Q&A Wednesday: Shawn Rubin, CEO of Metryx

The Metryx Mobile Tracker  is a new application that gives educators an easier way to conduct formative assessments and monitor student progress on the fly.  Metryx CEO Shawn Rubin recently took the time to lend is his insights on trends, obstacles, and the future of edtech.  Check it out below.

What is the biggest trend in education technology that we should be watching?

Well, let me start by saying I’m not sure that I’d call any of the pieces I’m going to talk about as trends. I get nervous when educators speak of these things as trends. Certain tools and software themselves may be trendy, like the iPad, but the boom in the EdTech space is real and it’s real for four reasons.

The first and most important reason is that the world has changed dramatically in the past five years.

Five years ago if you rode a subway, sat in a park, or even dined in a restaurant people had their phones and their music playing devices in their pockets. As soon as the web became standard on the majority of phones that people own, these devices became a constant presence and US culture was profoundly changed.

This change has not gone unnoticed by students. They see adults attached to their phones, tablets and computers and they want in! This shift of priorities and modeling on our part has also shifted students’ expectations of what learning should be like in the classroom, “Why should I work with this pen and paper when I know that most adults are communicating by phone or computer?”

The combination of a nationwide Common Core set of standards, a boom in touch technology and mobile devices, and the onset of cloud storage are the final three coincidental rollouts that when combined caused the investment world to take a renewed interest in the EdTech market, ultimately driving innovative blends of the three.

The coalescence of these four circumstances is in no way a trend. One without the other three would still be beneficial to a classroom. However, the four combined are powerful enough to change the climate of the classroom significantly.

In my opinion the technologies to watch are the inexpensive yet flexible ones that make EdTech more accessible to the masses. Enterprise level software that promise to do everything on one platform don’t allow for enough innovation or communication with other tools. The focused, flexible, and nimble software that leverages the cloud, can be used on any device, and is built around the Common Core will be the ones that get the most classroom usage moving forward.

There are some great ones on the market today, but the truth is that any device we are talking about today will be completely irrelevant in three years time. Unless the current EdTech companies continue to innovate on the products they have they are going to find themselves quickly useless in this rapidly changing space.

What do you think are the biggest obstacles in adopting technology in the education space?

Professional development and training are by far the biggest obstacles to full-scale adoption by teachers in the EdTech space. Despite the excitement and level of activity within the national EdTech scene, the reality is that these tools and devices are only penetrating a small proportion of classrooms across the country.

Some education leaders will claim the “chicken or egg” explanation, saying, “Why would we train teachers if we don’t have the money to purchase massive amounts of hardware,” but these leaders fail to see the benefits of an iterative approach to training teachers on education technology.

Even in cash strapped districts where budgets are being slashed, the acquisition of hardware will become easier as it becomes cheaper. Students will have more access to their own devices as technology becomes more ubiquitous in daily life, and in the next 10 years 1:1 computing will become more commonplace in classrooms.

Should teachers start from scratch at that point or can we roll them into the future prepared for what is coming next?

Right now, the reality is that classroom computer penetration is limited to a motivated teacher here or a visionary principal there. Even when a district or statewide initiative gets funding it is often a challenge to fully implement because the time for training teachers on technology is not given the priority it deserves.

The professional development impediments are pervasive. Teacher training programs are slow to adapt and continue to churn out young teachers who are adept at operating their smartphones, but have little understanding of how to integrate that same phone into a blended learning classroom.

The most depressing piece of the digital divide between the EdTech pioneers and the EdTech avoiders are the children stuck in the middle. The students know which teachers in their buildings are the ones exploring and tinkering with technology and they want those teachers. Even sadder are the ones who have those teachers, but know that next year all the growth they’ve made with their blogging, video creation, or even adaptive online curriculum will disappear because they are moving to a classroom that doesn’t do these things.

Where do you see education technology going in the next 5 years?

I don’t think that anyone has a solid understanding of where EdTech is headed. There are some people who feel that automatic grading algorithms are the future. Others believe that augmented reality will transcend the limitations of our brick and mortar schools. Some feel that online or distance learning will keep improving and that this will allow for greater flexibility and engagement through personalization of instruction.

I agree that all of these will improve in five years and perhaps one of them will take the lead as the wave of the future, but what I believe even more is that education is so behind in terms of innovation and that the circumstances are so ripe for growth right now, that the next two years, let alone five years, are going to be like nothing we could even imagine and that the hardware and software that we dream about now are going to seem as antiquated as the Palm Pilot.

One hope I have for the EdTech space in five years is that it solves the data sharing issues that currently limit the tools and their impact on students. Blogger Audrey Watters has written much on this subject. She talks about the need for product APIs that allow EdTech tools to send data back and forth, ultimately allowing a student from one tech heavy school to move to another district that uses completely different systems and software without having to start that student’s digital data portfolio from scratch.

The Common Core has gone a long way towards naming the skills and concepts that we want students to have, but until we agree on a common system for labeling these outcomes we will continue to struggle to connect our tools and products in the seamless manner that they should.

It’s one thing to be able to get Student Information System data (Student name, birth date, Student ID, etc.) to talk across platforms, but it’s another thing to log into one account and see a student’s Socrative scores, Metryx data, Dibbels Data, PARCC scores, digital portfolio, blog entries, etc., all integrated into one beautiful dashboard of student information with targeted links or app suggestions that could help the teacher to better personalize instruction for each of those students.

The EdTech world needs to embrace the same national system overhauls on which the Healthcare industry is working. Right now, I’m most interested in reading and learning about Semantic Technologies as I believe these “Meaning-Centered” technologies have the ability to link more products, making principals and teachers lives easier while also increasing students’ ability to work anywhere, any time, and way they want to.

Thanks so much to Mr. Rubin for his contribution.  Check back tomorrow for an EdTech Times Startup Spotlight on Metryx.