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BlackboardNECC071.jpgBlackboard’s booth at NECC in Atlanta was one of the best examples I’ve seen recently of Socratic Marketing. They asked teachers to write a brief paragraph on how they intended to use a free trial of the product in their classrooms. Then they took a polaroid of them and pasted several hundred of them all over the booth. In an inversion of current trends they created a real version of a virtual community. It was fun and interesting to browse the cards and it made a strong visual statement.

Blackboard started a real dialog and also provided the foundation for a series of ongoing conversations. Shana Glenzer, Sr. K-12 Marketing Manager at Blackboard, told me that they were getting ideas for uses of the product that they hadn’t thought of, like connecting pregnant teens to classroom resources. They also intend to use the ideas in conversations with senior administrators at districts – “6 of your teachers visited with us and here are some of the ideas they had…”
Blackboard120072.jpgIt was arresting in its simplicity and represented a validation of the products in the words of end users. It also showed that great marketing doesn’t have to cost a lot.


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necc-atlanta.gifThe National Education Computing Conference NECC put on by ISTE in Atlanta this week was the most active education tradeshow I’ve seen since the dot com bubble burst in 2000. Ironically the 2000 show was in Atlanta, the Big Peach bookended a lull in the ed tech market that looks like it is over. 18,000+ attendees thronged the World Congress Center in Atlanta for SRO sessions and a mobbed show floor.

The International Reading Association Conference which was held just six weeks ago was sleepy backwater compared to NECC. Even with valid reasons for IRA having a slow year the difference in these shows is so dramatic that one has to conclude that educators are voting with their time and money on the best tools for teaching today.

To bring this point home look at the two pictures below. The one on the left is from NECC and the one on the right is from IRA. Both were taken at the height of show floor activity. At IRA one could have set up pins and bowled in the aisles. At NECC one had to move at herd speed to navigate the hall.

NECC07Aisle.jpg IRA07Aisle.jpg

One of the surprises of the show given the level of activity was how little revolutionary new technology was on display. Ed Tech enthusiasts have been a sour lot of late – saying that they are are not hearing or seeing anything new at conferences they attend.

But perhaps a maturing set of tools and practices explains why we are seeing this burst of activity. We’ve reached the far side of the chasm. The tools are not the edgy unsupported pre-beta versions of the early 90’s that only a hard core techie could love. The solutions on display are robust, stable, and well supported with professional development and other resources.

We’ve moved from the visionary early adopters, across the chasm, and are now reaching the pragmatists in the early majority.

Hopefully this groundswell will continue to build over the coming years. If my hypothesis is correct the future of ed-tech will look like the green section of the curve below.


For those who need a quick refresher on Crossing the Chasm here is the Wikipedia link.

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MathOnNECC07.jpgThe first mutliplayer game tournament for education is being held. The event is being put on by Tabula Digita at ISTE in Atlanta (the show formerly known as NECC). A large crowd has gathered in the atrium above the exhibit floor to watch the final round.

This is a major step in the world of educational gaming. NT Etuk, the President of Tabula Digita, just said that this is really about the students. It is about meeting them where they are – kids living in a gaming world bringing the skills and abilities that go with that to their work as learners. Students have come from as far away as New York, California, and Oregon to compete today.

A new generation of educational games is reaching the market that is multiplayer, on-line, and richly three dimensional. Tabula Digita has the pole position in this emergent market and they are putting on a great show for the educators gathered to watch. The contest will pit teams of students against each other in game of using math skills to navigate and solve problems in an on-line world.

logo_cbsnews.gifGaming tournaments have gone mainstream as this 60 Minutes segment showed last year. While the prizes here today are not the megabucks found in commercial game tournaments the contestents will vie in three separate games for title of top educational gamer. The winner takes home an iBook laptop.

Years from now we will look back on this as an inflection point in the use of on-line virtual worlds in learning. I may have to eat my hat on this, but I believe a few short years from now events like this will surpass the Math Olympiad.

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Few education companies do marketing well. Many are good at sales and distribution, others are product driven and innovative, but very few are able to drive high growth through world class marketing.

What does great marketing look like?
* Reps have so many leads they triage them.

* Customers recommend you to all their friends.

* Annual growth consistently beats your peers – your market share is growing.

There are two core questions that constitute what I call “Big M Marketing.”
handshake.jpg1. What promise are you making to the market?

2. How are you aligning the entire business to fulfill the promise?

The first question drives the strategic vision and the second drives the tactical execution. Yin and yang – you have to embrace both.

yin-yang.jpg It really is this simple – but simplicity is difficult for most companies. You must put the time in up front to get the promise nailed down and then you have to sustain your focus on it long enough for the market to believe you.

So how can you get away from empty sloganeering, sales support masquerading as marketing (you need both), and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey marcom? Here is a brief overview of one way to start doing Big M Marketing.

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Students and Educators might as well live on different planets when it comes to social media, blogs, and other Web 2.0 technologies. The educators are making fear based decisions because the new technologies are unfamiliar to them. The students are too busy figuring out how it all works to bother paying attention to the restrictions the educators are putting in place. Fear and hope in sharp contrast.

AEP-Logo.gifThis disconnect was starkly drawn at the Association of Educational Publishers (AEP) annual summit in DC last week. A meeting ran long and I arrived at the sessions a few minutes late. I intended to lurk in the doorway of a couple of different presentations to see where I wanted to spend the next hour. What I observed sent my head spinning.

access_control_keyboard_version_1.jpgIn one room a panel of distinguished educators was discussing the challenges of bringing in new technologies. Their discussion centered on what the lawyers would let them do and the endless committee structures they had set up to screen what was permissible with blogs and other social media. Short answer – not much.

racer_of__mouses.jpgNext door the Weekly Reader was presenting their in-depth research on what kids are doing with technology these days. This is wonderful longitudinal research that they make available to anyone who is interested. Bottom line – the kids have completely embraced the new tools.

There are potential dangers with the new tools – but that is the case with any tool new or old. What matters is the character of those who wield the tool. Plagiarism is much easier with the web – but it isn’t a new behavior. Over time tools like have arisen to help address the problem in new and powerful ways. The net result is that it is easier to plagiarize and it is easier to catch someone doing it. The real challenge is the same as it has always been – teaching kids that it is wrong.

The saddest part of this disconnect from my perspective is that schools today are struggling to be relevant. Every time they resist the new tools the more they are teaching the kids to ignore the formal system.

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166x133.aspx.jpgWhere are breakthrough products like the Wii in education? Textbooks and education technology are stuck in a rut. Just like Sony and Microsoft got locked in a war over processor speeds and cutting edge graphics most of the competition in the education market seems increasingly focused on tangential issues to the customer’s core needs. For example…
* More foil on the cover!
* On-line lesson plans!
* 4 million item bank questions!
These efforts all mask the underlying problem. With everyone writing to the standards for the same 4-5 states textbooks are becoming a low growth zero sum commodity game. In an attempt to differentiate their basal textbooks the major publishers are increasingly cannibalizing their supplemental book bags for “free with order” goodies. They are also bolting technology on in an attempt to sex up the offerings.

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face-in-the-chips-small.jpgThere are solutions to the frustration of managing email. The fundamental answer is a shift in behaviors and expectations. David Allen’s Getting Things Done has helped change the conversation from a technology focus to a behavioral focus. Technology is part of the solution – but only if we use it differently. I have not needed a vertical scroll bar on my email for 3 months, something I would not have believed possible a year ago. The technology didn’t change – I did.

The scale of the problem has grown so rapidly that cultural norms and behaviors have not had time to adapt. As a result feelings of guilt and frustration are widespread as people watch their inbox grow faster than they can clear it. Anger at spammers is epidemic (I hope there is a special place in hell for them involving all the devices they are trying to sell us). These are not healthy emotions.

Some have taken to declaring email bankruptcy, throwing up their hands and cleaning the slate. As usual Scott Adams is brilliant on the subject of email as a weapon. But the best description of the problem I’ve seen was recently posted at 43 Folders.

pebbles-small.jpg “Email is such a funny thing. People hand you these single little messages that are no heavier than a river pebble. But it doesn’t take long until you have acquired a pile of pebbles that’s taller than you and heavier than you could ever hope to move, even if you wanted to do it over a few dozen trips. But for the person who took the time to hand you their pebble, it seems outrageous that you can’t handle that one tiny thing. “What ‘pile’? It’s just a f#@$ing pebble!”

Theres more…

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