students learn - teachers.