musings & critique about hi-tech, academia, building startups, and a journal to building eKita
Thursday, March 28, 2013
I get asked alot of the time how we are able to so quickly place ourselves (or our business) in a position where we attract what we need right to us, seemingly with little effort. Are we magicians? Hardly...

Here's a little secret folks - first of all we do put in the effort. In fact we probably put in more effort. However - second of all - we do so in a completely different direction. Instead of focusing on what we need, we focus on what our community needs in any relative aspect - and become a solution to that problem.

A general rule of thumb to become successful as an entrepreneur (or really in any business - but especially as a tech entrepreneur) is the old addage "Give and ye shall receive". I stand by this with a strong conviction, and just find it rather amazing how few people even understand the concept (much less attempt it).

Building a startup is not an easy task. You need to build a following, a passion in your team and an eagerness to work with your team by the top talent in a very competitive landscape. How does one stand apart? My secret to building some of the hardest rockstar tech teams over the last 15 years has been quite simple: "give and ye shall receive". Find out what your tech community's problems are - find a few which you have the ability to help solve - and you have placed yourself and thereby your company in a position where you are offering everyone else something rather than asking of them.

From such a position of giving, rather than asking for - what you search for ends up coming straight to you.

There seems to be a magic behind this as it just happens time and again when least expected, but its also quite logical.

So next time when you need to find new hires, resources, customers, or something for your projects or businesses - ask yourself (and your community) "what problems do we have?" - and place yourself as a solution. What you seek shall be yours in no time and you'll have made a step towards a better place for you and your organization.

Having said that I am off in half-an-hour to volunteer again and help run another university accelerator program in Shanghai!

I look forward to the massive un-solicited and un-asked for contacts, resources, and benefits I will receive simply by going there to be part of a solution - giving back to the community - and building value for others and thus myself.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013
I had to write a reply to this post on quora...
Why is education so hot right now? Is it overrated or justified?
Edtech startups are pretty trendy right now and are getting a lot of press. What are the pros and cons of the online education industry, with numbers?
More importantly, is the growth going to die soon, or increase even more.
I have to first say that your question makes alot of assumptions.
First of which is that "startups" implies only the US market. Typical silicon valley syndrome (you ignore the rest of the world, where many bigger things are happening). I've built some companies in the valley so I know this too.

Secondly, that edtech (or what people who have never done anything in edtech before believe is edtech) is indeed a new "trend" in the valley. It isnt in the majority of the world however. Not out of the ordinary in any case (edtech has always been a relatively popular tech topic in other technology hubs around the world). Edtech is in fact the furthest behind in the states, so this is literally a very common california gold rush syndrome of people realizing the massive market that is untapped in the states. (Education is one of the top 3 industries in the world - the only industry in the top 20 list without a full technology solution yet, ie: education is still predominantly paper-based rather than digital. Remember when we changed that in med-tech what a big paradigm shift it was?)

Third - what is the definition of edtech?
This is one of the biggest problems right now with the majority of the startups you are talking about. The problem is simple: they dont have any experience in education, they fail to spend enough effort researching and working in academics, and ultimately have no idea what the actual edtech industry is to begin with in building their "solutions". So yes it is another bubble, happening predominately in the states (where bubbles tend to happen), and we all know what happens with those bubbles.

So lets look at edtech now since I brought this up.
Edtech needs to be understood. Just like medtech, biotech, & cleantech - edtech is a different industry. It is a problem space requiring a massive understanding and experience to properly approach. Just like a medtech startup would be viewed as insane if they didnt have doctors and researchers on their team specific to the problem they are solving - so to are edtech companies who set out without founding members who are educators and academics.
What we are seeing right now is instead, hi-tech (a different industry, all together) entrepreneurs coming at edtech and trying to build edtech solutions in the hi-tech manner.

This is not what edtech is.

That is why all of these online learning platforms - while great and interesting - really have nothing at all to do with edtech. They are not technology catered to, or useful for, actual teachers & students in classrooms, undertaking actual education. In fact they completely ignore the classrooms and are attempting to make virtual classrooms OUTSIDE the classroom. Which in turn creates an industry of its own, and puts pressure on the education industry because previously, well, there was no competition.

So in retrospect I am very very glad for these approaches. They bring in new paradigms to education and help open it up for the world. Something we at eKita are all about.

However, we are solving the actual industry of education technology. So we are happy to be in this space because there are literally, very very few others out here.

We are not building another MOOC or online learning platform - these are not edtech, and should not be called so.

The real edtech projects that are most progressive are being built (and have been built for over 15-20 years) in European universities. We think its time a company dedicated to this vision be built so that a real edtech solution can go global. Thats what we are building at eKita.

My CTO previously built one of these edtech platforms in a joint Austrian Swedish university collaboration. A CLMS called sTeam. (It was built in Pike, a programming language he also contributed to and wrote the book on.) It has been in use as the CLMS in many of these universities as well as many in China for over a decade now and is more advanced actual ed-technology than anything you will see in mainstream US (definitely makes moodle, blackboard, etc look lke the garbage it is). What is currently being undergone with us at eKita is to build an ed-tech future that has much more than just CLMS functionality.

As stated however we are building a solution for the actual education industry. Taking into consideration the new paradigm of online learning as a valid educational resource - but these startups preaching that online education will replace the classroom are simply insane, and damaging for society.

Online education cannot and never will be able to provide many of the necessary functions of a physical face-to-face academic institution. It shouldnt try to. Yet this is the mission-statement for many of these startups. Which should be putting up massive red warning flags for all of us interested in an actual education proponent in our societies. If you look at the top education markets in the world (the US is #22 and drops every year so its not even close), these online learning platforms are not given nearly as much press or attention. In fact they really dont get any. Why? Because they dont do very much - if anything - that the current education & edtech solutions in use dont do. In Scandinavia and most of western europe there already are better solutions than what these online courses offer (typically in both classroom and digital format).

Even in large swaths of Asia (where the real future market is) - and Asian societies are actually incredibly serious about education (as much as 70% of household income is spent on education in many Asian families - compared to an average 5% in the US where parents typically complain about the cost of school supplies at $400 a year - less than what many of them will spend on beer or cigarettes).

So again - I am trying to answer a question by actually adding some insight and correction to the question itself, which is hard. If you look at education industry however you shouldnt be looking at the US for answers. The US is behind. Far behind. Trying to make solutions for the US ed market will irrevocably be repetition of what's already been solved in many other ed markets. Thats not to say it wont hit off (in the US) - but it wont change the world. The US is not the world, afterall - and in education its a very small player in this world.
I know its not in everybody's interest to spend 15 years as an academic in 10 countries like I have but if you really want to understand what education technology is, there's definitely better places to be coming from than hi-tech (in the US). Start looking at classrooms, institutions, Ministries of Education, progressive new schools like projectpolymath - and understand their problems, and of course function in society.
A real edtech solution cannot be built without strong connections and understanding of these components - and why should it?
Something very important about the educational industry is accountability. Educational content needs to be accountable - teachers are responsible, their schools are, their MoE's and governments are. In the global academic community (which is one of the most globally connected industries in the world - and always has been - academics invented the WWW btw) accountability is the most crucial element.
These online learning platforms dont solve that. In fact the majority of them create a bigger problem - unaccountability in "education".

I do not believe "changing the world" is meant to ignore the current workers of one of the 3 largest industries in the world and claim to be replacing it with something else.
Thats just madness.

Any real solution, is an actual solution for the people having the problem. Not an attempt at removing the people with the problem and instead putting in a machine.
But that is what the majority of these self-called "edtech" startups are doing. Mission statement and all.
A good question to ask in building a new venture is of course: how big of a real problem do we solve?
But another one that few tend to ask is: in solving our problem, what others do we make?

Changing the world is about improving what we have. If we can do so drastically, all the better. Destroying what we have to make change, is not, however, progress. It is stagnation.

I argue that the majority of these startups dont realize or even stop to think of the big problems they are causing to society by pushing their agenda of - literally - the destruction of the educational proponent of society.

This is why in the top ed markets in the world, these startups get little to no press or attention - because people already have better solutions, and have no interest in destroying their ed markets which are much more functional and replacing them with unaccountable online platforms.

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Zero Sum and Positive Sum mentality is a crucial issue for would-be entrepreneurs to understand. I argue it might even the most important.

What are Zero Sum and Positive Sum models?

Zero Sum, can be described as a model in which people believe the world has a finite amount of resources & value. Thus, everyone must compete over the finite (limited) resources that exist.
Zero Sum creates a very competitive world, where the only path to success or self-sustainability is through taking from others their resources, in order to increase your own.

This obviously also creates a very harsh world, where cooperation can only exist if 2 parties believe they can jointly take more resources away from others, than by themselves. In the end, both of these parties will turn on eachother to take eachother's resources, too.

A Zero Sum world is dark, dangerous, and not very pleasant, creative, or innovative.

Positive Sum, can be described as a model in which people believe the world has an infinite amount of resources & value. Thus, everyone agrees that the easiest way to create more resources & value for themselves, is simply to create it.
Positive Sum results in a very cooperative world, where the easiest path to success or self-sustainability is through combining efforts with others who are doing the same / similar things, and being able to jointly grow much bigger and stronger than one would be able to by oneself.

This obviously creates a very creative, innovative world as is in fact the only kind of world where innovation and creativity can flourish. Innovation can only happen when innovative minds (plural) join together to build not only innovative new products, but an innovative way to sustain such products in a business capacity.
This is what a company in itself is - a positive sum model where people work together to achieve a common goal.

So what does this have to do with startups?

This model is not only limited to a singular company however - as entire economies which embrace a positive sum model, become the powerhouses of the world. For example: Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv, Boston. Those who flourish in these epicenters of innovation, are all pretty much on the same page: in order to flourish, we must share, collaborate, and pool our common resources to support our goals of innovation.

Startups by nature are new entities formed to accomplish something that is quite above their resources & means to do so. Therefor, startups - above all other types of entities - benefit the most by embracing a positive sum model and finding the others that do as well.

This sounds vaguely familiar

Human beings are by nature a positive sum animal. We are biologically a pack animal that only survives by bonding together and pooling our resources, each of us with our own specialties and contributions, roles and responsibilities.

Unlike polar bears, which are a zero sum animal. Polar bears eat whatever they can find, including their own children. Which is why they also live alone, their entire lives.

So how can I embrace this and get the most out of it?

Simple. A common rule of thumb in the innovation / startup industry is:
Create value and profit will follow.
So, focus on creating value. Just like a positive sum mentality dictates: create solutions, create resources, create value in what you do and in the space around you. Profit will follow.

Want an example?

Take a simple walk around to various startups and coworking spaces in Silicon Valley/Alley/Wadi - and you will see something that is rare in much of the rest of the world: people creating, out of seemingly thin air, new value - and sharing that value with eachother. Present in these ecosystems is not only an atmosphere of sharing knowledge, techniques, and opportunities - but there is a very different attitude in place. An attitude driven by openness, curiosity, and a true interest in building new things.
Everyday work in innovation ecosystems is quite a bit different than most people expect: People get together and talk, share their ideas, stories, and projects. They share contacts, share notes, and help eachother solve problems.
Startups in these successful ecosystems are predominantly built with a relatively flat hierarchy. Bureaucracy is taboo, shunned by all.
There are countless events, every night - setup by enthusiasts eager to share their knowledge - and, quite obviously, full of participants not only eager to learn; but also eager to share theirs as well.
The entire concept of "un-conference" birthed out of these startup ecosystems. This wasn't the only new model of human organization that became common-language due to startup ecosystems either. I'm sure you all have heard of "co-working spaces" - "hot desking" and both physical and virtual "collaborative workspaces".

The heralding of a new economic revolution, say goodbye to the industrial age!

In recent years there is even a new phenomena around using the "crowd". Crowdsourcing, crowdfunding - literally putting a request for value or resources out into the open and seeing how people eagerly jump in and provide that value or resource. A more cooperative and inclusive system would have never been thought possible by most, just 5 or 10 short years ago.
All of this might not seem so interesting to our younger readers; who are growing up in this new economic model. However, for those of us only as young as 30 - we remember quite well the early years of our careers where such concepts were considered absolutely crazy...and thus so were we for trying them anyway!

The mentality shift in professional and social life in the last few decades has obviously seen more shifts and more progress (I like to optimistically call it that) than most - if not all - previous generations. Business mentality in how to build new businesses with waste management sciences such as Lean Six Sigma, SCRUM, agile & leanstartup are becoming a fore-front issue in innovation ecosystems; and those companies that dont learn these techniques are rapidly dying.

In conclusion

So, you want to build a startup? Find others around you who openly share, give, and of course learn to do the same yourself.

Think about this...
If you have 50 hours a week, and you give 1 hour of your time to 2 people each week; what have you really lost? 2 hours?

Now, if you spend 4 weeks (a month) giving 1 hour to 2 new people each week (4 weeks * 2 people = 8 people) and just 1 of those 8 people turns out to be helpful? What have you lost? 2 * 7 = 14 hours?

Now, for that 1 person who turns out to be helpful - lets say he connects you with a co-founder for your startup, or intros you to an investor who wants to invest, or helps you solve a technical issue that saves you 4 months of bad technical decisions. What have you gained?

Furthermore, for the 14 hours you "wasted" on the other 7 people? You've actually gained something: you know that you never have to waste time or resources on them again.

So actually, you have gained everything.
You've not only found others who are good people to work with, share with, and collaborate with...
...but you've quickly found out who isn't - saving you from potentially wasting infinitely more time and resources on people who aren't worth it.

So don't be afraid to waste a bit of time helping others, providing value for them. Even if they don't return it.

People who aren't generous, who don't provide value openly, will not succeed anyway. So really the most important thing for you is to find an efficient way to figure out who the real valuable people are: the ones who will share, collaborate, and communicate as generously as you. This method works great for me.
Once you've found those who aren't generous, valuable, and capable? You can ignore them - leave them in your dust. Because they probably don't even know how to contribute anyway.

Like I said before...
Create value and profit will follow.
If you want to be a part of a successful startup ecosystem:
  • learn to focus on creating value for those around you
  • find cooperation where you thought there was only competition; a win-win situation is almost always possible
  • study and learn not only techniques, but also mentality and attitude from ecosystems that have succeeded
  • when opportunity arises to create new value, seize it!
  • always strive to be inclusive - if you leave your door open, value and profit will come to you

Friday, August 31, 2012
I just have to make a short post here - a bit off-topic, about how amazing Singapore is.

The city itself is definitely a spectacle alone.
More beautiful skycrapers huddled together in seeming synchronicity I have never before seen.
The city is very new, obviously. Singapore itself is now 47 years old - something that is currently being celebrated with banners and flags all over the city.

I will definitely have to be here for its 50th birthday. Perhaps by then eKita will be based here and so will I.

A common phrase here that the locals seem to have ingrained into them goes "everything just works"...and it does. Busses, subways, everything is on time. People queue automatically for even the smallest things - like waiting for a taxi.
In fact everything works so well here - that people dont actually need to think all that much. Not to be negative, of course. I'm sure many people use that brain power to think of other things instead of the mundane trivialities in life that aught to be automated anyway.
It is a high-tech city with an efficiency level rarely seen anywhere else, and it is also very green. Singapore is indeed the garden city. With penthouse gardens and garden balconies even a common sight amongst the city skyline.

Singaporeans also seem to be incredibly happy with their fair city - which of course they should be. I havent actually spoken to a single true local here yet who felt like they wanted to move elsewhere - and yes, they do travel quite a bit. When you live in a country that is in fact a city (and an island) - taking even a short vacation means a passport and flight is involved; so might as well go anywhere. It appears quite common that Singaporeans go to essentially all random corners of the globe - so they have a good deal to compare to: and yes, they definitely should be happy with their fair city.

The SG startup scene is also quite a-buzz. Though it seems the majority of startups are built by foreigners, the city provides quite the benefits for both locals and foreigners (especially if they become permanent residents). Government matching 1:1 for investments into startups is available for angel-type investments. There is also an entity called the NRF ( which provides a clean $500k for startups that get verified and invested into for a mere $89k by one of the accredited incubators.
In Singapore the term incubator is not the traditional incubator either - it simply means it is some sort of fund or partnership of investors.

It seems almost too good to be true actually. There are a few catches - for example one must have an SG-national or PR (permanent resident holder) as local director of your company. There are easy ways to sort this out however, and it just takes some time to find the right local partner and make a good friend and ally. Which is actually what I am currently doing myself.

People here are quite friendly, fairly occupied in their own lives, and to sum-up life in this city in 3 words I could most properly offer up: safe, clean, & quality.

Sunday, August 26, 2012
Apple has finally let the cat out of the bag.

The carnivorous giant has finally showed its teeth with seething aggression.
This day we should rejoice. For it is the beginning of the end of this Edisonian vulcher.

With it's market share shrinking and long term prospectus without Steve at the helm diminishing its cult status (that it worked so hard for so many years to brainwash followers into!) - its only prerogative left is to show its true colors and lunge bloodthirstily at all it's counterparts who under it's thumb have slipped free to create humanity's real innovations and progress.

As my grand father always said: progress its inevitable, those who resist it are not only doomed to failure but are the bane of humanity. For humanity strives towards progress. It is our nature and what makes us great.

So long Apple. your treacherous ways are revealed for all to see. You've set your own doomsday clock in motion.
The only pity left for your carcass will be that you werent fortunate enough to be raised by someone as noble as my grandfather.
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Monday, August 20, 2012

I rarely do this: but a facebook thread just really piqued my interest and I think this bit of info is a valid article in itself.

The problem?
Most places in the world trying to build innovative knowledge-based economies are struggling with the actual understanding of what those economies look like.
(I'll give you a hint: it doesnt look like this)

I'm going to use 3 scenarios to prove a point here:
Luxembourg - which will act as the extreme case of basically all of western Europe. (All of western Europe is similar enough - so read Luxembourg as Europe if you want.)
Thailand - which is one of the only places now in SE Asia without a startup scene. (Even Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia are sprouting - and of course the local 800-lb gorilla Singapore is way ahead: one of the top 6 spots in the world.)
And India - which has a HUGE tech industry, LOTS of engineers, and enormous amount of capital and connections.

So whats the problem? Why are these places - which are as I said simply examples out of hundreds of places in the world - who are trying to build innovative knowledge-based economies, not succeeding in doing so?

First I'll tell you why NOT...
Its not a financial issue - as I saw in Luxembourg a few months ago (highest GDP country in the world, people still live in Chateau's and Castles, it's a private banking haven)...Thailand has investor permanent residency visas for foreigners who want to enjoy one of the highest qualities of life that Thailand currently offers, and all they have to do is invest. Theres lots of em here from Chinese to Americans and Europeans. India has some of the wealthiest people/families in the world - and especially in Asia, who also have some of the widest range of funds and capital available.

It's also not a technical ability issue - Luxembourg is in the middle of a cradle of the best scientific and engineering schools in Europe - Bangkok has close to a dozen technical universities pumping out 100,000 skilled engineers per year - India? yea dont even get me started.

It's not either a legal issue - Luxembourg has the "best IP model in the west", and very efficient tax and business reforms. Thailand has very easy laws to work around if you have only a minimal amount of solid backing. India...they dont even make copies of the paperwork. (OK - not literally, but I know companies operating there for close to 10 years who dont actually exist on paper in India. Theyre doing fine. Never had a problem.)

So why is it that startups simply - dont exist (for the most part) in these environments which are actually incredibly supportive for them?

I answered this discussion thread on facebook as such:
I read a very good article by Dr Jay Chunsuparerk last night concerning this topic exactly - which I actually am glad to hear because this is why I moved our company out here.
The potential and eagerness to do something *BIG* and meaningful - not just outsourced consulting or web-dev shops - but actual PRODUCT companies - is where we need to drive things in order for a true startup scene to flourish here.

It is a very wide misunderstanding here (and I've seen it all over the world - its not unique to Thailand) that starting up a business, filing for a tax number, and selling your SKILLS or SERVICES = a startup.

That is not at all what a startup is - that is a services company.
A startup, by definition and purpose, is NOT a services company.
An entrepreneur, likewise, is NOT someone who builds a company that sells services (at whatever scale: large or small). An entrepreneur is someone who INNOVATES a new kind of business model, and VALIDATES it.

Taken from Paul Graham himself:
A *startup* is a TEMPORARY human organization that is actively SEARCHING for a SCALABLE, REPEATABLE, business model.
A *company* is a DEFINED human organization that has already FOUND, and is EXECUTING it's repeatable business model.
...and I'll add one of my own which I've used for awhile now:
A *consultancy* is a TEMPORARY human organization that provides SERVICES and SKILLS to a startup or company - but has no business model of its own - a consultancy's business model is created by the market - not itself.

What we are actually seeing in Thailand - is service companies or consultancies (whichever you like to call them).
Service companies are selling SKILLS, and ABILITIES - these are intangible, non-physical products which are only put to use by OTHER organizations who actually come up with the INNOVATION to building new products.
Service companies are outsourced labour.
Consultant/service companies are therefor very crucial - as there is always going to be holes in companies that need filling; and there will DEFINITELY always be holes in startups that need filling.
Consultancies fill these holes.

However, it is completely wrong to call a consultancy or service company a startup. Likewise just as wrong to call the people behind it entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs = innovators. Service companies are not.
I - for example - outsource my financial services as long as I can when I build a startup. I outsource CFO roles completely. I am currently using E&Y to take care of all my financial needs. I wont hire an internal CFO until we absolutely have to - or until a great opportunity crosses our path to do so.
E&Y cannot be called a startup however. (Even if it was a smaller, newer, firm that I used instead)
It is a services company.

Likewise - a website dev shop cannot be called a startup.
If I'm a business and I need a website, hiring a company to build it is the exact same thing as hiring E&Y to do my books as a tech business.
They are both service companies.
They are not startups.

Service companies are very needed, of course - startups cannot survive without them! They are the first crucial part of building a startup ecosystem. So - would-be-entrepreneurs, take this lesson to heart: treat your service companies well! They deserve our respect.

I've been training budding entrepreneurs for a long time. Either directly involved in their startups investing/advising/mentoring (sometimes even coding) or even just by academic means..... But it never ceases to amaze me that everytime I go somewhere new - I have to repeat myself all over again. "Service companies are not startups"

Here in SEA the very definition of a startup is still something that needs to be grasped.
That is why there are, just like Adrian stated: not very many actual startups to invest in.
Its not about substance - its about actually understanding what a startup is.
So many people dont understand that yet - and therefor, their companies appear to be "not so substantial".
It's because they arent really startups to begin with.
(...and they shouldnt be needing investment anyway unless their services are simply so bad that nobody will hire their labour!)

Of course - there is also the problem of helping those few startups who are innovating something new - to understand how to build products for a global market.
Thailand is in a very good position right now though. I am excited to be here. I am fairly positive I will build my company here. Because the people here are respectful, willing to learn, and easy to work with.

So - lets get busy and fill these holes. and many other things we are rolling out are here to do just that. They work. Lets get busy.

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Friday, August 17, 2012
I've known a long time about the Finnish Model of education - as I am not only Scandinavian as well - but from Finland's closest neighbor: Sweden.
A fact that bears more semblance than just geography, too - (secondary national language of Finland: Swedish; and Finland itself used to be Swedish territory).

But history or national prestige isnt why I am writing this - in fact the real prestige out of this article will undoubtedly go to Finland, and you will soon discover why.

I will take a moment to divulge what was written at the bottom of this post however:
Thirty years ago, Finland’s education system was in the same sorry state that America’s is today. It was mediocre and inequitable and relied on many of the same measures of success that we use here, like standardized testing and teacher tracking. Teachers had varying degrees of education and students didn’t have access to equal education resources. They’ve managed to change all of that in just a few decades. Regardless of whether the U.S. can import some of what makes Finland’s schools so successful, they can get hope from the rapid changes to the Finnish education system that show the true and lasting impact smart reforms can have on a country’s educational potential.
I highly suggest reading the entire article, too. So here it is again...

To continue onto my point however, with the article above in mind, the whole goal of educators wherever they are is to in fact improve their models, efficiency, and results - is it not?
So - call it obvious if you will (though it is apparently not obvious enough that it's happened - food for thought) - but: why not create a platform or channel of communication whereby educators can share those methods that in fact work the best? And the content created by them?

I'm touching again, of course, on the crucial goal we at eKita have to creating a global platform by which the world's academic standard will be increased by simple means of exposure, collaboration, and sharing of resources, tools, & methods by the worlds teachers.

When teachers are able to share across borders seamlessly - which of course is the reason the WWW was invented in the first place - there is a drastic measure of improvement in student results. I argue that this improvement can even take place when local policy isn't the same on both ends, and can in fact pressure local policy to adopt the more successful model.
Obviously - some teachers have better tools, training, and resources than others; but in our current information age where we can assume every teacher has internet access: a platform to easily share information, content, methods, and back it up with results is highly in order - dont you think?

The reverse affect also takes place which those same teachers (with more tools, training, and resources) are also able to share more of their results, methods, and successes so that teachers in less fortunate areas can learn how to improve their methods.
With a look at platforms of communication like Quora - which are educational as a by-product - isnt it obvious that something similar, with vetted input from the world's teachers and academia, will eventually make a strong showing to - well, the entire world - which models are the best, and most successful?

I believe quite strongly that it will.
And that is exactly what we are building into the architecture and vision of eKita.

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This one got me fired up.

Before reading this post, you'll have to read the article I am actually responding to.
Which can be found here:

And my response-with-vengeance

All of your reasons for why online education is apparently flawed and doomed to failure - whereby people will somehow conform to your opinion, realize their mistake at even caring about it, and revert to old institutional models of ivory tower education - are nothing but biased opinion from a very institutionalized worldview attempting to attack the new in order to cling to the old.
Read: your reasons make no logical sense first of all and are simply an unsupported (in reality at least) attack on what you view as a threat to your comfortable existence of fascist-styled "education".
Conclusion: your time is over, either adapt or get rolled over. It's obvious from the sense of desperation in your post that you, too, understand this. So why the charade?

While I agree with the original statement: online classes cant replace universities - as an actual academic I have much more valid reasons than you do (are you an actual academic? I find it very hard to believe from your post).

For example, just to give you some real, actual reasons:
1) Labwork: how will a physics student get access to physics labs and actually do the hands-on work needed to learn physics?
Universities will always exist for this reason alone: they are able to pool resources and be centers of RESEARCH and actual ACADEMIA.

2) Accreditation & Accountability: What you briefly - almost - touched on but fell a bit short and failed at was to analyze how universities (schools in general for that matter) bring accountability for people's learning AND teaching - both of which are incredibly important.
Likewise via that very accountability comes the true merit of accreditation.

Your reasons are actually meaningless to your original argument - in order - because:
1) It is already too easy to cheat in regular schools - and being online or not really doesnt change that at all.
Cheating, and likewise protecting against it (ie: policing) isnt the role of an institution of learning. The role of an institution of learning is to MAKE SURE ITS STUDENTS LEARN!
How can you call yourself an academic when you openly have no understanding of this?

2) Star students can shine even moreso using social media and global connectivity. The entire world can know of their status. Look at code-sharing sites like github and stackoverflow: those are still students, people are still on there to "learn how to code" just as much as teachers are there to teach how to code. Those who achieve the most are known around the world and their advice and participation is eagerly sought after.
Github is actually becoming the new CV. I dont want to look at a piece of paper when I hire an engineer - I want to see her/his work.
Just like artists, architects, and designers have used portfolios and examples of their work for decades (centuries?) to provide confirmation of their skills - now so too are engineers, writers, and yes - even economists like you claim to be: real ones have actual tangible evidence of their abilities. Not a CV.
Your view of how the working world works seems to be incredibly far behind the times...

3) This one made me laugh out loud - no really. Employers??? Have you ever employed anyone? I have built the teams behind 7 companies, selected participants for events, & hired employees for many NGO/NPOs. In these spaces throughout my life, I've hired roughly 300 people - and interviewed well over 4000. I'm not an HR person either. I'm a serial entrepreneur. Contrary to your very opinionated article: I actively EMPLOY people who DO think out of the box, who DO question authority, and who DO prove their skills and ability, and more importantly: teamwork ability OUTSIDE of the traditional model. Why? Because the traditional model produces factory workers.
I dont hire factory workers, and the future industry wont need to either as we are increasingly making technology to do all our automation.
Employers - that is, REAL ones, like me, actively look for people that do not conform to your fascist mentality of obedience. We build robots and automative tools for that.
Humans are not robots. Despite people like you who want to make them that, humans will always resist such work ethic and pressure to conform them.
Reistance is futile. You cannot win. Human potential will never be satisfied with repetition & structured trivialities.
The fact is that each generation is increasingly smarter than the last.
If you are aging, and arent tirelessly pushing yourself to learn and stay on top every day of your life - then your 20 year old students are much smarter than you, and you dont even have the slightest justification to be deciding what their lives should entail.
You should be listening to them. Engaging them. Stimulating them to help them learn - and guess what: you just might be surprised - because in teaching this way (which is now proven to be the most effective model of pedagogy, btw) you just might learn alot yourself.
So - about being an academic - Stop Lying.

4) This reason alone is the only argument you posed that actually holds valid for the reasons you mentioned, eg: PhD or masters thesis - how can a computer properly grade one? Even an essay or presentation should be given human attention, otherwise the grading (ie: feedback loop) mechanism isnt effective for the student. +1 there.
Though you understood the underlying issue of skilled-human necessity to evaluate other learning-human work, you still dont understand why.
This reason has nothing to do with online - or offline - education.
Online education can in fact automate and make the process of grading much more simple and easier for teachers. That is in fact a primary feature of well designed online learning platforms.
So you just lost this argument by fact of not understanding the actual argument.
Because you arent an academic. -1 there.

5) Wait - you are arguing that because students will buy dishwashers to free up their day TO STUDY MORE - it is a bad thing? That the "arms race" of students actively PUSHING themselves, and even SPENDING THEIR OWN POCKET MONEY to IMPROVE themselves is a bad thing?
Are you seriously going to continue pretending that you are an academic? Seriously???

Quite honestly if that is the view of you and your colleagues and your college/institution, then I will immediately make note of it and black list any student or prospective hire I ever see coming from your institution. Simply because of proximity to "teachers" as delusionally bent on fascist repression of progress and student potential as you have quite clearly explained that you are.

One brunt issue here is that you also failed to understand the underlying PURPOSE of the entire internet, and where online education is going.
Crediting students via online platforms is actually a whole lot easier than it is in the classroom.
Furthermore - online platforms provide so many bonuses - none of which we have discussed here (that completely overshadow in many regards anything that traditional institutions can provide); and we are ironically only arguing one side of the story, yet: you are still completely losing your own argument.

But let me just interject one facet of online learning platforms that a traditional school will never be able to match: *an increasing standard of global education*.
Thats right - online platforms reach people all around the world, continually providing content to a global audience who - on the right platforms also have a voice and ability to contribute to that content. This global collaboration is what is happening all over the world and has been for a long time - its what the internet is all about.
Are you going to actually proclaim that WIKIPEDIA is a BAD thing because it provides a platform for people to collaboratively SHARE KNOWLEDGE???

Because that is what you are in essence doing here.

Please dont call yourself an academic.
You are obviously more interested in your ivory tower position than the progress and potential of your students.
I feel deeply insulted by your ignorant and short-sighted post.

It always starts out this way. Slowly, the resistant antiques of us begin to accept the inevitable.
New technology is always laughed at first,
Staunchly resisted second,
and finally when they realize it is inevitable they become your cheerleaders.

LMS or CLMS systems - whichever you prefer to call them - are becoming more widely accepted as cloud-destined platforms, as the obviousness sinks into even the mainstream mind.
However, from a mainstream perspective it is still taking awhile for ERP and other fully fledged systems to make their appeal to this technologically unsavvy crowd - until now.

A good article on just this topic here:

...which has some excellent points I have long been pushing for the industry to realize.

Not least of which is the actual architectural design concept of cloud computing itself - which is not new by a longshot, actually.

Cloud is essentially the extrapolation of what institutions have already been doing for the last 5 to 10 years: co-locating resources to servers within their institution.
And if any of you were involved with institutions 10-15 years ago when this was considered a "new technology" - you will recall the huge amount of resistance and name-calling we future-thinking technologists got for pushing that agenda too.
Of course - thin clients coupled with robust server farms and remotely located resources are now the standard across most academic institutions.

Cloud simply does this to a global level - effectively outsourcing that co-location and all the services required to run it to an external entity (or - well - nobody is stopping you from building your own cloud, too...but thats rarely necessary - and much less cost effective of course).
This global mindset of course allows much more power in terms of connectivity and sharing of resources than did the precursor architecture of thin clients + server farms locally. It allows connectivity, sharing of data, content, and applications on a global level. No longer institutionalized.
The result of which is that there needs to be new software which captures the benefit of these new powerful channels of possibilities.
That is, not-at-all-ironically, still where education technology is far, far behind. It is also where the institutional education model is being disrupted on a pedagogic level. However, the software to support this process is still non-existant.

At eKita we are building something for the future where cloud based architecture for institutions is considered standard. Our global education platform is software that is designed to not only take advantage of this paradigm shift - but in fact facilitate it, as we will offer hybrid and private cloud services to institutions who need the most customizable and controllable features - simultaneously facilitating the disruption of the current academic model which is already happening.

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

This one is part rant, part accurate analysis, and part cool-aid.

A recent workshop in DC on lean made me start thinking about this issue again and I spent a good deal of my time there investigating this question with a wide range of people (both involved - and not involved).
It all began with an opening-day pitch by a participant who wanted to work on a project, briefly described as:

"Lets help solve the education problems of the USA - lets build a tool to help facilitate learning by students and make it fun and social - to help stem the rapid decline of the US in the world education rankings (USA currently #22 in education)"
...this excellent, passionate pitch with an already working idea behind it - got no votes.
Which really by itself cried out one singular fact: education still just 'aint important/cool/fashionable/{insert whatever} in the USA.
This actual problem in itself ended up becoming the project that the only 3 people present at the 50+ workshop who were even so much as interested in education, worked on. The problem was quite simply "making educational achievement cool" - and an attempt to solve it was built over the weekend, turning into something called

Back to the main issue though: is education a serious topic yet for the USA? Because until education itself is a serious topic - education technology never will be.

I dont believe it is. In fact I'm not sure if it ever will be.

There are of course the evangelists, and champions of the cause - but we are far and few in-between, we are marginalized, we are often used for political points, and there is no interest by the people in positions to make positive changes to actually do so - or even so much allow it to happen.
"Red Tape" (ie: bureaucracy) is still a predominant force to be reckoned with in doing any educational based project, and it seems to only get thicker.

I spoke with Brainscape CEO Andrew Cohen and his team of 4, huddled in a small office space of about 10sqm, at a local shared office space called TheAlleyNYC about what his views on this were and why he chose to startup a company in the education tech sector in NY.
The main answer was that this was his community, and it seemed like the connections to doing something locally for him was the only question needing answering.
OK - understandable...and I fully admit that not many people are as dedicated as we are at eKita to making sure this works on a global scale - and we are pulling all stops to make sure we are in the right environment and market to do so - but the sheer resistance factor of doing this type of project out of the US - and especially NY (which has its own little ecosystem/mentality and behaves very incubated to the rest of the world) - should be a pretty heavy concern, or at least I would think - of aspiring edu-tech companies looking to setup there.
Apparently its not, and I believe this is more due to lack of experience and/or exposure internationally for at least the ones I've talked to.
I also talked with a few other startups and even long-established companies in edu-tech while out there - including TLC, Chalkable (ironically trying to do something similar to us), and I even noticed there is Socratic Labs out there too - a purely edu-tech focused accelerator (incubator?) type deal (no website yet, ironically).

At the end of the day it begs to question the differences between the US and basically everywhere else (OK - Europe and Asia at least) when it comes to education.
In Europe, where I have already ample experience in edu-tech both within institutions and now a growing experience outside - when tools and platforms are built for education, they are done quite seriously. When Lund University needed a new, cutting edge labratory toolset in 2002 to integrate with their already cutting-edge custom Linux OS for the science faculty - they pulled all stops and built an entire inhouse development team of software engineers (including me) and network experts to get it done. With a budget that would float your current day typical startup for 2 to 3 rounds of funding.
This is what I mean when I say serious.

The governmental ministries in education also have departments dedicated to advancing edu-tech within schools in general. Something the US does not have - and it is one of the only western countries that lacks it.
Israel even has its own private sector CET (Center for Education Technology) which has strong support and full collaboration from the government. They are also building an edu-tech incubator to help fund & build more edu-tech startups with support from their entire network of schools and infrastructure - which eKita was actually invited to join as one of the first 5 companies, but unfortunately it didn't quite fit us.

In Asia its even more intense. With the highest ratio of spenditure per capita on education (up to 70% of household income in some parts of Asia is spent on education) - and full government (federal and local) support as well as institutional interest in being truly cutting edge - the reality of it is that when doing something which has an obvious advancing factor for education tech in Asia: they roll out the red carpet.
Bureaucracy becomes a thing long distant, even in typically bureaucratic countries, and the funding for educational improvements is easily regarded as a highly lucrative sector by many (not nearly all, yet - but many).

So back to the original topic: will edu-tech in the US ever really become more than a ploy to gain political points, or a passionate ambition of the few, marginalized, evangelists and social champions?

Like this picture here undertones: staged "technical classrooms" posing for a picture that are rarely seen mainstream and are more commonly used for promotional brochures than actual learning.

I'm optimistic - so I'll leave my answer open, but I believe the facts speak for themself; at least for now.

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