Some thoughts on ed tech mixers and meetups

What do you call 120 ed tech innovation afficionados noisily crammed into a room at SF’s posh ROE Lounge? The Blackboard Haters Club. Okay, I’m kidding. It was really called the EduTech Mixer and Panel hosted by Technapex. On Wednesday, March 28, these afficionados came from across the Bay Area to meet, learn about ed tech innovation, share strategies, look for funding, talk education, and of course, eat and drink.

The event featured a panel of ed tech startup representatives:
Alison Johnston, Cofounder and President of InstaEDU
Farb Nivi, Founder and Chief Product Officer of Grockit
Pooja Sankar, Founder and CEO of Piazza
Rachel Thomas, Founder of Subtext

The reps responded eloquently to the panel questions, delivered by TechCrunch’s Josh Constine, and did a great job representing their companies. But the panel, like far too many panels, did little to incite disruption in the ed tech space. Now, at that standing-room-only event, I can’t imagine any way the panel could have been pushed deeper without creating grumpy ed tech people (and you won’t like us when we’re grumpy).

So we learned from the panelists about their companies, where their startup ideas came from, what helped them the most, how they engaged users, and what they have learned from their entrepreneurial experiences.  You can view the event narrative via Storify here.

Since that meetup, I have been reflecting on what would have made the meetup better. Well, logistics for one. A larger space, more seating, perhaps a cap on attendance, a better tech display. Those are things that can be easily remedied (and I expect that they will be remedied based on lessons learned from the first meetup). A more critical concern to address is the value to attendees and the opportunity for these events to catalyze educational change.

What were the goals of the meetup? To allow entrepreneurs, startup reps, journalists, and education professionals to mix and mingle? Mission accomplished. That was a success in spite of the space constraints. Was a goal to provide budding entrepreneurs with valuable insights from a panel of experts to help them grow their startups? I’ll give this a “so-so” rating. While I enjoyed learning about each of the four companies, meaningful insights were limited. That is partly because meaning is developed through interaction, discussion, delving deeper into areas of relevance. This may have been better accomplished by having each of the panelists host a seating area and allowing people to chat them up. Was a goal to allow other entrepreneurs to ask questions of the reps? Perhaps better use of Twitter would have helped. Was a goal to gather ed tech entrepreneurs and incite their creativity and leadership to disrupt education (as eloquently called for in this Education Week article)? Then we have some work to do.

I am helping to coordinate an ed tech meetup for May, so this experience has given me a lot to chew on. At first, I was thinking of asking a panel to lead discussion on the integration of formal and informal learning with ed tech. Now, I am playing with ideas that would involve adding deeper interactions to the meetup. I am thinking of giving ed tech peeps spaces for learning and making, asking ed tech companies to show attendees how their products integrate informal and formal learning, and creating room for attendees and companies to creatively engage disruptive roles. As attendees mix, mingle, and learn, they may also participate in some kind of gaming layer.

Okay, it’s fuzzy since I am still trying to put some structure to my thoughts. Maybe you can help me! Please share your ideas, reflections on Wednesday’s meetup (or other meetups), or wish lists for meetups.

I hope to see you in May!

Technapex meetup image from Michael Staton, shared via Twitter on March 28, 2012.

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