Interview | Q&A with EdSurge’s Betsy Corcoran


EdCetera spoke with Elizabeth “Betsy” Corcoran about co-founding EdSurge, a news and information site for education technology. EdSurge has been described as “TechCrunch for education,” and its newsletters are the highlight of our week. We also spoke with Betsy about educators’ roles in edtech startups, companies that are helping lower the cost of tuition for students, and what the “future of education” means to her.

What shaped your interested in education technology? How did you get the idea to start EdSurge?

As a long-time technology journalist, I am pretty current on the evolution of technology in the private sector. As a parent with kids in the public schools, I had a small window into the resources available to at least California public schools. Working closely with one local public school, I began to learn more about what teachers wanted from technology — and what frustrated them about the products readily available to them. It seemed that the gap between what the private sector could do and what was reaching teachers was big — and I wanted to play a role in helping bridge that gap.

We started EdSurge because we felt that teachers needed — and deserved — great, independent information about the quality of technology available to them. We also felt that the emerging entrepreneurial sector would benefit from knowing more about what each other were doing. Good information is a trump card, for everyone!

EdSurge has tremendous value for anyone interested in news and trends in education technology… but if you had to name one of the most valuable ways educators could use EdSurge, what would it be?

Right now, educators can use the weekly (Tue) newsletter, EdSurge-Instruct, to get a quick pulse on emerging technology. They can explore our website to get a waterfront feel for available tools. They can do a deeper dive into about two dozen tools. In the coming year, the number of extensive reviews will increase; we’re also planning to open up the site for much more significant contributions from teachers, including best practices in using technology.

The other point: we read & respond to all the comments we get — so educators can certainly play a role in shaping EdSurge by letting us know what kind of information they need!

Case in point: we are hosting monthly “tweetchats” on technology. This got started when a teacher asked us for a list of language learning tools. We reached out the community, got other people’s input, did a little research and delivered to her–and everyone else–a neat list of language learner tools, prioritized based on the comments made during the tweet chat.

There is a lot of innovation in the education technology industry — a lot of new startups, with a lot of capital. But many of these companies are started by entrepreneurs, not educators. Do you think these startups are missing the educator perspective?

Every startup that I’ve met would love to hear more from educators and get the educator perspective. Most of the companies are “bootstrapped” so they can’t offer teachers much in the way of compensation for their time. (The entrepreneurs aren’t getting compensated either, though!) We’re looking for ways to connect educators and entrepreneurs, in a way that both will feel good about the interaction. As a result, we’re very interested in hearing from educators who are intrigued by startups and want to be involved in some way. My only caution: startups are chaotic and unpredictable! Educators have to bring their patience with them.

Tuition is a huge factor in college graduation rates. Have you worked with/read about any companies in particular that are working to help reduce the cost of higher education for students? Or more specifically, have you seen any new technologies that aim to help lower the cost of education?

That’s a b-i-g question! And certainly an important one. Innovation is occurring on many fronts: programs like Udacity, Coursera, MIT-X, Minerva and even Udemy propose to teach students university-level material at singificantly lower price points but without awarding a “classic” diploma (although Minerva may try). The e-text book efforts, online textbooks, Open Educational Resource (free) textbooks or even online programs to find used textbooks all hope to reduce the cost of books for students. (Some will be more successful at reaching that goal than others). Startups are building management tools that universities can use to reduce their costs — but it’s up to the schools if those cost savings translate into lower tuition fees.

Some of these programs hope to shave costs off the way we currently deliver university education; the first ones I mention aim to significantly disrupt the current system. It will be fascinating to see what emerges!

When you hear the phrase “future of education,” what comes to mind?

I think most people know what kind of education they would like to see available for their children: education that inspires them (the kids) to be their very best, prepares them for the crazy future that will certainly be ahead of them, and that delivers that combination of inspiration and opportunity to all children, no matter what their starting point in life.

The paths we take to achieve that goal will be diverse and fascinating. I hope we figure out how to respect and cheer for many different paths. The hopes, talents and ambitions of our children are different and multifaceted; that calls for honoring many individualized paths.


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