Are Ed Tech Financiers Beginning to Listen to Teachers?

Expect changes at this year’s ASU+GSV Summit, an annual education technology gathering with a reputation as a bustling conference for high-rolling financiers and hoodie-wearing start-up founders.

There were new faces – and perspectives – in the mix at the three-day conference in San Diego this week, and they could break the stranglehold of deal-making that has often been seen as the dominating feature of the event.



An influx of public school educators at this year’s conference could help change the tone. Digital Promise, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that advocates for effective use of education technology, sent 150 educators to the conference, giving members of the organization’s League of Innovative Schools scholarships to attend the (pricey) event. That’s just one example, so the final tally of educators at this year’s conference is likely to be higher – some estimate that at least 1,000 will be there. And for those who could not attend get to San Diego, the conference featured a “conference cam” livestream.

Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. secretary of state and a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, gave one of the keynote speeches, and used it to challenge the elite attendees to consider immigrants, out-of-work blue collar workers and the poor when it comes to education technology.

“I want to encourage us to think about how innovation in the private sector can help in the most public of goods … education,” Rice said.

So will teachers, superintendents and charter school leaders get any attention from the bankers, techies and so-called thought leaders at this conference?

The “leading educators” sessions at the conference were among the most anticipated, according to an online poll ahead of time. That series included trips away from the conference to visit schools such as High Tech High.

The changes to give educators a more prominent position at this conference weren’t accidental. That reputation as an event only for people interested in making deals?  “I’m not so sure we’re happy about [that label],” Deborah Quazzo, co-host of the conference and a managing partner at GSV Advisors, said recently in an interview with Ed Surge, an online publication that reports on the business side of education technology.

Quazzo said she wanted the conference to include people who wouldn’t normally hang out together in the same room.

Meanwhile, spending on education technology continues to grow. Globally, spending on education hardware increased by an estimated 7 percent in 2015, according to a new report from Future Source Consulting. The report pegs this technology spending at $15 billion, up by $4.5 billion since 2012.

Those new conference attendees may hope that someone will ask teachers, students and parents – the people who have to make use of that stuff – before spending that money.

[Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

Nichole Dobo

Nichole Dobo writes about blended learning. Most of her 10-year career as a reporter has focused on education. She has also covered stories about government, courts, business and religion. She was a staff writer at The News Journal in Wilmington, Del., The York Daily Record/Sunday News in York, Pa., The Times-Tribune in Scranton, Pa. and The Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. and has been published in The Atlantic's online edition. She won first prize and best of show for education writing in 2011 from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. She earned a B.A. in journalism at the Pennsylvania State University.