It does’t get dark until after 10:00pm EST, on the eastern coast of Lake Michigan. For most, summer is time off, a chance to relax and unwind. But for some, especially EdTech companies looking to make a real impact in student learning, summer is time on. And for me, having just returned from an energizing week with Village Capital Education US 2016 (#VilCapEdUS) in Chicago, I was ready to get to work.
#VilCapEdUS exists to help EdTech startups refine and grow their impact, and the companies accepted into the program are doing incredibly important work. Some are building technology platforms to boost student learning in unique ways (Centric Learning HERO, Comprendio, Nepris). Others are working to revolutionize hiring and work (LaborX, Pairin, Skill Scout). Some are focusing on key elements of higher education (College Ease, Paragon One, Yenko). And others are focused on specific populations, like underserved and underrepresented youth (Couragion) and special education students (Education Modified).
Learning about these companies got me thinking: what lessons can students take from EdTech startups? I’ve learned the most when the experience was built around a relationship, when both the educator and I approach the work together, learning from one another. At Story2, we’re always constantly learning how to best serve students. In this spirit, #VillCapEdUS made me wonder: how do the journeys and challenges of young, innovative companies translate to students?
Watching the sunset in Manistee, Michigan, I reflected on what was common across the EdTech startups and why it matters for students.
As startup companies, we sought general learning -- about investing and hiring, metrics and sales. The companies all came to the workshop with varying strengths and needs, and we appreciated the chance to learn more about education, startups, and impact.
For students, I think that reading and consuming ideas widely helps provide context for school, work, and life. Having a general sense of world events, technology, local politics, pop culture, psychology, etc., enables students to navigate diverse environments and approach challenges from a variety of perspectives.
As startup companies, we also wantedspecific learning that we could apply immediately to our companies. Some companies had particular questions about technology, staffing, investor discovery, or their value proposition, and they came to this workshop in search of strategies for those particular concerns.
I’ve experienced that diving deeply into a particular area allows students to develop expertise and a robust understanding of that area. Students are then able to advance their understanding or apply it more creatively and effectively, in assignments and projects.
In terms of connection, as startups, we sought to establish peer relationships -- to connect with the other companies as colleagues and to build potential partnerships and friendships. The range of perspectives and experiences among the other companies was wide, and we all had much to share with and learn from one another.
I’ve seen that students are wise to build relationships with their classmates, peers, and teachers. Students are likely to encounter similar experiences and will be able to rely on one another for advice, opportunities, and support, throughout their careers and lives.
And, lastly, as startups, we wanted to forge mentor relationshipswith the myriad industry professionals and investors that Village Capital invited to help, guide, and advise. People like Jeff Livingston, Rayna Yaker, David Cumberbatch, Kathy Benemann, and more, asked us tough questions and challenged us think bigger, better, bolder.
For students, I think that seeking relationships with established experts or authorities in fields they care about is an adaptive strategy. I’ve found that experienced students and professionals are always looking for sharp up-and-comers, plus what and how much they can learn benefits as well.
As part of the team at Story2, I learned a lot about business strategy, EdTech, and being a better professional. I also made great connections with peers and experienced startup leaders. As we continue to work to provide students with the learning experiences that will help them solve problems and pursue their vision of themselves and their communities, we need to be continuously learning from their experience, in and out of the classroom. Likewise, VilCapEdUS made me realize that students can take from how we’re designing how we learn too.
Michael Crawford is a Learning, Innovation, and Social Impact Strategist. He's also a PhD Candidate in educational psychology, specializing in adolescent development and non-formal learning environments.