Education Stories Flourishing On Medium

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In case you hadn’t noticed, BRIGHT – the lively if not exactly hard-hitting education site on Medium that debuted this past summer – hasn’t been the short-lived “popup shop” that it might have been. 

Originally the effort was presented as a feel-good, summertime fling with a focus on solutions journalism. At the time, it reminded me of other publications like GOOD, TakePart, TFA’s One Day, and Edutopia. And it was going to last just a few months — an experiment.

But if anything, the site seems to have kept growing, and it’s generated a ton of additional education-related writing on Medium outside of BRIGHT. “We’ve seen tremendous growth of education dialogue really explode,” according to Medium’s Gabe Kleinman. The site has “exceeded expectations” of Gates program staff, according to Kleinman, not only in the content it’s produced but also the outreach and engagement to other organizations, VIPS, and new partnerships.

As a result, the effort has been given an extension of sorts – though for how long is unclear.

I had the chance to talk with Kleinman about BRIGHT’s prospects earlier this week, and rounded up some of my favorite Medium/BRIGHT stories from the past few months. As you’ll see below, there’s actually been quite a lot of material related to schools on Medium — both pro-reform and otherwise — and the issue of the outside funding has been less of a problem (according to Kleinman) than it has been for other outlets that have taken Gates funding.

Read on for some of BRIGHT and Medium’s greatest hits (according to me), some interesting observations about the growth of BRIGHT (according to Kleinman), and more.

MEDIUM 

Content-wise, Kleinman describes Medium as “a vibrant mix of rigorously reported, profoundly personal, and just plain entertaining.” And that seems like a pretty fair description. It’s sort of like The Atlantic or maybe Slate. (Or, if you’re thinking of education-focused sites, Edutopia meets NPR Education.)

Medium is a hybrid kind of endeavor that includes publishing some of its own content, encouraging others to join in, and promoting reader engagement with the content through follows and shares. While other sites are “tightly verticalized” in how they appear and are produced, Medium is all about what Kleinman calls “adjacencies.”

It’s both a platform and a publisher and a social sharing application. Some of the in-house mainstays include Back Channel and Matter.

BRIGHT

With a tagline that reads “Innovation in education,” BRIGHT is Medium’s only in-house topic-focused effort that’s funded externally.

Some of the biggest hits include The Perfect Classroom According To Science, a fun, visual take on research reported by the Seattle Times. “We’re “Trying to take things one step further than traditional journalism would do,” says Kleinman, who recently the piece as one of his favorite things on all of Medium. 

The story did well initially and then had a big second run when Teaching Tolerance posted about it on Facebook three months later. “The half-life of Medium is considerably longer than other content on other sites,” he says.

Another piece that did really well was a profile of Sex Ed in Canada, which described a successful program on a controversial issue, combined with appealing artwork.

Indeed, great artwork is another hallmark of Medium-produced education stories. 

It’s also a good place to post things so that they might get seen and read by folks who you otherwise might not reach. The excerpt from Greg Toppo’s games and learning book has received more than 35,000 views ow.ly/UZ8U0.

I’ve Tweeted out no small number of BRIGHT stories over the past few months, including partnered stories with The Marshall Project. Some favorites: A Peek Inside Three Cutting-Edge Schools [Intrinsic, Oak Hill, Nexus] — Bright — Medium ow.ly/T7LTS Teacher and the Machine — Bright — Medium ow.ly/RogbB Treating Student Teachers Like Doctors-In-Training — Bright — Medium ow.ly/O2wju What Do Teachers Do After Saying Goodbye to the Classroom? http://ow.ly/VM0es.

RELATED EFFORTS

There are also a handful of education-related subsites, including one from the AFT, another by the pro-reform Peter Cook, and a handful of practitioner-focused efforts.

There’s the AFT-sponsored site SchoolHouse Voices: Why we support the Every Student Succeeds Act — Schoolhouse Voices — Medium pllqt.it/J6FbkE Rep. Mark Pocan responds to Randi on the PDK/Gallup Poll — Schoolhouse Voices — Medium ow.ly/RHjUB

One of the ed-related efforts that’s sprung up on Medium, called The Synapse — Medium. advertises itself as “Authentic voices in education.” However it’s main editor, Shawn White, is looking for a replacement.  Kleinman calls education-related efforts like The Synapse, Education Reform, and Project-Based Learning “community publications” and says they are treated as publication partners.

Matt Candler (of 4.0 fame) has contributed to a bunch of posts under the subhead “The Future Of School.” (For example: Agile in Education: Micro-schools — The Future of School — Medium ow.ly/HZb55.) New Orleans’

Peter Cook has been writing and curating an effort dubbed simple Education Reform: Is It Time For Pro-Reform Democrats To Panic? — Education Reform — Medium ow.ly/TqWD6 No Excuses for This Charter School — Education Reform — Medium ow.ly/K4dq9 Is Lagniappe charter school failure typical for NOLA? No.— Medium ow.ly/K4dtV 

Other big names whose bylines have shown up on Medium include Arne Duncan, John King, EdSurge, Tom Vander Ark, the USDE’s Richard Culatta, and the Gates Foundation’s Allan Golston.

FAVORITES 

There’s been no shortage of interesting education-related content on Medium over the past nine months. In fact, some of the best things education stories that have appeared have happened without any direct encouragement from BRIGHT or Medium, according to Kleinman. 

Philanthropy and funding are a common theme:

A closer look at K12 edtech funding in 2014 — Medium ow.ly/GnbYB Philanthropy: No More “Give Money To Someone Really Smart” For Foundations bit.ly/1wdzxzM< There’s Nothing Wrong — or Even New — About Zuckerberg’s New LLC — Medium ow.ly/VuirZ

Gender, race, equity, parenting, and other social issues get regular attention, too:

Why are so many parents in the Northwest scrambling to enroll their kids in outdoor preschools? http://ow.ly/TvoJ1 The weird history of the Pledge of Allegiance http://ow.ly/RK8BB “You see, I don’t talk about race with White people.” Medium ow.ly/PDTli Which Students Get to Have Privacy? ow.ly/NkrlI

There’s also some good stuff about journalism, advocacy, and coverage of schools and kids:

Amanda Ripley and Elizabeth Green made good use of the platform to discuss their books: ow.ly/3s89Ax Journalism and advocacy — new hybrid model catches on in NYC – Medium ow.ly/UQBHl  Bansal rebuts 16 Days In A Tent Parent: “Let’s talk about polite racism” — Medium ow.ly/ONmmO The Best Online Storytelling and Journalism of 2014 — Medium ow.ly/GZUDb

FUNDING/INDEPENDENCE

BRIGHT’s funding source (Gates) “hasn’t been a big distraction,” according to Kleinman, in part perhaps because the site doesn’t cover breaking news or do investigative pieces.  But the site’s also demonstrated its independence (publishing a piece that questioned the Gates Foundation’s focus on personalized learning, for example). “We’re not afraid,” says Kleinman. “It’s important to have meaningful dialogue.”

However, he declined to tell me how much funding BRIGHT was getting from Gates.

BEYOND VIEWS & COMMENTS

Over the past couple of months there have been some changes, to be sure. There’s a new editor. The Gates Foundation is funding the site directly now, rather than through New Ventures. “Our metrics are not clicks,” he says. “Our contract with Gates rooted in total time reading and content interactors.” That is, how many folks read a piece but also how many highlight or respond to it using Medium’s annotation tools. “Comments sections just don’t count, I’m sorry.”

The goal is to be a provocateur and develop a platform that’s used widely (like Twitter or Facebook) that will have lots of education content provided by others.

Eventually, BRIGHT will go away. “We’re not in this to create a new Medium vertical,” says Kleinman. Up next is a new site organized around global health, and some sort of new education-related page that’s still under wraps.

For the time being, there’s lots to enjoy — and lots of room to try the site and see how it works for you or your organization.

Related posts: Perhaps Video Games Creep Us Out More Than They Should“Solutions” Journalism Gets A New Education Guide & Webinar.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.