Wired Magazine PopUp Store Showcases Cool, New Ed Tech Gadgets

Wired Magazine brought their tech curation skills to NYC again this year, hosting a popup brick-and-mortar that felt more like a cool science fair than a holiday retail store. The Wired Store showcases some of the most interesting new tech gadgets of the year. The store moves around annually, and is located in the Meatpacking District this season. The crowd was a mix of shoppers, tourists, families with children, and tech geeks. Gadgets ranged from cars, bicycles, 3D glasses, educational apps, games, tents, and more. We’ll focus on the ed tech gadgets, with a few gratuitous games thrown in for fun.
Kim Kelleher, Publisher of Wired, spoke to Triangle Below Canal about the store. “We’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Wired Store,” Kelleher cheered, adding, “If you’re looking for ed tech, you’re in the right place.” Kelleher and her team shared that Wired covers quite a bit of education technology, and the Wired Store appears to be an extension of that commitment. Wired curated some of today’s coolest games and apps for inclusion in the exhibit-like space.
Two of the educational gadgets featured use apps to facilitate learning for primary and middle school children. It’s pretty clear how timely the apps are, but a little data doesn’t hurt: A 2013 study by Common Sense Media found that 72 percent of children eight and under use tablets or smartphones (up from 38 percent in 2011), as well as more than a third of children under two.

Homes by Tinybop

Brooklyn-based educational app company Tinybop occupied a large exhibit space complete with activities for the kids, including a mural kids could write on. Given they are local, Tinybop had lots of folks on hand to showcase their newest iOS game, Homes. If Tinybop can build on the success of their two earlier gamesThe Human Body and Plantsthey would be in a fine position for sure. The Human Body was downloaded 4.7 Million times in one week (after being featured as the free app of the week)every app maker’s dream. So how did they make it a reality?
After creating The Human Body, Tinybop had planned to give out several promo codes for free downloads, particularly to underserved schools. But the App Store only allots 50. So they reached out to inquire about more. Apple responded by featuring The Human Body as the free app of the week, putting the app’s inertia in play. And if you’ve been to an Apple Store recently, you might have noticed that The Human Body is featured on the splash video across all devices. Additionally, over 30,000 schools around the world have purchased the app through Apple’s Volume Purchase Program.
Tinybop’s games are crafted to help children gain context, of the body, the natural world, the home, etc. They are beautifully designed—the visuals, the sounds, and the immersive play. Award winning illustrator Tuesday Bassen designed the highly lauded visuals. And the team’s sound designer created original sounds for the games. The team includes research associates and other educational specialists to align learning and curricula into the app. The attention to detail is part of what makes the app so right-on.
Kika Gilbert (Community Manager of Tinybop) left, demoing Homes app to Kim Kelleher (Publisher of Wired) right.

Kika Gilbert (Community Manager of Tinybop) left, demoing Homes app to Kim Kelleher (Publisher of Wired) right.

Tinybop's Wired Store space included a mural for kids to write on. Some down time featured.

Tinybop’s Wired Store space included a mural for kids to write on. Some down time featured.

The kitchen of a home in Mongolia from Tinybop's new Homes app.

The kitchen of a home in Mongolia from Tinybop’s new Homes app.

The Human Body app by Tinybop as featured on devices in the Apple Store.

The Human Body app by Tinybop as featured on devices in the Apple Store.

What’s the first thing most kids do upon entering the Homes app? “Make a mess!” shared Kika Gilbert, Head of Community at Tinybop, and on-hand at the Wired Store exhibit. “Homes encourages children to build empathy and cultural understanding of how people live around the world,” she added. The app starts by allowing users to choose a home from among a few countries, including Mongolia, Guatemala and the US. Users then get to explore various rooms in the home and engage with everyday household items. In Guatemala, one can enter a room with a loom, choose a fabric, work the loom, and then use a sewing machine to make a pair of (awesome) pants. In Mongolia, users can enter the kitchen, cook, and then eat a meal that includes some yummy looking dumplings. “There are no people in the games so kids can imagine themselves in it or imagine the people who live there,” stated Gilbert.
The Homes app uses features of a smart device to complement learning. For example, when users look in a mirror on the wall of a room, they can see their reflection, an image that is pulled live from the camera lens. Additionally, users can upload their own photos, add them to frames, and place them on the walls of the home as custom decorations.
A parent dashboard includes handbooks in 12 languages to help families and teachers guide student exploration, including co-play ideas. For example: How is my home similar or different than the homes featured in the app? On the product map for the dashboard is a recording function so that kids and their parents can leave questions for one another directly in the app. Because of strict data rules associated with children under COPPA (the Child Online Privacy Protection Act), the app does not send usage data back to Tinybop.
Gilbert let on that Tinybop has two new games in the pipeline. She wouldn’t give details, adding, “We get a lot of requests!” So better to stay mum until the games are out of development in case anyone is disappointed their idea wasn’t chosen. Both The Human Body and Plants took about 8 months to develop, with Homes taking more like 5-6 months. The new games are expected in Spring 2015.
Currently, Tinybop apps are only available in iOS (and utilize Apple’s new programming language, Swift). The folks at Tinybop plan to focus on making more iOS apps before considering Android. The Homes app is available in 59 languages. The sweet spot for age range is ages 4-10. Homes costs $3.99 to download.


The Ozobot might come in a small package, but it’s a showstopper. One of several new games/toys to help introduce programming to children, Ozobot is a ‘smart robot’ designed to teach robotics and coding through games. Place Ozobot on a smart phone, tablet, or piece of paper, and watch him cruise across mazes and tracks. The toy reacts to lines, colors and patterns. Ozobot comes with a free app and pre-printed ‘track’ cards to facilitate learning, and single and multi-player gaming. The team at Ozobot created 4 lessons that match up to CORE, STEM and STREAM curriculums. The lessons range from “the most basic levels of robotic behavior to sequential programming and complex algorithms.” While it is cool to watch Ozobot go on a smart device, the fact the it works on paper increases its flexibility and accessibility–always a good way to reach more learners. The cost is $49 for a single pack.
Ozobot following lines, colors and patterns on both paper and a tablet to help teach kids about robotics and programming.

Ozobot following lines, colors and patterns on both paper and a tablet to help teach kids about robotics and programming.


Voxiebox brought their holographic entertainment system all dressed up as an arcade-style video game. With its physical size and its colorful images, the game elicited a lot of gawking. The arcade frame included four stations with control panels on each side of the boxsort of like playing Ms. Pacman/Galaga exponentially and standing up. It was 3D without the goggles. The system can be rented for a pretty penny.
A Wire Store visitor playing Voicebox's hologram arcade games.

A Wire Store visitor playing Voicebox’s hologram arcade games.

Oculus Rift

Speaking of 3D, Oculus Rift virtual reality glasses were a popular item with store visitors. Try them on, look silly in front of perfect strangers, but feel cool because you are literally in your own world. The game on display was pretty basic–you are a man walking around your home, garage and lawn. You might recall, in March 2014, Facebook acquired the makers of the glasses, Oculus VR, for $2 billion in cash and Facebook stock. The glasses run at $350.


Oculus Rift at Wired Store

A Wired Store visitor adjusting the Oculus Rift on display.


Swedish designer and craftsman Love Hultén took a compact approach to arcade gaming with the R-Kaid-R (pronounced Arcader). Inside of a well-crafted wooden case (designed to develop a beautiful patina over time) is a portable arcade system that stores over 10,000 games. Hultén clearly has a love for the old school, including classic games. The R-Kaid-R is not cheap, but it is the type of gift that would make any gamer feel classy, San Diego [gratuitous Anchorman reference].


Swedish designer and craftsman Love Hultén's R-Kaid-R (pronounced Arcader).

Swedish designer and craftsman Love Hultén’s R-Kaid-R (pronounced Arcader).

The Wired Store brick-and-mortar in NYC is open from December 11-21, 2014. If you can’t make it in person, try their online store.



Wired Store check out and prize collection station.



Largest Ed Tech Group in U.S. Announces New Leadership

Today, New York EdTech MeetUp organizers announced that they are passing the baton to new leadership. NY EdTech MeetUp has the largest membership of any EdTech MeetUp in the country. Founded in February 2009, the group hovers at 4,000 members and has organized 40 MeetUps. The new organizers are: Kathy Benemann, Founder and CEO of Kiyo Consulting, and Michelle Dervan, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Pearson. (Note: NY EdTech is part of the formal name of the group; Ed Tech is the name of the industry.)
There have been successful EdTech MeetUp transitions in the past, most notably in San Francisco when LearnBoost passed organizer duties to edSurge in December of 2012. But other city’s transitions have not been as seamless. Denver is currently without a formal organizer.
We spoke with two long-time co-organizers of the NY group to reflect and project about the transition: NY EdTech Founder Tom Krieglstein, also Founder at SwitftKick, a student engagement company; and, co-organizer Sharon LaDay, Vice President of Business Development at Macmillan New Ventures, an arm of Macmillan Publishers that invests in ed tech companies. Krieglstein and LaDay, along with co-organizer Adam Aronson, Sr. Product Manager at Pearson, will be advisors to the new leadership team until they come up to speed.

The NYC Ed Tech Scene

So why is NYC such a key location for Ed Tech? “The size. Of both K-12 and colleges. Just the density of the opportunity,” cites Krieglstein. “Access to talent—educational and technical experts. Access to investors. Here you could take a train ride, or walk around Union Square and meet with a lot of investors in one day.” He also noted many titans of industry are here, for example, large publishing companies.
The publishing companies tend to work at a more measured pace, while startups feel the pressure to move quickly. Working in education requires patience. There are numerous stakeholders to consult, and a long sales and implementation cycle. Those Ed Tech startups that can figure out how to balance the manic pace of the city with the careful needs of the education community often fare better with all of their stakeholders. Ed Techs in New York City have a supportive community for these and other challenges.
LaDay believes Ed Tech has a strong home on the East Coast. Boston (birthplace of WebCT, now owned by Blackboard), and DC (headquarters of Blackboard) were on the scene early. In LaDay’s view, “NYC is a natural juggernaut. We have the largest school district. Plus NYC is the center for other industries, so it has an energy or natural buzz, inside and outside of Ed Tech.”
In May, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $20 Million investment in new devices and software and a $650 Million capital investment in wiring and hardware to keep up with what the government called the ‘tech ecosystem’. There is still some question as to how much of that will impact startups.
EdTech MeetUp groups in other cities have historically been run by a company or organization. “What makes us different is that we are just people. A MeetUp in every sense of the word,” adds LaDay. While San Francisco is organized by EdSurge, an online resource for the Ed Tech community, New York will remain run by individuals.

Who Do EdTech MeetUps Help?

EdTech MeetUps have a wide audience: those new to the industry, those looking to network for a specific project, and the usual suspects who have committed to attending multiple events. Typical archetypes are the Educator, the Technologist and the Entrepreneur.
As leaders of the MeetUp, organizers get to see some companies grow from small startups to larger organizations. LaDay noted a company called neverware that applied for one of the MeetUp’s quarterly showcases, citing them as an example of “enabling the maestro, instead of convincing the maestro that we have content she needs—concepts that stay out of the way of the pedagogy.”
Krieglstein highlighted Brainscape. “Andrew Cohen is one of our longest standing members. Every MeetUp, he would stop by and give me these updates. It was fun to see his company grow.” He also gave a “shout out” to Kate Meersschaert and the Ed Lab at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

On Transitioning an EdTech MeetUp

The fact of the matter is, organizing an EdTech Meetup is a lot of work. Coming up with a theme, securing speakers, reviewing content, finding locations, filling the seats, and setting up food and drinks are just some of the tasks required to make a successful event. Krieglstein, LaDay and Aronson have been at it for quite a while, so they thought, “Let’s pass along something valuable. It still has good momentum so someone else can pick it up and move it along.”
As often is the case with EdTech MeetUp leadership, their day jobs have grown into more demanding positions over the years, perhaps even in part because of their leadership in the community. Mark Phillips, Managing Director of HireEd, an education recruiting firm, and a former organizer of the Denver EdTech MeetUp, understands that situation all too well. He and Dan Carroll, COO and Co-founder of Clever, an instant login provider for students and schools, founded a Colorado MeetUp, alternating event locations between Boulder and Denver. As their companies grew, the time commitment became an issue.
Phillips, similar to the NY EdTech leadership, cited the broad scope of the MeetUps as a potential challenge. So many groups sprout from meeting at EdTech MeetUps, and then focus on their specific area, that it can be difficult to establish a core group. Sometimes, the ‘sprouts’ stay within the core EdTech MeetUp family. Phillips noted that the Austin EdTech MeetUp founder came from Denver, where he attended MeetUp events, and was interested enough to get the group off the ground in Austin when he moved there.
NY’s Krieglstein adds, “The core advantage is the community. Bringing people together. Tons of stuff comes out of [EdTech MeetUp] that I have no idea about. It is not about getting credit for it, but about building the platform. If everyone is achieving levels of success, then the nest grows and we all achieve. It pays back dividends.”
Denver EdTech MeetUp is currently without a formal organizer. Phillips feels the best fit for the job could be a current member of the group in Colorado and has sent communications to the group soliciting volunteers. Both the NY TechEd and Denver EdTech MeetUp leadership had some conversations with representatives at edSurge (the organizer of the SF EdTech MeetUp and a supporter in Austin) during their transition talks. The NY team is clearly transitioning to individuals as leaders and the Denver group has no formal transition as of this posting. [Update: Denver EdTech MeetUp appears to be merging under Educelerate Colorado!]

The Future of EdTech MeetUp

LaDay noted that NY EdTech MeetUp, or perhaps others, might take the lead in connecting regional EdTech groups. Early on, LaDay and team reached out to EdTech MeetUp organizers across the country to try and create a “connectedness” among the MeetUps. They were considering “some unified drive to stoke a national conversation so all the troops could be rallied for key issues.” They organized a call with SF, NYC, Austin and Chicago, but that plan did not formally develop. The groups do show alignment in their descriptive language on MeetUp websites, with some nuances to highlight their regions.
Krieglstein cited the possibility of a NYC Ed Tech conference. He shared, “If you think of the number of people from this area who head to South by Southwest every year…”

Reflections on Organizing EdTech MeetUps

Krieglstein founded the NY EdTech MeetUp because of his own work helping schools build engaging communities. He has an interest in peer-to-peer learning, and in 2009, he felt there was not a community in the tri-state area dedicated to this in EdTech. He cites the biggest challenge as getting people’s attention, “not dissimilar to a startup”, he noted. “In the beginning it was 5-10 of us crouched in a small room having a conversation,” said Krieglstein. “It was like that for almost a year. Once we had a core group of dedicated people, it expanded from there.”
When asked what he wished he knew before starting the group, Krieglstein paraphrased an Ira Glass quote: “The vision in my head was over here and the reality was over there. And that frustration was OK.” Which event was his favorite? “The first one! Just the fact that we had one, and that people showed up who weren’t me.” They are also proud of their holiday party MeetUp as it raises money for charity.
In answer to the burning question, who writes the MeetUp event titles, the team spilled that it is co-organizer Adam Aronson. A favorite title (and not surprisingly, a big draw), the Biggie Smalls inspired, “I Like It When You Call Me ‘Big Data’.

Final Thoughts

LaDay: “We were ourselves. We weren’t tied to anything. So we had some fun with it.”
Krieglstein: “Looking back, I am thankful for the never-ending support from the community members. And I think of the number of times that this shouldn’t have worked. But [the community] was always willing to support it.”
NY EdTech MeetUp will hold their 2nd Annual EdTech the Halls: Holiday Bonanza for Charity on Wednesday, December 3rd in at New Work City co-working space in Tribeca, NYC.

The Battle for Higher Ed’s Future: Wall Street v. Academics (Point, Academics)

This article originally appeared on the Akademos Blog

NY-Times-University-of-Virginia-Cover-Story3-246x300Torn down the middle. That’s how the NY Times Magazine’s September Education Issue portrayed UVA’s campus on its cover page, along with a dramatic title: Anatomy of a Campus Coup: The inside story of the failed ouster of the University of Virginia’s president–and what it means for the future of higher education.

By now, many of us know the story of UVA president Teresa Sullivan’s forced resignation and subsequent reinstatement. In fact, it took me a few days to read the Times Magazine cover story because, well, I thought I already knew what had happened. It turns out there was still more to the soap opera, and a little bit of journalistic digging has helped uncover some lessons learned and a conspiracy theory or two. Allow me to summarize the article for you…

At the heart of the drama seemed to be philosophical differences in how to run an elite institution between those that have more of a not-for-profit/higher ed/government background and those that have more of a business/corporate/Wall Street resume. Where these two groups see the future of education heading caused a rift at UVA’s campus that likely revealed schisms happening at institutions all across the country and the world. To the UVA Board of Visitors, an appointed body that oversees the university, Ms. Sullivan was not “CEO” enough in her actions or her image. The drama played out in the media as potential sexism, political jockeying, and fiscal philosophical differences.

But put succinctly, UVA’s board did not think Ms. Sullivan was building enough long term fiscal bets into the strategic plan, such as online programming, and was most certainly not acting fast enough in experimenting with trends like MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) along with the MITs of the world. The board had been influenced, in addition to their MBA-ness, by Clayton M. Christensen’s book “The Innovative University,” which focuses on “disruptive innovation” in higher education. Talk to any private equity wonk and he or she will animatedly tell you how education is poised for disruption–the kind of disruption that could make someone a lot money. So why wasn’t UVA taking advantage of its brand name and keeping up with the times?

Well, let’s set the scene. UVA is considered a top ranked university, right up there with the Ivy Leagues. What sets it apart from these schools though is that UVA is a public school. So already we are not comparing apples to apples. UVA also has a smaller enrollment than many of its peer institutions. And finally, UVA is committed to keeping a higher mix of in-state students than, say, a University of Michigan (state schools typically charge out-of-state students a much higher tuition, thus those schools that have a higher percentage of in-state students cannot depend on out-of-state students to line the coffers). UVA’s president, Teresa Sullivan, has been called a technocrat, an incrementalist, a consensus builder…all those terms that read slow-moving. Some questioned whether she had the inspired spirit needed to run an institution at the presidential level (president’s are well known for helping to raise funds/endowments and acting as the face of the university).

So what does a not-for-profit-type administrator with a background in sociology bring to the table at a place like UVA? Well, we know Ms. Sullivan previously worked as the University of Michigan’s provost, and before that, conducted sociology research at the University of Texas. Her post at Michigan is supposedly one of the reasons she was hired at UVA–she knew how to work in an environment where the state budget was consistently being cut; she knew how to do more with less. While at Texas, where she was “a demographer” and a “numbers cruncher,” she worked on middle class-debt research with Elizabeth Warren, a bankruptcy law  professor who has taught at several institutions, including Harvard, has been a Special Advisor for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under President Obama, and overall, is considered an expert on middle-class finance policy. Ms. Warren is something of a Wall Street-watchdog, advocating for the middle class in a system she feels is “rigged,” (according to her 2012 Democratic National Convention speech delivered just before former President Bill Clinton’s). Warren is also currently running for US Senate in Massachusetts against incumbent Senator Scott Brown. I mention all this because the NY Times article referred to Warren as a “liberal icon” and touches on conspiracy theories that Teresa Sullivan was singled out because of her associations with anti-Wall Street and/or pro-middle-class fiscal policies. The Times points out that, in hindsight, this seems unlikely, though at the time, it may have fueled some of the flames. But because the Governor of Virginia is responsible for appointing the board, and he happened to be Republican, and because members of the board also happened to be some of UVA’s biggest donors, political suspicions abounded.

Many people believe the UVA board used a faculty letter as a proxy to oust Sullivan. Faculty, tired of flat salaries they considered uncompetitive, wrote a letter asking for “urgent and immediate action.” Helen Dragas, rector/leader of the board, began lobbying for support to remove Sullivan. She wrote the following to a fellow board member: “I am growing increasingly nervous that others are thinking about big trends and long term prospects for higher education delivery and funding.” She reached out to board members one-by-one, some say to avoid attracting attention (in Virginia, university board member meetings of more than two persons are public record). She then advised Virginia’s Governor McDonnell of her plans. All systems seemed to be on go for Dragas. What is ultimately interesting about this faculty letter is that the faculty of UVA joined the reinstate-Sullivan-camp after the ouster. The Times summed it up by suggesting that faculty may voice gripes, but when it comes down to it, they prefer an academic in charge over a business person.

The faculty, the students, and a former (and influential) board member, all mounted a counterattack. The Times reported that vandals had spray-painted the six front columns of the school’s neoclassical Rotunda with the letters “G-R-E-E-E-D.” And the more the board tried to tell faculty this change was a good thing, the more faculty became “paranoid” that big money donors were controlling the strings at UVA. When Sullivan gave her goodbye speech to the board, people gathered on the lawn to protest her departure. The public relations mess that followed only further riled Sullivan’s supporters. “The national news media seized onto the story, which seemed to dramatize a broader conflict between big money and public education,” according to the Times; and further, “the conservative editorial page of The Wall Street Journal accused the protesting faculty of trying to create ‘an academic Green Zone separated from economic reality,’ while liberal publications held up Sullivan as a symbol of a beleaguered egalitarian ideal.” Ms. Dragas, the leader of the board, lost many of her backers after the decision to remove Sullivan, and Governor McDonnell called on the board to figure this mess out or resign. Sullivan was reinstated as UVA’s president on June 26, 2012. And ironically, on July 17th, it was reported that UVA would participate in a MOOC initiative with Coursera via Stanford University.

So what really happened at UVA? Was it sexism in reaction to UVA’s first female president, was it a Republican conspiracy fueled by big donors and a Republican governor, was it MBA/Wall Street bravado? We may never really know. But I think it is an important lesson in public administration. As the public sector adopts the more useful fiscal practices of the private sector, we must remember that feeding the needs of a public entity is a balancing act, even more so than sustaining a corporation. While business courses try and teach leaders how to run a company that treats its employees as more than just human resources, as a part of the company as a whole, in the public sector,  the people are our shareholders. And in education, which is a Public Good, whether the school be private or public, we have an obligation to run institutions in a manner that helps our investments–the students who are our future and the faculty who are showing them the way–best flourish.

I will end on a final note that I think captures a major schism between public and private business management as related to the UVA story. A UVA board member who considers himself more an entrepreneur than a Wall Streeter provided this analysis: “This board comes predominantly from the corporate sector, and they were not used to dealing with people who have academic tenure and can say whatever they want. They are used to being able to fire people who do that.”