Teacherpreneur Spotlight: Celebrating Innovative Educators

(This is the first post in a Teacherpreneur Spotlight series I’m writing for EdSurge.)

Lynbrook Tech Menu Day

Tech Menu Day at Lynbrook High School

How do you spot a teacherpreneur? They are the secret force that will lead to true educational reform, yet very little attention is paid to these important agents of change.

As we rethink the future of education much of the buzz, especially in edtech, is focused on the technology and tools. Very little of the conversation is about the individuals using these tech tools to transform this complex system. However, as we all make big bets on what is going to improve teaching and learning for all students, a significant factor will be how the role of educators will evolve and adapt to match the energy of new learning environments and methodologies.

So who are we talking about, exactly? The teachers on the front lines in the classroom who are looking for online tools to help with their math lessons? Or the tech coordinators and specialists who help decide which ones to use? Or those who, after many frustrating years in the classroom, decide to take it upon themselves to build the tools that they wish existed? And what about the librarian?

MindShift’s Tina Barseghian wrote a great post back in 2011 asking the very same question: “What the Heck is a Teacherpreneur?” Barnett Berry, who founded the Center for Teaching Quality and was one of the first to use the term “teacherpreneur,” has a book out later this summer,Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don’t Leave, that focuses specifically on identifying these talented educators and empowering them with opportunities to be entrepreneurial while maintaining a strong role in the classroom.

And over the past few years I’ve met some incredibly inspiring ones myself. This was one of the reasons that I launched TeacherSquare, to support entrepreneurial educators and improve the resources available for them to pursue innovative approaches while working within the confines of the K-12 system. There are other similar teacherpreneur communities popping up around the country–some of which you may have heard about already on EdSurge, such as the Digital Harbor Foundation in Baltimore and EdUnderground in Rhode Island (which I covered in my previous post.)

Too often the conversation around education reform focuses on all that is “broken.” But I hope to shift that conversation by celebrating positive change that local educators are cultivating in their own communities. In this series, we’ll explore profiles of teacherpreneurs who are actively taking matters into their own hands, and showcase their talents and energy to encourage others to join the mix.

Keep an eye out for our first profile in the coming weeks and maybe you’ll discover the teacherpreneur in you!

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#EdUnderground: Finding your Herd

EdUnderground_Nov2012_59

As I continue to grow the TeacherSquare community, I’ve been inspired to find other local efforts around the country that are bringing together innovative educators to deepen their knowledge and comfort with using technology to change teaching and learning. One such organization is the EdUnderground, a group of ~20 educators in Rhode Island who have come together to learn from and inspire each other. As the co-founder, Shawn Rubin describes, “we are group of wild horses looking for our herd, feeling a lack of exploration and innovation in our existing school cultures.”

Rubin, Director of Technology Integration at Highlander Institute, is exactly one of those wild horses who has always been “looking for ways to do transformative things inside and outside the classroom,” and is cultivating that spirit of tinkering through the EdUnderground community. “I see the EdUnderound as equal parts edCamp + Apple Store + Fab Lab. A space where there are crazy-inspiring tools, with a balance between being polished while still encouraging tinkering and knowledge sharing.” Through his role at the Highlander Institute, he realized he had this unique acces to hardware and software tools to stimulate that tinkering and invited 7-8 educators to join him. Fueled by some Rhode Island state grants to support PLCs (professional learning communities) this group quickly doubled and is continuing to grow, with geography playing a role in that growth as well.

Being a small state with 11k teachers and 150k students, Rubin quickly found there were lots of ways educators were experimenting with different tools and strategies in a very small geographic area. In addition, Rubin shares that being “uniquely positioned between New York and Boston, we serve as a testing ground for those edtech ecosystems who are all incredibly interested and eager to get access to this engaged group of RI teachers.”

EdUnderground session

The group currently hosts regular meetups and workshops to share best practices and experiment with various edtech tools. Up next, Shawn is working on building a lending library of hardware and software for teachers to bring these blended learning experiments back to their schools. Shawn and his team were also just awarded a significant grant to build a Blended Learning Institute (as part of Highlander Institute) to showcase blended learning(BL) in action and create a space for educators to explore various BL methods.

As TeacherSquare evolves, I have been looking to connect our community with others, like the EdUnderground, to create a national network of entrepreneurial educators to continue their edtech explorations together through on and offline interactions. If you’re interested in getting involved or starting a similar group in your community, please feel free to reach out to Shawn (srubin@highlanderinstitute.org) or me (jasmit@gmail.com.)

Connecting Silicon Valley and the Ivory Tower

Since 2005 Columbia University’s Teachers College has been quietly developing their EdLab which internally incubates some promising ideas and in their words, “engages in work that has the potential to contribute to the improvement of educational institutions today and the broader evolution and reconfiguration of future educational services.”

One of their projects that recently caught my attention is ResearchBroker, a tool to connect startups to skilled researchers who are passionate about validating new ideas in industry. While these efforts can be applied to multiple verticals, I think the edtech implications are extremely exciting. (Perhaps because I’m always drawn to efforts that bring together edtech founders with education practitioners in hopes that this exchange will lead to better product development and implementation.) In case you missed it, EdSurge just wrote their own profile on the product and team.

I recently spoke with Megha Agarwala and Janice Joo, Innovation Fellows at EdLab who created this tool, to learn more about their progress & vision and help engage users in the Bay Area.

What problem is ResearchBroker trying to address?

A number of educational startups are looking for researchers who can help validate product ideas and determine the effectiveness of their product for different users, including instructors, students and program administrators. The startups need researchers to identify metrics to track and collect data, design and conduct studies, analyze data and also potentially publish the results within their community.  

On the other side are Doctoral and Masters degree researchers who are looking for real-world projects where they can gain valuable experience collecting and analyzing data and also use that experience towards their academic pursuits. ResearchBroker is a free platform that has been designed to connect these two parties. Instead of waiting for introductions, startups can directly connect with researchers by creating their research projects on ResearchBroker.

ResearchBrokerHomepage

What has been the response from early users? What are you looking for from your next set of users?

So far, users on ResearchBroker are educational startups in New York City and researchers at Teachers College Columbia University. Startups have shown a commitment to using the ResearchBroker platform to define their projects and bring a researcher onto their team. EdLab has been offering guidance to startups on how to define their research questions, and will create learning resources to help startups leverage existing research.
Because EdLab is uniquely positioned within Teachers College, we have been able to plug startups into a network of researchers. We were able to connect the founders of the language learning platform, Instreamia to a researcher and they are already discussing their research direction.
 
Moving forward, we would like to expand beyond the New York City tri-state area to include Silicon Valley educational startups and researchers at schools beyond Teachers College.  We would also like to organize events to bring researchers, startups, teachers and learners together to brainstorm and solve research problems and share their work.

How can people learn more or share feedback?

Please feel free to contact us directly at researchbroker@tc.columbia.edu if you have any further questions.