EduTech: Minnesota’s developing education technology cluster

Yesterday I went to the EduTEch conference at St Thomas University. I took pretty Complete notes, which I’ll post below. From a broadband perspective it was interesting to hear about education technology as a growing industry in Minnesota and to hear about the role of technology in effective pedagogy.

The day included a showcase of local emerging technology companies that support education – such as KidtoPro, which develops software tools for charter schools that facilitates experiential tech learning and Zivix, which has a modified guitar that connects with your iPad as a guitar teaching tool. (Remember that for your Christmas list next year!) I have videos of the showcase presentations.

It’s exciting to think that education technology is becoming a local industry cluster. It’s an industry that’s clean, well-paying and can be done anywhere – well anywhere with broadband.

Much of the day was spent talking about the impact of technology on education. We took a look at how little the classroom has changed over time and evaluation seems to have changed even less. Someone mentioned that the idea of knowing something has become obsolete as we can now look up ready reference questions on Google – but students need to learn how to learn, how to work collaboratively and how to be entrepreneurial. We heard from seventh grade students who are going to a school (Venture Academy) that focuses on peer-directed, now-focused, performance-oriented education. It’s made a difference for each student and technology plays a role. The school uses a flipped classroom approach and students are encouraged to pursue self-directed study, which is much easier with access to technology.

I was very impressed with the school – what caught my attention (as a parent) was their Maker Shop. Kids have access to maker tools – from traditional shop tools, to a 3D printer, to Raspberry Pi and Arduino. Kids are encouraged to invent and innovate in school. The school us currently 6th and 7th grade and plans to add a year as the students age. I have a 4th grader; I’ll be revisiting Venture Academy next year!

Notes from the conference…

Dr Mark Salisbury UST (Previously at Boeing)

Technology Accelerated Learning for the Value Driven University

Our influence goes beyond our students. We have expertise  – not just content. MOOC is based on content; at UST we focus on expertise.

Technology’s role in education has to change. Right now we’re

  • Instructor directed
  • Future focused
  • Test oriented

Use Technology to Become:

  • Peer Directed
  • Now focused
  • Performance oriented

Michael Langley, Greater MSP

We need to focus on industries of the future. Innovation in Technology is one of those industries. We have a strong research, development and education areas. More importantly we are strong with the following sectors:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Health

These areas will be a mainstay for many, many years.

Industry diversity, innovation, workforce education make for strong competitor and we have these.

Jostens is the EduTech Entrepreneur/Tech Award

Vic Ahmen – from Innovation Pavillion

Education needs to change in next 5-10 years and there will be big roles for entrepreneurs.

These are big issues:

  • Education without debt
  • Tech training
  • Experiential learning
  • Life and leadership skills
  • Project based learning

These roadblocks – especially debt education – is tying up a generation. Post-graduation dent requires graduates to get jobs in corporate sector to pay down debt; working for a nonprofit is not an option.

Showcase of EduTech Tools

Note: I met the founder of Kid to Pro (Eric Nelson) at a hackathon last summer. In fact, we were on the same project team and worked on an early iteration of Kid to Pro – or at least a project that bore some resemblance to Kid to Pro. It was great to see that Eric is still working away and enthusiastic.



Creates cross pollinated conversations

Educators, parents, government leaders – go through a process to take an action. We seek to break from past habits.

Held a meeting December 3, 2013

  • We realized there was a leadership gap. We have no shared vision for education and no *one* person is working on it. It’s an opportunity for Minnevate
  • We don’t really work together and we can’t operate in silo-ed modes anymore
  • Can we transcend self-interest?
  • We are  having regional conversations


A group that is meeting regularly and has an online conversation to talk about education:

Working on a Startup Weekend EDU:

Lois E. Josefson

Changing education to fit technology – Do we run the risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater? We must find a sweet spot of passion and skill in children. If we do they will move forward on their own. We tell high school students to try everything – yet build an environment where you really need to start getting serious about things in grade school if you want to excel. We require parents to get involved.

We have an achievement gap – but mightn’t that be an experience and exposure gap. Scouting and 4H has been involved for a long time – it involves experiential and parental involvement.

We don’t have enough bodies to serve youth and elders. We need to find a way to get away from 1-to1 support.

In school I didn’t know what I was supposed to learn in a grade. As a parent, I didn’t know what my kids should learn. The teachers knew it. It would be useful to know as a parent or student the goals for a school year.

Venture Academy Case Study

New public charter school – near the U of M. More than half of the students are from low-income households. Got an award from Bill Gates Foundation. Mission is to ignite passion to become entrepreneurial leaders who change the world. By middle and high school, most kids are bored and/or struggling with school.

How do we change education?

  • Personalize Learning
  • Digital Learning
  • Talented Teachers

From the 7th Grade Students

  • Was a C-D students. The teachers focused on the kids who knew what was going on. SO the rest of us didn’t pay much attention
  • Everyone had to go at the same pace – whether student has learned material or not
  • Lots of drama and not very secure

At Venture

  • Teachers work 1-on1
  • Teacher work with students and they
  • Great diversity
  • Kids work on the projects that interest them
  • Digital programs teach you how to do it (such as Khan Academy)
  • Work at your own pace – learn to make and keep promises to yourself

What does a day look like

  • Meet up and shout out what they’ve done
  • Pledge
  • Re-gather in class
  • There are electives and required classes
  • Small classes
  • Kids get 1-on-1 time when they need it and students help other students. (Called pull-outs)
  • Get homework every day


  • We use the maker space to help kids learn how to use tool (from Raspberry Pi to hand tools)
  • It’s an opportunity to create and invent

Big Lessons

  • We need much better adult learning – we needed more time for adults to prepare

Cristabol Cobo

  1. Education needs to be 100% blended – moving toward combination of approaches
  2. There’s no correlation between the kind of technology adopted and the learning outcomes
  3. Digital maturity doesn’t mean to be always online
  4. Democratization of knowledge occurs through digital media. The teacher is not the only one who defines what knowledge is
  5. 21st Century skills:
    1. Ways of thinking
    2. Ways of working
    3. Tools for working
    4. & Living in the world.
  6. New ways of accreditation have emerged and exist

2 thoughts on “EduTech: Minnesota’s developing education technology cluster

  1. Ann: Sorry I missed you at Edutech. It was a good day. Thanks for giving attention to edtech. Hope to see you at the next Educelerate meeting April 16. And we’re looking for volunteers to help with serving food to the students during Startup Weekend Edu at the Carlson School. Larry Werner, Whitewater Learning

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