First ed-invent for 2015

I will be running the first ed-invent of 2015 at Magna Academy School in Poole on Feb. 9th. This will be a sort of INSET day for a small group drawn from the senior management teams across the Aspirations Academy Trust.

I spent a few hours at Magna last week and wasn’t surprised when one of the students I spoke with said that she really liked software like ShowMyHomework , but that ‘I have to log in from home to see what my homework is because the school network is too slow’.

Magna’s a new build BSF school with loads of computers, whiteboards and edtech ‘stuff’, but without some serious improvements to its network this big investment in edtech won’t help drive improved learning outcomes. This isn’t a problem unique to the UK; a survey of US schools showed up to 80% lack bandwidth to support rich media and even worse the cost they pay per MB of data varied from £26.50 to just £0.16!

ed-invent @ St John’s Brighton

Dan Axson and Rachel Jones organised the first ever alumni-led ed-invent, which was held on a beautiful sunny Saturday at St John’s in Brighton.

One of the aims of ed-invent was to extend our reach by allowing anyone who had attended to run an event. Dan and Rachel (both previous ed-invent finalists), did an amazing job of coordinating the first ever alumni-led event. They organised everything from the venue to content, food and prizes. However they were also support by long-time ed-invent supporters, Paul Hutson and Mathieu Triay of Night Zookeeper.

On the previous Thursday evening I had met with Dan, Mat and Paul at the Night Zookeeper party at Wayra, where I gave them some ed-invent posters and tee-shirts. My plan was to travel down and back to Brighton by train without any bags, however being so inept at using The Trainline’s online booking system I ended up buying the wrong tickets and in the end it was cheaper and quicker to drive.

It was a great ed-invent and congratulations to all who participated, especially the winner Eylan Ezekiel as well as to our indefatigable supporters Maria Brosnan, Anna Pedroza, Kriss Baird, Oliver Quinlan and the winner of the first ed-invent final Derek Croghan.

For a more literate report about the day check out the Night Zoo Teacher blog.

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StartUp Weekend EDU Cambridge May 2014

The third StartUp Weekend EDU was held on the May bank holiday weekend at the Judge Business School, Cambridge University, 16 months since the last event and the first to be held outside London.

Unlike the last event at Google in January 2013, I had nothing to do with the organization and instead volunteered as a coach for Saturday afternoon.

The Judge Business School is a 20 minute walk from the station and when I arrived I was overwhelmed by the architecture, which looks like a homage to Escher, with multiple staircases stretching up several floors.

My first few teams all had interesting ideas and came from very different backgrounds. The next two (Campus Motion and Chameleon) failed to show and I wasted an hour trying to find out if it was I or they who were in the wrong place, or if as I suspected they had just not bothered to come along. Unfortunately it was the latter.

At 6pm it was beer and pizza time and I spent the next hour chatting to the first team I had met. They were a terrific young group, full of ideas, enthusiasm and a real desire to do things in education. Sure they have loads to learn but this was a great first step and of the four teams I met, they had the number two idea but the greatest energy (something that counts for a lot at a 54-hour marathon like StartUp Weekend).

Two things stuck out as I thought about the afternoon on the train back to Kings Cross:

  1. There were almost no actual educators or at least practising ones, in any of the teams I met. This is a perennial problem and while ed-invent is trying to help change this, there is still quite a way to go
  2. Coaches all give different advice but I’m not sure they get it right when it comes to pitching. Having sat through all the ed-invent pitches, a 30-team edtech speed dating event and several incubator demo days, I really think you should at least try to pitch as a team.
    In this I seem a lone voice but single presenters for larger teams really seem to lack something. I saw this most starkly in the fantastic full team pitches at Thomas’s School. The worst I see are at demo days where the program and particularly the ‘expert’ pitch coaches advocate using one or two presenters and dumbing everything down so a 12 year-old can ‘get it’. What infuriates me with this anti-intellectual, anodyne approach is the final pitch which should be the team’s best ever is almost always far worse, lacking the spark and authenticity that got them chosen in the first place!

Finally, I said to every team that their pitch had to be as much about the theatricality of the delivery (it’s a performance) as it is about their idea and the substance of their work over the previous 54 hours. I always they have to ‘sell the sizzle and the sausage’ but this old Australian adage about selling seems to get lost in translation.

From what I saw the team of organisers have done a great job and this will be another great StartUp Weekend EDU. I hope that ed-invent can also work with the Judge Business School as I really want Cambridge to be not just the home of UK science but also of edtech.

StartUp Weekend EDU Cambridge 24 May 2014

Organising and running StartUp Weekend EDU London 2013 was where the idea for ed-invent started.

In a weeks time there is another StartUp Weekend EDU taking place in Cambridge.

Anyone with an interest in edtech should consider going and that’s not just educators but also people with dev experience  (app, front and back-end etc) as well as those from design, research and similar sectors.

If there are any tickets left you may be able to get a discount at

They have some great coaches including LEGup’s Kirsten Campbell-Howes and Charlie Harrington of Knewton (who were mentors at the ed-invent finals).

It will be a great event and we may even see you there!

Our first INSET at Thomas’s Kensington

Last year I met Jo Ebner, Headteacher at <strong><span style=”color: #3366ff;”><a title=”Thomas’s Kensington” href=”” target=”_blank”><span style=”color: #3366ff;”>Thomas’s Kensington</span></a></span></strong>, one of the four schools in the <strong><span style=”color: #3366ff;”><a title=”Thomas’s London Day Schools” href=”” target=”_blank”><span style=”color: #3366ff;”>Thomas’s of London Day School</span></a></span></strong> group. Jo explained some of the concerns she had about staff engagement relating to a new edtech investment program the school was undertaking. When I explained what ed-invent was about, she asked whether it might be possible to run one as an INSET day for 50 of her staff. I immediately said yes but on the way home reflected that we had never run an ed-invent as an INSET, nor for a group of teachers from a single school. The date Jo chose was just a week after the ed-invent finals.

Arriving at the correct Thomas’s Kensington was a challenge as they have three campuses all within about 300m. I set up my computer in the small auditorium and jumped right in. It was odd to be looking at 50 faces who had no idea what to expect. To get things going I showed them a piece of wire. If anyone could tell me what it might mean in the context of ed-invent in 60 seconds then they would win £100 in cash. This caught them unawares. Even the speediest smartphone and tablet users couldn’t find the answer in time (the answer was in one of the ed-invent case studies).

The morning session ran swiftly and luckily this meant we had more time before lunch to hear the teachers ideas of edtech products and services. Within minutes Paul Hutson, from <strong><span style=”color: #3366ff;”><a title=”Night Zookeeper” href=”” target=”_blank”><span style=”color: #3366ff;”>Night Zookeeper</span></a></span></strong>, who was typing the ideas into an onscreen document, was being swept away by a tsunami of 27 concepts that ranged from a PE video-based movement assessment tool, a peer observation PD system, a security app to coordinate real-time information on all students, teachers, staff and visitors across the schools campuses to a specialised e-portfolio system to help manage school admissions and transfers in the independent sector. Before lunch the teachers formed into 13 x 4 teams and work started immediately (helped by a terrific meal with wine – a first for ed-invent).

Helping the teams during the afternoon proved tricky as Paul and I had to track them down in the rabbit warren of rooms (from basements to attic) in the Victorian houses that make up two campuses. At 3pm we were back in the auditorium and straight into the three-minute pitches. However, this was where we saw not just the performing arts ethos of the school but also an insight into the culture that Jo and her team have built at Thomas’s.

Each group presented as a team (previously teams may have left it to one or two people to pitch) and tried to outdo each other with the theatricality of their pitch with singing, comedy, farce and even some pathos (normally when the team ran out of time). For the first time at an ed-invent, I wished the parents and students could have been in the audience to see the creativity and breadth of ideas their teachers really have.

As with any ed-invent there was only one winner and that was <i>Thomas’s Toolkit</i>, whose idea was for an independent school version loosely based on <strong><span style=”color: #3366ff;”><a title=”Teachers pay Teachers” href=”” target=”_blank”><span style=”color: #3366ff;”>Teachers Pay Teachers</span></a></span></strong>. They proposed that Thomas’s teachers would provide the core material but that other teachers and schools from the sector could also sell their material. Income was seen as coming from content sales, licensing (the system) and events. The judges thought the team’s idea met a real need, leveraged the intellectual property that Thomas’s (and all schools) create on a daily basis and also had several potential revenue steams. The winners received four iPads (provided by Thomas’s) with ed-invent supporter <strong><span style=”color: #3366ff;”><a title=”Touch Press” href=”” target=”_blank”><span style=”color: #3366ff;”>Touch Press</span></a></span></strong> providing free copies of their award winning-apps.

By 4PM Paul and I were dragging ourselves to Kensington tube, but Jo and her teachers were still hard at work getting ready for the new term.

It was a great day and while there is always room for improvement, ed-invent can be a very worthwhile INSET for any school.

Dan Axon’s thoughts about ed-invent

Dan and John were ed-invent’s hardest workers; they found a BEHAG and went for it. In Brighton they were just pipped by Jane Waite and Derek Croghan, but reapplied and won a place at the finals via Virtual ed-invent, with an updated version of their procurement idea.

We can’t wait to see what they do after their internship with Night Zookeeper and possible application to the TSB Learning Technologies Design Competition.

He are Dan’s thoughts about ed-invent.

Martyn Coleman’s experience at ed-invent

I work for KGV College in Southport which is a beacon 6<sup>th</sup> form college. I am the Director of IT and have been for the last 8 years. I have taught a little whilst at KGV, but I was the only finalist who wasn’t a teacher by trade.

I only learned of the existence of ed-Invent shortly before the Manchester heats. I was alerted to it by William Jenkins from @TechStories who I had been talking to about education startups. I had already dipped my toe in the water by making and selling an exam product to schools and colleges which surprisingly had been successful enough to pay for a family holiday for the last 3 years. Even though it was a very small-scale operation, it had been a real buzz to have created something from scratch, spend very little money on it and have it in use in 300+ schools and colleges. I was keen to do it again.

I arrived at The Monastery in Manchester with no real idea about what the day would bring. I hadn’t arrived with any ideas (I wasn’t sure whether I needed to) and I was hoping for inspiration! Fortunately Richard was listing some areas to consider, mentioned video and I thought of the problem I faced with my college PE department filling my storage with HD videos of BTEC students playing sport. I started thinking about it and came up with an idea which I called Cold Storage. I had the chance to do a little internet research and couldn’t find an equivalent service.

I really am not the most comfortable of presenters, but I must have been fairly convincing as I was chosen as the winner. Clips of my presentation were uploaded on to the ed-Invent website and they made me cringe. Lots of fiddling with the wedding ring and looking nervous, plenty of room for improvement!

In between the heats and the final I discovered that both Amazon and Google had low-priced products very similar to the concept I had pitched. Initially this was very deflating, but then I took another look at the idea, reworked it and found I could provide a better solution for education. Then it was just a case of waiting for the big weekend.

Once again, it was an event where I didn’t really know what to expect. We all met up over dinner on the Friday night and details started to emerge. The aim of the weekend was to pitch your idea to a small panel of judges on the Sunday afternoon. The pitch was a mere 3 minutes and I was concerned that 1½ days to prepare seemed like overkill. I had arrived with quite detailed costings which I quickly realised were not what was required. It was more about getting your idea over quickly and concisely whilst demonstrating your passion and commitment to the idea.

I shouldn’t have worried about the timing as I needed every minute of that 1½ days! Saturday and Sunday consisted of spending short amount of times with a procession of talented and enthusiastic mentors. My experience was that every mentor I spoke to added something to the mix and pushed me ever closer to the finished presentation.

As the time to pitch grew closer, it was time to rehearse. I was either just presenting to myself and the stopwatch on my mobile phone or to a mentor. I must have practised it 50 times. I had decided to have a single PowerPoint slide as a backdrop to my presentation with key points fading in and out and I would present close to the judges referring to a flipchart twice during the presentation. Disappointingly, I did not feel confident enough to present without the use of notes. I had a lot of information to get across in 3 minutes and I was worried about corpsing and missing out vital info that would mean the whole presentation would not make sense. I was very confident about my idea and the written material I had created, but felt the weak link in the chain was me!

I was 2<sup>nd</sup> on and, thanks to the 50 rehearsals, the presentation went without a hitch and to time. I was able to field the judges’ questions and my feeling was that they ‘got’ the idea and saw the potential. This was testament to the work of the mentors as I normally had to explain the idea twice before it was fully understood and the mentors’ suggestions helped me clarify the message and trim it to fit inside 3 minutes.

As I sat down to watch the rest of the presentations, I felt very calm. It was clear that everyone’s presentations were going to be very high quality, but it didn’t matter at that stage. My feelings were that it had gone as well as it could have and no matter what happened next, I could leave feeling satisfied with my own performance. I had already decided that I was going to proceed with the idea.

After the judges had deliberated, they chose a deserved winner in Derek who delivered a brilliant pitch on an innovative fitness app. I was lucky enough to be named runner up and received the £1000 prize. I can honestly say that the money was the least valuable thing that I took away from the weekend, but on the flip side, it was much easier to come home after abandoning the family for 3 days with something to show for it!

Synopsis of the finals

48 hours can be a long time in edtech.

The ed-invent advance team gathered early on Friday afternoon to triple check the arrangements for the finalists and mentors over the next 54 hours.

Our venue, The Belfry sat amid a modern extension of the old Cambridgeshire town of Cambourne.

To make the hotel conference room feel a bit more “tech” we raided the St Neot’s Tesco, for flowers (from their extensive Mother’s Day Collection), sweets and treats. Unlike the John Lewis and PC World stores I had visited in London, Tesco had a well-stocked IT section with helpful staff. So to our trollies we added an iPad and keyboard, Hudl and other fun tech products.

The return journey from Cambourne to Cambridge (16 miles) to pick up some mentors and finalists took over two hours crawling through local peak hour traffic. Things looked better on Sunday, until planned engineering works meant rail replacement buses and missed connections. The BBC has recently described Cambridge as the ‘new Silicon Valley’, but without better roads and transport infrastructure, California needn’t worry.

By 7pm almost everyone had arrived and after introductions and a briefing about the structure of the weekend we headed into dinner. The food was good, but after demanding a detailed spreadsheet of all 33 people and their menu choices two weeks before the event, the Belfry’s kitchen was still unable to get it right. There was a similar shambles on Saturday and I was left wondering whether the local catering colleges were subconsciously channelling Fawlty Towers.

Post dinner we repaired to the conference room for more introductions and preliminary chats about the finalists’ ideas before heading to bed for an early start.

Saturday wasn’t one many finalists will forget. Usually they are the ones controlling the learning, but this time they had 15 mentors challenging their ideas from the Why? What? and How? to tech development, procurement, distribution, legal issues, measurement and a million other things. No finalists got exactly the same advice and the mentors were forced to switch finalists several times during the day. The day saw every finalist well outside their comfort zone.

As a change of focus before lunch, Josh Davison of Night Zookeeper and Ben Barton of Zondle gave master classes in pitching edtech ideas using the pitches they had recently been giving to investors. This gave the finalists fantastic examples of how they would have to sell their ideas to the judges on Sunday. Next came Kriss Baird of the Technology Strategy Board and unexpectedly announced TSB’s new £1.1m fund for innovative edtech ideas, which created quite a buzz amongst both the mentors and finalists.

Lunch was a pit stop to refuel bodies and minds in preparation for the afternoon work where the mentors and support team started to shift the focus to helping the finalists start rebuilding their ideas and draft pitches. At 4pm I exiled the mentors to a pre-dinner break to give the finalists some quite time. They looked frazzled, perhaps unsurprisingly, given that none (with one exception) had ever participated in a 54-hour tech weekend. We had deliberately chosen this format as the original idea for ed-invent came out of StartUp Weekend EDU. All of our mentors had been through similar events ranging from StartUp Weekend and hackathons to every variety of tech and edtech event in-between. Several mentors, including Ben Barton, Simon Walsh, Maria Brosnan and Kirsten Campbell-Howes, had to depart to fulfill family and business commitments, but their help had been invaluable and made a substantive difference to all the finalists.

At dinner most finalists and mentors were pretty exhausted but I was stunned to silence when one said to me, ‘As an educator I never thought I would have the opportunity to do something like this. It’s harder than university and has made be refocus on what it’s like to be a student learning a huge amount of new and often complex information’.

This made me quite proud because while we had a clear view of what we wanted ed-invent to deliver, I had forgotten just how much of a risk our participants had taken by participating in a new and untested edtech program. Several had been unable to get permission from their SMT and had taken an annual leave day.

Sunday was a beautiful early summer’s day. The first new mentor to arrive was Jenny Cook of Oddizzi, our guest judge. She was soon followed by Josh Perry of ARK Schools and Alex Goodenough from Big Society Capital.

Our finalists now had just three hours to recheck their ideas and to hone, or in one or two cases, start writing their pitches. Tension were high and the mentors not only facilitated, they also did a terrific job helping a few finalists who were wobbling after 50 hours of almost non-stop stress.

Our judges were:

  • Simon Lebus, Executive Chairman, Cambridge Assessment
  • Mark Dawe CEO, OCR
  • Alison Pearce, Curriculum Leader for ICT and Computing, OCR
  • Jenny Cook, CEO, Oddizzi.

Several people wanted to know why I wasn’t judging and my answer was that after running most of ed-invent and having worked with all the finalists, I wasn’t sure that I could be entirely objective.

Finalists had just three minutes to make their pitch followed by two minutes of questions from the judges. I was the timekeeper and anyone who went over was cut off by the throwing of a large rubber snake.

Of course nothing goes entirely to plan and with 10 minutes to go, the hotel’s projector shut down. In a few minutes uber geek Steev Goodwin hacked the projector software and brought it back to life.

In what seemed a matter of minutes all the finalists had pitched and been questioned by the judges. Tensions were high as the judges went to choose the winners.

Derek Croghan won the £3,000 first prize for Striver, his primary school fitness project, with Martyn Coleman claiming the £1,000 second prize for his data storage idea Deep 6. Each got an oversized cheque and a thunderous round of applause. Simon Lebus then went on to award the tech prizes and internships.

The weekend ended not with boring speeches, but with loads of photos, clapping and quite a few (very uneducational) hugs. It had been a great effort from the finalists and mentors and from John Rance and Alison Pearce of OCR. By 3.30 the room had been emptied of everything including the bean bags, table tennis table and flowers, all of which went to new home with the finalists and mentors.

ed-invent has been in effect an edtech start-up. We’ve had successes and failures, pivoted and tried to create something where we thought a gap existed.  Our goal hasn’t been to try and turn educators into edtech entrepreneurs and get them out of the classroom. It has been to try and create a forum to put the voice of educators at the heart of edtech. We hope that 99% of our alumni will take their experience back into their institutions and share it with their students and colleagues.

Now that we have run the first phase of ed-invent and delivered what I think is a successful finals program, it’s now about planning for the future. As in any start-up raising money is never easy but I’m hope that we will have done enough to convince our supporters to continue our partnership. If not we, like any start-up, may have to (once again) pivot!