Acknowledgement: EdTech Maryland and the proposed future of education innovation and excellence in Maryland would not be possible without the following leaders: Andrew Coy, Jen Meyer, Jan Baum, Michael Baady, Frank Bonsal III, John Cammack, Bill Ferguson, Tom Sadowski, Katrina Stevens, and Vince Talbert.
In the U.S., North America, and around the Globe, education innovation clusters are popping up across the landscape to solve the 21st century’s toughest learning challenges. Some of these economic development clusters, moreover entrepreneurship hubs, will lead in ways that others cannot. Maryland is one of them.
Maryland, My Maryland
An Overview. A couple of years ago, a few gray-haired, mission-driven Baltimoreans began to meet on a patterned basis to discern what we could do to induce and replicate education innovation and productivity in Baltimore, Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic region. The interest grew virally to a point where a more formal task force made sense, and the Greater Baltimore EdTech Advisory Task Force was born. The task force met for a year and included over forty people and four committees, was led by an executive committee of 10 community leaders, including yours truly, and chaired by Andrew Coy, Executive Director of the Digital Harbor Foundation. We tested the market by hosting with EdSurge the inaugural Baltimore Tech for Schools Summit in February 2014. We discerned there were identifiable, sustained pockets of PK-20 innovation in the city and around the state and that it was time to congeal, laud and replicate success accordingly. With the learner or education professional at the fore, it was time to matter-of-factly connect the dots and layer effectiveness thereon. We announced EdTech Maryland at the Tech for Schools Summit and have been building momentum ever since. A June 2014 article by GettingSmart’s Tom Vander Ark endorsed and encapsulated our efforts and attributes.
‘Mind’ the Patriarchs.
Image: 39 Things We’ll Miss About Patriarchy, Which Is Dead, by @kstoeffel, New York Magazine
As positive and fired up as we were for this endeavor, we also knew we needed to deal with the inevitable patriarch problem. We knew or thought that the old guard simply would not or could not dig in for a twenty year ecosystem build that was not controlled by certain entrenched leaders. We knew that a smaller metropolitan region must be cognizant of and interoperate with existing ecosystem assets. In short, learning from and lauding the past, we set out to grow an open, inclusive, grass roots approach to education innovation.
We also needed to start with the right full-time person who could catalyze the effort. With a deep background in teaching, media and advisory services all pegged to the education mission, Katrina Stevens was the logical, most energized and connected candidate for the role of executive director. Below is a recent dialogue I had with Katrina.
Inaugural logo (hashtag) of EdTech Maryland
Frank: What is EdTech Maryland?
Katrina: EdTech Maryland is a nonprofit enterprise whose mission is to drive and support excellence in education innovation and to foster an ecosystem that includes all stakeholders. EdTech Maryland has three main initiatives: 1) a research consortium, 2) convening and supporting events, and 3) some minor policy advocacy.
Frank: What are some differentiating qualities to Maryland’s education ecosystem? How does EdTech Maryland plan to laud and capitalize on these? Why now?
Katrina: Maryland, more than any other ecosystem I’ve seen, truly cares about the double bottom line — yes, we do believe that it’s important for companies to be sustainable — but it deeply matters to this community that these solutions improve student and teacher outcomes. EdTech Maryland will identify effective solutions and help to scale them so that more students and professionals benefit.
The Greater Baltimore region already hosts business and social enterprise incubators that support economic growth at scale. We rank in the top few states in the country for excellence in education. We’re also unique in that within a short distance, we have a broad range of schools — public, private, urban, suburban, and rural — each with their own challenges. This makes us an ideal region for documenting how innovative practices lead to improved outcomes in different groups of students.
Our capacity as a collaborative community is unsurpassed. When entrepreneurs come here — and we’ve already had two companies move from NYC — the local entrepreneurial community embraces them and opens up their rolodexes. To get things accomplished, we frequently pool resources to make something happen.
Frank: Where do you start building EdTech Maryland — and why?
Katrina: In some ways, we’re tackling the difficult problem first. We know we can continue to serve as a convener, to host events that support our mission, which we’ll do. What’s much more difficult however is figuring out how to design and implement short cycle feedback systems to help the larger edtech community understand where products are in their development and what degree of promise they hold. We need to broaden the definition of research to incorporate the rapid iterations happening in the startup community and the changing needs of our students. Partnerships with higher education and districts will be key to our success.
Frank: Who are the key players?
Katrina: We need partners from all elements of the larger ecosystem: the business community, higher ed, districts, independent schools, government, incubators/accelerators, parents and other community organizations. We have begun partnerships with Towson University and Johns Hopkins and are pleased to have the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore in supporting our early development and operations needs. The EdTech Maryland Executive and Advisory Boards will soon be announced, as will our follow-on Tech for Schools Summit, which was so popular with educators earlier this year.
Frank: Speaking of key players, why are you the one to connect the dots and further architect a robust edtech ecosystem in Maryland?
Katrina: My background provides me the good fortune to see the ecosystem from many different positions. The first 20 years of my career was spent in classrooms — I worked in higher ed, then was a teacher and administrator, working in both public and private schools. I also co-founded an edtech startup, have written about the edtech space for EdSurge, and have served as a consultant on a wide range of projects across the edtech ecosystem. My recent work as EdSurge Summit Director has taught me how to help entrepreneurs and educators work together so that everyone benefits, especially the students.
I’m passionate about helping bring people together across the ecosystem to work together toward common goals.
Frank: What does the Maryland education ecosystem resemble in 2020?
Katrina: I envision an integrated system where schools and entrepreneurs are working together seamlessly to provide better solutions for our schools. EdTech Maryland will become the gold standard for evaluating early stage products and innovative practices. Schools will trust our measurements and evaluations and will use them to make decisions about what will work best for their schools. We’ll also be the go-to place for anyone interested in finding out information about what’s important in the larger community. EdTech Maryland will serve as a trusted advisor for the whole community.
So, here we go with a Baltimore-based startup nonprofit whose sole mission is to enhance and imbue the best attributes of the learning and leading process in Maryland’s education ecosystem. With the energy, wisdom and productivity of Katrina and some of the players she is aggregating, odds are very good that Maryland’s education ecosystem is one to watch.