Edtech Insiders

Week in Edtech 04/10/2024: Nvidia Dominates AI Chip Competition with Google and Intel, Duolingo to Futher Tap China's Edtech Sector, Biden Rolls Out New Debt Relief Plan and More! Plus Special Guests Hayley Spira-Bauer and Ysiad Ferreiras of Fullmind

April 17, 2024 Alex Sarlin and Alberto Arenaza Season 8
Week in Edtech 04/10/2024: Nvidia Dominates AI Chip Competition with Google and Intel, Duolingo to Futher Tap China's Edtech Sector, Biden Rolls Out New Debt Relief Plan and More! Plus Special Guests Hayley Spira-Bauer and Ysiad Ferreiras of Fullmind
Edtech Insiders
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Edtech Insiders
Week in Edtech 04/10/2024: Nvidia Dominates AI Chip Competition with Google and Intel, Duolingo to Futher Tap China's Edtech Sector, Biden Rolls Out New Debt Relief Plan and More! Plus Special Guests Hayley Spira-Bauer and Ysiad Ferreiras of Fullmind
Apr 17, 2024 Season 8
Alex Sarlin and Alberto Arenaza

Send us a Text Message.

Join Alex Sarlin and guest host, Alberto Arenaza, Co-founder at Transcend Network as they explore pivotal topics in this Week in Edtech episode:

👩‍🏫 The latest in K-12 challenges and digital threats,
📚 Biden’s big moves in student debt relief,
🌐 Duolingo’s strategic expansion into China's booming Edtech market,
🔧 The fierce competition in AI chip technology among Nvidia, Google, and Intel,
🎓 Insights on workforce trends affecting college graduates,
💼 Significant funding and M&A activities shaking up the sector.

Plus special guests, Hayley Spira-Bauer and Ysiad Ferreiras from Fullmind.

Don’t forget to subscribe to Edtech Insiders for more updates and insights from the forefront of educational technology!

Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

Join Alex Sarlin and guest host, Alberto Arenaza, Co-founder at Transcend Network as they explore pivotal topics in this Week in Edtech episode:

👩‍🏫 The latest in K-12 challenges and digital threats,
📚 Biden’s big moves in student debt relief,
🌐 Duolingo’s strategic expansion into China's booming Edtech market,
🔧 The fierce competition in AI chip technology among Nvidia, Google, and Intel,
🎓 Insights on workforce trends affecting college graduates,
💼 Significant funding and M&A activities shaking up the sector.

Plus special guests, Hayley Spira-Bauer and Ysiad Ferreiras from Fullmind.

Don’t forget to subscribe to Edtech Insiders for more updates and insights from the forefront of educational technology!

Alexander Sarlin: Welcome to season eight of EdTech Insiders, where we speak to educators, founders, investors, thought leaders, and the industry experts who are shaping the global education technology industry. Every week, we bring you the week in EdTech, important updates from the EdTech field, including news about core technologies and issues we know will influence the sector like artificial intelligence, extended reality, Education, politics, and more.

We also conduct in depth interviews with a wide variety of EdTech thought leaders and bring you insights and conversations from EdTech conferences all around the world. Remember to subscribe, follow, and tell your EdTech friends about the podcast and to check out the EdTech Insiders Substack Newsletter.

Thanks for being part of the EdTech Insiders community. Enjoy the show.

Welcome to This Week in EdTech, the week I love. Of April 10th, we are here with our special, special, special guest host. One of the original, amazing journalists and thought leaders and investors who really helps shape the sector, Alberto Arenaza calling in from the Canary islands. 

Alberto Arenaza: Alberto, welcome to the pod.

Thank you, Alex. Super excited to be here. I'm a long time listener of the pod. I think I've been here a few times already. And yeah, I'm joining from an island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. I'm usually based in Madrid in Spain, but I'm here for the day. So you can't see the ocean just on the other side of the laptop, but it's a pretty special place to be.

Alexander Sarlin: Well, we appreciate you taking time away from your island world to be with us and talk about ed tech today. You know, I've admired your work for a really long time. So I'm really excited to chat with you about all sorts of amazing things happening today, this week in ed tech. So. You know, this is probably, episode is coming out probably right at the beginning of ASU GSV, the biggest conference of the year for EdTech investing.

All sorts of things happening at ASU GSV. You know, EdTech Insiders, we're doing a happy hour. Ben and I are speaking at the air show and each doing panels. Alberto, what are you most excited about for this year's ASU GSV? 

Alberto Arenaza: It's a really, really fun event for anyone who hasn't been, it's where a lot of the edtech startups and investors come together.

And I think this year the air show is going to be new. We'll be there as well. And yeah, I think it's always an exciting time. I think there's probably more international founders every year is kind of what I've observed. So I'm seeing a lot of great founders from very far away who are joining this year.

I'm pretty excited about that. EdTech Insiders happy hour, of course, we're going to be hosting a walk, actually, in the morning, Monday morning, just to get started with the conference with high energy. So we're going to go for a walk around the seaport. 

Alexander Sarlin: Yeah. And the San Diego seaport, beautiful, beautiful place.

So really, really excited. And you know, Alberto, your Transcend fellowship is super global. You work with entrepreneurs, early stage entrepreneurs from all over the world in your EdTech work and amazing people. So tell us a little bit about what you're looking at through your Transcend lens at ASU GSV this year.

Alberto Arenaza: For anyone who doesn't know transcend network, we run a program for early stage founders and the feature of learning and feature fork. And we try to help them find product market fit. So we help them run weekly product market fit experiments and we're sort of working with them very closely to validate what their customers need.

And they're all pretty early stage. They're from all over the world. And I think as you GSV is actually a really nice event for us because it, it's Comes at the end of one of our courts. So we do three cohorts every year and we just finished our first quarter of the year and we're all bringing them together in person.

So that's always a lot of fun. I would say lots of AI innovations that are solving. I would say pretty real problems. I think maybe we've gone through the first year of trying out a lot of things that were maybe technology first, but not really solving any real problems. And I think now we're seeing a lot of people who are saying.

I have this problem. Can AI help me or are there other technologies that can help me solve this problem? And so I think that's, we're kind of crossing that chasm right now, which is pretty exciting. So I would say that's kind of what's top of mind for us. 

Alexander Sarlin: A hundred percent. One thing that I'm going to really keep an eye on is sort of the mood.

Basically, you know, we just saw this whole NIQ report come out saying we have the lowest VC ed tech investment in 10 years, and it's continued to go down from the, it's height in 2021. Yet there's also been this two year long now, AI boom lit in terms of companies being created, new tools, all sorts of things are happening, but it hasn't yet truly translated into meaningful investment and growth.

So it's sort of like there's these two stories. The story of AI is bringing EdTech to the new level and going to change education forever. I'm definitely on that bandwagon, but at the same time, there's The actual traditional ed tech funding routes are starting to really show signs of wear and tear. And I know we'll talk about this a little later in the podcast, but I'm really curious, just this is something I'm going to ask a lot of people about as I walk the floor and meet with all sorts of people at the conferences, sort of which of these push and pull mechanisms is going to really be dominant over the next year.

Are we going to see, you know, AI resurgence or continued sort of anemia? It's a really interesting moment. So speaking of AI, One of the things we wanted to talk about, we are two other edtech, you know, real legends, Lawrence Holt, who has been at Amplify and XQ Institute and Jacob Klein from Motion Math.

And now he's at Amplify and TeachFX. People have been around a long time, have been putting out Their map of generative AI in education, and they just updated it. We had a tech insiders have also been collecting, you know, a running tab, a list of basically all the AI and education companies. Our list is now over 325 companies that are new.

They're, you know, almost all brand new. These are not incumbents that are doing AI and education. So that's exciting. And I know this is something you've been keeping your eye on very closely. Alberta, all these new sort of market maps of AI and education. What are some new areas? Of innovation. What are some things that you're seeing on there that you're sort of getting excited about?

Alberto Arenaza: Yeah. So I think to connect this question with what you were saying before, I think there's just a lot of great founders that are testing out products right now with AI. And even though they're not getting a ton of VC funding, they're able to validate. Real problems that they can solve through AI. So I think while there's less funding for companies, we see more and better companies, right?

At Transcend, we also run a fund and we, when we see companies that we invest in, we're usually first investor. And it's actually quite hard to get other investors on board at the pre seed rounds. Because they're looking for a lot more validation and yet you have this explosive growth of founders are trying new things in AI that are more experienced than before they're validating faster and they're solving bigger problems.

So it's definitely an interesting time. I feel like the quality of. Projects and tools has never been higher, at least in my experience. And I think that's reflected in this generative AI map, right? So I think there's a lot of interesting tools around basically co pilots for new personas. There are, I think we're kind of going a lot deeper instead of thinking like, what does the AI for high school students look like and thinking about it almost like a chat GPT full menu of options.

Each tool is becoming a lot more specialized and focusing on student interests or teachers abilities to expand on. Certain questions or create explanations for students. And so I think we're starting to acquire that language that has is a lot more precise, right? When someone talks about magic school, now everyone understands what it means and what it does.

A year ago, it all felt like magic school and all the AI tools were the same. Now there's like just a lot more tools, right? So there's Diffit does something very specific. Dewey does something very specific. So I think that's the interest. That I have in these maps is like we're starting to acquire a much more precise and specific language when we talk about tools.

Alexander Sarlin: It's a really great point. I mean, 1 of the areas you mentioned do either. And 1 of the areas that I've been getting excited about as we sort of chronicle some of the movement. It's similar to what you're saying. It's sort of, you know, the 1st set of use cases. I think we're all either. How can we help the teacher be more productive, do their lesson planning, do their quiz creation, do their flashcard creation, do their assignments, grade their assignments, sort of like all the different things that teachers do.

How might we help? Magic School is one of many companies that have been jumping into that space. And then there was this feeling on the other side, you know, what would be great for students in the AI space? Is it a chat bot? Is it a character they can chat with? Is it, you know, what are some interesting experiences there?

All of those are really exciting, but now we're starting to see some much more sort of deep School, you know, more embedded options. So like, I'm interested in companies like a school AI that is trying to basically figure out, you know, safe infrastructure for schools that can actually put all the pieces together or Dewey, which is all about, you know, being able to access school data and figure out how to use AI to make sense of school data, or even zoom, you know, you, you've talked about this where the school bus logistics company, like it's starting to be more.

Hey, how do we actually fix the deeper problems of school, like understanding where our data is and how to put it together and how to do integrations and how to make sure we can actually make sense of our entire ecosystem. Those are some really exciting use cases. I am also excited about the improvement in teacher professional development.

There are a few companies now that are very actively trying to build a literacy among educators, and I'm really excited about that movement because it feels like, you know, it's one thing to offer. Educators, you know, this whole suite of different kinds of tools where they can use AI to do specific things they already do.

It's another to help them actually understand the underlying technology, the potential, how it's going to move into video and games and images, you know, almost immediately. And get, you know, educators to really understand this world, rather than just giving them prompts or very, very specific use cases to replicate what they're already doing, even though that stuff is great, too.

So it's a really cool moment, and it feels like it's a maturing moment for 

Alberto Arenaza: AI and education. I think one of the things that we've been hearing recently is. We don't need more tools. We need better practices, better trainings around how to use those existing tools to kind of push us to the next stage. And I think that's kind of also what I'm hearing, right?

Like if you keep building more and more tools, at some point you become a little bit fatigued and you want better professional development. You want better user education and how to like to better onboarding processes. And yeah, I think that's kind of hopefully we're in that trajectory. 

Alexander Sarlin: And how do you sort of help the whole school environment know how to use AI in a way that's safe, private, comfortable, you know, usable, innovative, actually has impact on outcomes?

I think those questions are finally starting to be asked in really serious ways. One of the really interesting use cases that we're seeing in AI is the beginning of college counseling and the sort of Quote unquote democratization of college counseling, the lowering of costs through AI. You and I both have worked with Julia Dixon, a great entrepreneur, building a tool called SAI, which is all about using AI to help students tell their narrative for college or scholarship admissions.

It's really college admissions or scholarships, really cool tool. This article and inside a higher ed focused on college guidance networks, tool, Ava, a tool called Ivy from college of mine and places like NACAC, the association of college advisors and basically saying, you know, what does it mean if AI is helping people counsel students to get into college?

Because we know this is a part of the high school system. That's totally overburdened, horrible ratios of college counselors to students and even worse in low socioeconomic. status school. So this is a really pressing use case, but also a place that scares some people when it comes to AI because it's such heavy, high stakes decisions.

What did you make of this article? 

Alberto Arenaza: Yeah, I think it's a really interesting read. I highly recommend it for anyone who's listening. I think what it highlighted to me is just the different approaches and how to think about AI. Co pilots in a way you can think about it as we need to give the tools to college counselors so that they're able to be more productive in their day to day.

But at the end of the day, they're actually doing all that work themselves versus the SAI approach of. Actually helping the student better understand what they need to do in through that process. In this context, it's in the process of creating their own narrative as they apply to universities, even finding their own universities.

And I don't actually know that there is one universal best practice around this. I would say there's a lot of tools that are playing around with both and experimenting. And I do feel like there's something that like, if you don't actually improve the way that the student is thinking about their work, I don't know that you can actually drive change, right?

So if you only create a tool that gives the college and counselor superpowers and gets them to be 10x more productive and be able to communicate with the student through AI, I don't know that you can actually drive that much change, but that's, I don't know. I think that was kind of the interesting opportunity that I saw, but I'm curious how you see it, Alex, like, 

Alexander Sarlin: I mean, you know, it's one of these things where if you think about sort of the core benefits of AI, which is being able to take enormous amounts of data that are virtually impossible for a human to crunch manually, or for even a set of humans, or even a human with tools to be able to crunch and make sense of manually, and the idea of being able to boil down the All that data into actionable recommendations into clear guidelines into principles into, you know, that's really what generative AI is all about, right?

Turning oceans of data into specific answers. College counseling is actually almost the perfect use case for that, right? I mean, I don't know if you remember this from your college days, Alberto, but do you remember the book? There was this like, you know, 800 page book that you'd have to buy from Barnes and Nobles or whatever that had descriptions of every college and it would have like two pages on each school and what clubs they have and what's their average as a T score.

And you know, all this information. And it was like, as a 18 year old, Or their parents, frankly, or a college counselor, frankly. That is not the volume of information you can actually make sense of. I mean, it's just completely nuts. And we know from lots of research that students who are first generation college students, for example, often make their decisions about college for reasons that are not The most sophisticated it's often because it's very close to home and they can continue to either live at home or stay in contact with their family, or it's because there's particular interests that they had in high school and they think they're going to pursue in college.

I mean, the reasons why people make these college decisions now, even with the current counseling environment are pretty weak. So I think if you compare it to the status quo, there's a lot of room to improve by being able to crunch huge amounts of data, Make sense of them for either counselors or students directly.

So I'm personally pretty bullish on this use case, but I definitely understand the ethical issues there. I mean, and that is putting together an ethics committee about this. One thing that, you know, is definitely should be off limits. And I think people all realize this is that Students shouldn't be using AI to completely create their college applications or essays.

And, and, you know, most of the people in the space know that and make sure that their tools don't allow that because that really is just sort of skipping an important step. But at the same time, you know, I think the state of college counseling in the U S is pretty weak. I think the ratio is 400 to one, I believe is the number of students that a single college counselor is advising.

And that is just not something that. is sustainable. It's never been sustainable. And in this very weird world where, you know, the value of college is under fire, the types of different options that you can take after high school or just continue to proliferate. Like I just find it, it's a really broken system.

So I'm excited to see if AI can help be part of the solution. 

Alberto Arenaza: And I think with all these questions, there's going to be a percentage of that question that gets answered by. AI. And I think you're totally right that whatever, there's a huge amount of data that you can't possibly read through. That's where AI can help.

Alexander Sarlin: Yeah. 

Alberto Arenaza: And then there's also a component of human support and empathy and really like helping a human find guidance. Right. And I think when I think about a student making a decision as to what they want to study, what they want to do when they grow up, I think that's. With that human empathy component really helps you want to feel like you're being listened to, but then when you actually get on that kind of, okay, I'm going to complete this application.

And once you get into that mindset, I think that's where the AI can really, really helpful in actually helping you accomplish that goal. Right? So fully, fully agree with that. 

Alexander Sarlin: Great point. So there are a couple of more really interesting sort of high level AI stories that I think we should just, you know, cover quickly, but they're not directly ed tech specific.

And then I think there's a lot of really interesting ed tech specific news that I'd love to get into. So first off, you know, both Intel and Google released new AI chips this week, directly rivaling NVIDIA, which has been, you know, the industry behemoth for quite a while. And, you know, while this doesn't have a direct, direct impact on AI and What it's showing is, you know, more and more and more, there's this ferocious battle business battle underneath the A.

I. World to build the infrastructure to be able to do incredibly high levels of compute. We reported a couple weeks ago about how open A. I. And Microsoft are building this, you know, billion dollar, you know, data system. And these chips are, you know, in videos basically owned this whole space and has this Yeah.

What trillion dollar market cap, whatever it is, 2 trillion. And now other really big chip companies like Intel and other really big tech companies like Google are starting to impinge on that. And I think it means it's, you know, it's good for the future of the cost of compute cause it's going to be more competitive and it's going to be more just stronger.

There's going to be more availability. It reminds me of Moore's law and sort of. Your early computing where it used to be, you'd have this huge computer that would have 64 bytes of memory and I think we're very quickly getting into a new era. Do you think this has any impact directly on EdTech? Like, what do you foresee as these chip wars?

Where would they have effect down the line on the EdTech world? Yeah, 

Alberto Arenaza: I think this is really kind of at the foundation of What we're able to do with AI, right? So right now, I think some ultimate, for example, obviously for Rosie to this chip shortage, but he's been talking about the limitations that we have right now around AI development, because of we don't have the hardware to back up what we want to do on the software side, right?

And so the way that I think about it is right now, we're trying out a lot of things. We're still in the wild west of AI applications, but over time, I think we're going to, there's going to be problems that can only be solved once you're able to. Deploy really, really powerful AI. Right. And I think particularly when it comes to educational content, it's one of those things where maybe a 90 percent solution doesn't actually get you there.

You need to be able to do really high quality, really immersive AI simulations in order to be able to fully disrupt industries that have been around for centuries. Right. So I think overall. Where this is going is obviously more competition at the chip level, hopefully it leads to better outcomes, cheaper AI.

And over time that creates more abundance of AI tools. But yeah, everyone's trying to play in that space, right? It's such a difficult question for everyone that even NVIDIA has been doing a lot of direct investing into startups where the primary value propositions to the founders is having access to their compute, right?

And even open AI. So I think that's kind Big question that's going to be underlying a lot of the AI developments over the next. 

Alexander Sarlin: Yes We wrote an article in the newsletter a few months ago about how these giant companies should donate some tiny percentage But you know percentage of their compute power to public institutions including education because it is so extremely It's such an important resource.

It's really, you know, as Andrew says, the new electricity and we have to get the price down. This feels like it's moving in the right direction to have more competition there. It also feels like, you know, opening eyes decision recently to make chat GPT 3. 5, not only open, but open with no login. That's really interesting for schools.

It's also really interesting for the cost of compute. Cause I think it's a bet that, you know, Hey, we know the cost of compute is starting to go down. And with all this competition, it's going to go down. And when it goes down. Then some of these freemium models that we've been seeing in ed tech and other industries where you can only do, you know, X queries before you have to start paying may start to go away and it start, it might start to be more like you get a free month of something amazing.

And as a teacher, you can do a thousand lesson plans before you have to start paying. And that could be really interesting as well. So the other news that's caught my eye this week from this sort of, you know, 10, 000 foot view is. Nine major tech companies, including Google and IBM. Including Microsoft, including Cisco, including Accenture.

I mean, these are really big places, indeed, are all sort of coming together to put together a study and sort of create this consortium all around this, you know, major underlying fear of AI, the sort of fourth industrial revolution fear, which is Will it replace so many jobs that we will have, you know, mass unemployment and things like that.

And you're having all these tech companies sort of coming together to basically try to make sense of that in advance and say what might happen in the future. And obviously this is related to education, especially career and technical and work based and, you know, education that focuses on the future of technology jobs and jobs that may be disrupted.

What did you make of this Transcribed News. This is like, obviously very early, early days for this kind of thinking, but I was surprised at how big these companies were to already be jumping into this. 

Alberto Arenaza: I think to be completely honest, when I think about these consortia, I really wonder if anything gets done in those places, right?

Like, is there any real incentive to change the way that the company is higher or the way the company is trained based on the effects of automation? I think Google is actually a really interesting company, right? In that they've really wanted to invest in. Users getting any learner being able to get a low cost, high quality certificate to do a number of things through Coursera, mainly, and yet I don't really see them wanting to.

Lean in and play a major, major role in education. I always feel like there's a lot more potential for a Google or for a Microsoft to do more, but I always wonder, like, is it because education is too small for them? Like they don't necessarily want to set up their own. Training pathways. Is it because it's too political?

Like I always wonder why it is that this consortia always feel like a lot of talk, but not a ton of faction. So we'll see. I mean, hopefully these are the companies that are going to be, have a front row seat to how technology drives automation. And I think over time, these are very important questions, right?

So yes, I think the question is to what extent are they willing to. Get involved and change the way that the education system works with those insights. 

Alexander Sarlin: 100%. And I think, you know, the Google strategy that you've mentioned, where, you know, Google is trying to put out mostly free education to allow people to be able to sort of upskill and cutting edge technology, including AI.

For free or at very low cost, it seems like now in this AI era, a lot of these big tech companies are starting to head in the same direction. We talked to Lydia Logan from IBM, and they have committed to, you know, 30 million people, you know, in digital skills, training 30 million individuals. That's mostly adults and digital skills.

But it also includes in some cases, you know, college or high school students. We have Intel also saying 30 million people with AI skills. Cisco is doing 25 million in cybersecurity and digital skills. So like at Microsoft 10 million. So I think really at heart, what this is, when you say like, what is it really going to be, I think the real outcome of this for better or worse is going to be that all of these tech companies put out a lot of free training so that all the people who will benefit Maybe inevitably be disrupted by A.

I can at least go online and get certificates and get, you know, badges and get things that say, Hey, I know something about A. I know how to do X, Y and Z and hopefully, and this is, I think the real crossed fingers moment of it, hopefully stay employable in the future as this technology really does start to eat into different You know, job categories and also create new job categories, which is, you know, what everybody hopes.

So I think you're right. I'm not sure that there's going to be much more than that that comes out of this kind of consortium, but that's not nothing right. And if you're an adult right now, I think I've seen many of our listeners are adults, if not most or all, you know, there is probably going to be more and more and more options for where to go online and learn or or even for a boot camp or for a week long Class or something, there's going to be all of these options for how to basically get your AI training and skills or your digital training or cybersecurity training.

I mean, I'm personally going to take advantage of some of these. I've taken some of these AI classes already, but I think that, like, being a responsible adult right now probably means getting at least a couple of these certificates, because without knowing where this stuff is going, I think we are actually quite vulnerable.

So that's like, it's maybe the silver lining on something that probably isn't going to be as impactful. Full. And I think your question about Google, you know, why they don't lean more into education is a huge one. You know, I'm talking to YouTube, you know, one of the heads of YouTube for education on a panel next week at A-S-U-G-S-V.

And I, I think Google's had this very mixed feeling about education for a long time as a business. They have put money into Google Classroom, they've done amazing things. They've put money into Chromebooks. You know, they've done some great stuff for education and, and arguably the largest ed tech company, as Ben always says.

Yet, they're not often associated with education in the way that other companies are, and they're certainly not considered an edtech company by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, by most people, other than people on this podcast, they have a sort of a mixed bag. It's interesting. One other piece of news, getting sort of closer to the edtech sector, Duolingo announced this week that they're going deeper into China.

That's why it's one of their fastest growing international markets, one of their top five countries, and they're expanding their user base in China. China is a country we have very rarely talked about over the last year in EdTech because they basically shut down their entire EdTech ecosystem. What do you make of that?

Duolingo seems like a probably a smart move. 

Alberto Arenaza: Yeah. I would love to hear what other China experts have to say about this, because it's been honestly a big question mark for me. Like, how is it that China isn't making a bigger comeback in the tech space? I will say that. Because we use often VC funding in total VC funding as a way to understand the strength of a market or an ecosystem, we basically have ridden off China as a market when in reality, when you look at a lot of the global tech tools, they bring a lot of users.

So obviously they're a massive market. I think this is. Probably a really exciting opportunity for Duolingo to grow. I think they probably have to be thinking about how to grow into very specific markets, because they have to go and build the content for each one of those. Right? So if they're going into China, they really need to build out from maybe Mandarin to Spanish, Mandarin to English.

And so it makes sense for them that they're from that content creation perspective, they have to think about each country that they're going to focus on, and this is probably a really good market for them. 

Alexander Sarlin: No question. I mean, it's an enormous market. And, you know, I think one thing worth pointing out about Duolingo, why Duolingo probably is already doing well and continue to do well in China is that China's fear of international ed tech stems from the idea of, you know, Chinese government, not, you know, sort of losing control over what information and what education people have access to if they're taking, you know, English classes online.

on a zoom call with somebody in Ohio, which is what, you know, many of the English language tutoring sites were doing. Duolingo doesn't have that problem, right? Duolingo is technology. It's on your phone. It's on, you know, it's on Android and iPhones. There's no people involved except the people making the content.

It's very easy to monitor relatively. So I think Duolingo feels like a very safe option for the type of English language ed tech that China would and could embrace compared to many of the much more human centered models that we've seen in the past. So I think that probably, you know, I had not thought about this before, but probably those big decisions, the government decisions, China probably benefit Duolingo a lot because a lot of the companies that suddenly were sort of had to go either out of business or find new markets.

You know, immediately when China put together its reduction policy, you know, suddenly Duolingo seems like a really good alternative because it's inexpensive and it's, there's no people involved and it's, you know, widely admired. The outcomes are still a little bit up in the air. It's something that everybody knows about.

So yeah, it's an interesting moment. I think, I mean, who knows what's going to happen with China? It's such a controlled environment, but I want to ask you, there's something happening on Twitter this week and I am not a Twitter person. I am really not a Twitter person. So this completely went under the radar for me, but I think it's a really interesting debate and I want, can you explain this mentaba situation to our listeners and what's going on there?

Because this is something that just totally went beyond my notice, but you caught it. I think it's a really interesting story. Yes. 

Alberto Arenaza: I'm totally happy to be the scout for petty Twitter arguments. I will happily represent this one. So basically there was a tweet that went quite viral of a person who basically shared a screenshot of a slide deck of a company called Metava and was sort of mocking its approach and basically what they do is they want to bring literacy as early as possible to children.

And so I think this was a startup that was Founded, I believe about three years ago, and it's gotten a big round of investment. I think it was a 3 million seed round from primarily angel investors in Silicon Valley, and who often are thinking about this idea of like, how do we reinvent education from the outside?

Right. And not necessarily wanting to change the way the public education works in the U S but really trying to reinvent it was a very heated discussion between the proponents of this approach, which is basically Transcribed But one of the examples that he uses is what if we could teach algebra to really young kids?

What if we could have two year olds being able to read? And there was a pushback from all the people that were saying, Hey, like, why don't we invest that funding into improving public education? So it was quite interesting. We had maybe on one side, the Gary Tens, the I guess all the like opponents of technology acceleration and solving basically most of our problems.

And then on the other hand, we had all the public education supporters that did not want to see this innovation on the private side. I think it's basically a reductionist approach either way. I think in the way that I think about education and innovation in education is probably pretty aligned with the way that you see it, which is that.

Startups are best positioned to try things out that may or may not work, right? In the grand scheme of things, a team of 10 people raising a little bit of funding and trying out a really crazy, but potentially really good and really positive idea is awesome. Because if it works out, then the larger structures can learn from it and bring it into their system, right?

In a way I've benefited from that in that I was a student at Minerva University when I was first starting, right? So I was one of the guinea pigs in a way, Of a university that was very ambitious and got a lot of online hate sometimes as well, . So for me it was a life changing experience and I think a lot of the things that they've learned, they've been able to apply to other universities in the sort of next chapter of, obviously the university is still running, but now we partners with other universities to help them bring those partners, the innovations that they've built at a much larger scale.

So I think there's a lot of benefits to trying out these things. I think there's a little bit of hate on both sides that kind of goes into the arguments. But yeah, really interesting conversation. And I think the other maybe thing that I'll pull for this is venture capital in many ways is not a good fit for a lot of ed tech innovations.

And I would argue that this is probably one of them. I don't really imagine a company that does sort of literacy for parents who are paying for this. There's. Probably not a great venture scale unicorn in the making and like how do we change the narrative so that there's more innovations like this that get funded and get a fair shot at trying this technological and pedagogical innovations without necessarily needing to grow into a billion dollar company is kind of the the other follow up question that I have coming from this.

But we'd love to get your thoughts, Alex. 

Alexander Sarlin: No, I totally agree. That was a great synopsis of a complicated situation. But I mean, the thing I really like about your description here is it's sort of like, it's two somewhat extreme positions sort of clashing around what innovation and education or how education should evolve, right?

There's the classic. Silicon Valley disruption narrative, you know, Hey, the hotel industry doesn't work. Let's make Airbnb and completely disrupt it. You know, the taxi industry doesn't work because you can't order a taxi from your phone. So let's disrupt it with Uber and Lyft, like this idea of, Hey, let's just rethink these systems from, like you say, from first principles.

And if we rethink, you know, education from first principles, maybe we completely change the age ranges. And this Mintava deck is literally saying, Hey, we can teach, you know, we're. trying to prove out with our pilot users that we can teach much younger students, much more complicated material. Now, anybody who cares about education should say, Hey, that's exciting as an idea, right?

The idea of being able to teach literacy at a younger age effectively, or in a shorter time, or teach algebra, algebra and literacy are like two of the biggest problems in education. They have caused problems for decades. So the idea of being able to sort of fix them should be exciting. But at the same time, There's also, you know, I think a very natural pushback against the overhyped Silicon Valley, let's just solve everything with an app kind of feeling.

Right. And saying, well, we have these massive systems that have been trying to figure this out with all this research, with all this stuff and putting money into those systems and making sure they're funded properly or that they're pointed in the right direction could be a good idea. I think that's the other extreme point of view, which is that, you know, innovation, somebody trying to fix the root of a problem really directly, like Literacy and math, you know, enumeracy and illiteracy dismissing them and saying, Hey, we already have a system for that, even though we know for a fact that our system doesn't work very well, and we have terrible rates of illiteracy and enumeracy, you know, is a pretty disingenuous argument as well.

So I would say personally, the truth. For me, it lies very much in between these perspectives. I agree with you completely. You want innovation, you want new ideas, you want people to use technology to try to improve educational outcomes. That's kind of the whole point of edtech, right? But you also don't want to get so overhyped and have everything be about dollars and pitch decks and, you know, and trying to sort of Say that you're going to do something when you don't know if you could actually do it and hope, you know, fake it till you make it kind of thinking that we see in so many Silicon Valley decks and companies that can be dangerous or kind of problematic in the educational sector.

So it's one of these, like, you know, as somebody who is new to this Mentava company and the debate, I don't know anything about their, you know, whether their outcomes are real or not. But I think just the two claims, the sort of. Hey, we can do better than the entire education system with our app and we already are and it's already here and we're going to change everything seems overblown by a while and the idea of no, these 3 million that you've got should be invested in public education.

I do not believe that at all. So I think there's a very, uh, interesting debate and I think it uncovers some really fundamental questions about where innovation and progress should come from in education, which is what this podcast and what your work and my work are really all about. So it's a really interesting debate.

I think it sort of gets into the. It's a little microcosm of, I think, a debate we should be having a lot more in society about how we move education forward. 

Alberto Arenaza: So best of luck to the Metava team and hopefully they figure out something that the rest of the industry hasn't figured out and we're able to scale it.


Alexander Sarlin: exactly. So you were just mentioning the ed tech fundraising sort of conundrum that we're in, where VCs are increasingly hesitant to fund education companies that may not have that 10 X, a hundred X return that, you know, unicorn status that is sort of the big gray, Holy grail of VC. We just saw this whole on IQ report come out last week.

Again, we've mentioned it earlier in the podcast, but. Really a nosedive in venture funding in the edtech sector, both certainly from globalist investors. But with that kind of dive, it's also from from edtech funds. So you follow this very closely. Ben and I talked about it a little bit last week. Give us your take, Alberto, on what you think this moment means for the venture model for edtech.

Alberto Arenaza: I could talk about this for hours because at the end of the day, I'm kind of splitting my time sitting on both sides of the table. On one hand, I'm spending, I don't know how many hours, but many, many of them with founders every day. And a big part of our program is working really closely with the founders and their customers.

Right. And what I'm seeing is better founders, more speed to product market fit. Just a much more closely connected language in how they speak about the problems that they're solving for schools, for universities, for whoever it might be. On the other hand, I see the reality of funds being slowly deployed into very early stage startups and there being a lot of competition for.

Let's say seed is like almost seed plus investments. And I think that's a result of two things. Like funds are having a hard time raising, we're like, we're seeing it as well. We're speaking with LPs all the time and it's, it's, it's a really tough market to, to raise from right now, but also a lot of funds have raised very large funds.

Right. And so if you've raised a. 300 to a billion dollar fund. It's actually really hard to write a pre seed check, right? You need more specialized, almost like niche players to be playing in that game because you want to write a 5 million investment, not a 500 K investment. And so what I think what's happening right now in this space is that there's, there was a lot of funding that went into ed tech.

In the pandemic years, and yet that went into larger funds. It hasn't necessarily been deployed at the early, early stages. And so what I spend all of my time thinking about is how do we write the first check into the companies and do it at an early enough stage that when, if a company goes on to find program, I can fit do really well.

And sale at the usual exit size effect tech, which to no surprise to you, Alex, or anyone who is listening is not usually unicorn status, right? So that we're able to have really good returns, even if the exits we're having are a sub unicorn status, right? And so a big part of our thinking goes there. And I feel like that's going to be a question that a lot of founders.

Have to be thinking about, and we try to have those conversations, but I think a lot of funds as well have to be thinking about what is our rationale to be investing in these companies? And what is the thesis when we can't expect a lot of companies to become a billion dollar unicorn in the next five years?

Right? So I think the reality of the founders is that there's, they're relying on an angel investors more than in the last five years, I would say they are exploring different ways to get funded, right? So we're seeing more and more Not like the philanthropic grants going into for profit companies who want to invest in a specific kind of R and D or a specific product.

We're seeing companies get more creative with different terms. So either looking to revenue based financing, there's a, I want to shout out the team at long term impact. This is a team of founders, the founder of cold book, Daniel, who. built a revenue share based fund, a pre seed fund that as a founder, you can take money from them and buy them out over time.

I think those types of models are going to be emerging more and more. And even corporates leaning in and writing checks into companies, acquiring companies early on and kind of building them inside of these companies. So I think this is what we usually call funding models at Transcend. There's a.

Expansion of this funding model conversation in a way that I think is really exciting. And even though I run a venture fund, I think venture really only represents a good fit for maybe 1 percent of companies in a tech. And we want to find those companies, but we also want to make sure that the other companies are well served with other funding models.

Alexander Sarlin: Very well put it, you know, it strikes me listening to you talk about the sort of sub unicorn status or the idea of expecting, you know, growth, but not outsize crazy growth, which is what, you know, the traditional tech VC is sort of like, you make lots of bets and a few of them become. Uber and become Facebook and become, you know, Amazon.

And that's how you're, you know, really gonna, gonna make your money back with these hyper unicorns or even deca corns, right? It strikes me that maybe, maybe people have already done this, but we sort of need a status in ed tech that's below unicorn, but still meaningful, right? I mean, what, something that is a success in the ed tech context and a success that we understand that the investments can be made proportionally to, you know, But is not sort of this expectation that we see in many other parts of the tech economy and the VC world of like, you know, the by Jews, like, you know, we're going to have one company take over everything and be enormous and be a household name all over the world.

And everybody who put in any money early is going to be, you know, see these amazing returns. 

Alberto Arenaza: So Alex, I have a question for you actually, because you worked at a lot of companies that were at a very large scale. Globally and in the U S how does your experience working at some of these companies when they were at the hyper growth, but also probably when growth was stalling a little bit, how does that inform the way that you think about these companies?

Because if you're doing an angel investment into a company, if you're thinking about becoming an advisor to a company or joining a team, You're taking all of that experience into account. 

Ysiad Ferreiras: Yeah. 

Alberto Arenaza: How does that inform your current decisions? 

Alexander Sarlin: Awesome question. I mean, I think one thing that I've come to realize through my experiences at a number of different ed tech companies is that there's really a sort of inflection point for companies.

This may be even more true in the AI era, but inflection point. For companies when they go from sort of being a startup where they're scrappy and people are wearing multiple hats and just trying to find product market fit and sort of make it work. And then there's sort of a moment when you, you hit some level of product market fit, you start to scale up.

And then there's suddenly the need for a whole lot of different functions in the company, right? There's need for really good finance organizations is need for really, really good marketing and distribution and sales and, you know, and product marketing. And it feels like when I look at ed tech companies that I've been at or ones that I've advised, you know, they're almost always on sort of one or the other side of those, of that inflection point.

A lot of the companies I've worked at have gone through the inflection point while I'm there, or right around the time that I'm there. And it just completely changes how the company operates. And it completely changes how the company Thinks about its own finances, its own growth. There's just a really major change that comes at sort of this particular moment.

And what strikes me listening to you talk about the sort of early stage, the transcend fellow model, which is fantastic is, is almost like, I wonder if there's a model of these early stage ed tech companies that have really interesting ideas, again, AI era, where you can get a lot of traction and build a really amazing product.

Without that much, you know, investment up front, you could, without that many people. And what if the outcome there wasn't, you're going to be the next, you know, Houghton Mifflin or the next, you know, I don't know, Matt massive company in ed education and Pearson. It's really, Oh, you're going to get right to that point where you are, have clearly got product market fit.

You are at that inflection point where you need, you know, you would become one of these sort of standard, you know, growth companies that has to build all these additional functions and has to get a huge sales team. I remember the trilogy sales team was like this ferocious force, even though they were relatively small, that was a company started by marketing people, and they invested in sales very early, which is part of why they grew so fast.

But like. There's a sense in which like that inflection point, maybe some of these younger entrepreneurs and people with big ideas, teacherpreneurs shouldn't even be expected to, to sort of bring the company through that point. It's like, maybe that's the exit point and the obvious exit point and the expected exit point, right?

If you hit product market fit as an early stage company, what you're going for is that acquisition or that merger or that buyout, or, you know, basically Connecting with one of the companies that is bigger and has already got built out the distribution network and the giant sales team and the district sales, you know, movement and all those big things.

Like I feel like expecting companies to make that leap successfully is really hard. That said, you know, acquisitions are really hard too, and a lot of the companies that have been bought by bigger companies don't always succeed. So it's not like this is a proven path, but I think from my experience that I sort of see it.

Less of a spectrum and more of like a, you know, there's a phase one and a phase two and companies that can successfully jump to phase two and actually build out all these functions. Those are the ones that tend to get bigger and bigger, but they still often don't get big enough. They hit a ceiling. They hit a ceiling.

They don't just continue to become massive because it's a saturated market. Education is hard. You know, not that many companies can, even when they jump, make that leap. become Facebook or become, you know, whatever companies in your mind as the sort of equivalent of a, of a massive success in tech. I think that's probably the best example, right?

Let's talk about it. I know this is something that's been in the news already this week, and it's, it's on my mind as well. I mean, two, you made some amazing acquisitions. They tried to sort of pursue this model from the, As a company that was also started by marketing people, there was also built a really strong sales function very early on and giant contracts.

They sort of went right to the second phase, then started using acquisitions to try to fill backfill all these functions, but they hit a ceiling, a big ceiling. So let's talk about to you. What's been in the news this week about to you. 

Alberto Arenaza: Your listeners are probably well aware to you has not been doing very well.

Their stock has down something like 95%. It's less than a dollar, I believe right now, for sure. So there's been a back and forth between some journalists, some investors, uh, talking about their potential inability to continue operating, uh, past the next few months. They recently came out and said, look, we have.

We have enough of a cash balance and we're renegotiating our terms of our debt and we're confident we're going to be able to get it done. And we don't plan to close shop anytime soon. Obviously there's going to be a lot of people who have a lot of data on this who will argue either way. I think to me what it may be a higher level of reflection that connects to what you were saying is that there was a market opening where universities really wanted to go online and reach new learners and they didn't have the tools to do it themselves.

And so OPMs came in. And we're able to do it, deliver a lot of value for the universities, do it for the students as well, and take 70 percent of the revenue in some cases, 50 percent for anyone who doesn't know the OPM industry, which is the market that to you operates and often operated on revenue share agreements, which are relatively rare.

And I think now we're moving to a model where. It's more fee based universities are going directly to the students are building all that tooling. They're hiring those teams in house and that's making it really difficult for OPMs to continue to grow or they have to operate with a fee model. They have to do it for cheaper.

I think generally this is, uh, just speaks to the difficulties in operating in the Uh, at tech space, you're often building on a market trend that over time might change, right? And I think if you get it right, I guess Duolingo would be another example of a company that got the, the switch to mobile. They got it so right.

They were able to grow, grow and grow. And over time they built a really sticky product. And so timing is really important in a tech. And it's something that I'm, I find myself thinking a lot about. Timing is very important in edtech and I think, uh, I'm a history nerd myself and I think this is a really good opportunity to plug in like the importance of history and understanding history to understand the future.

And obviously we can never predict what's going to happen, but there's books like Class Clowns for anyone who hasn't read it. It's a really funny read and different books that understand, try to understand the historical mismatches between certain visions and education. And their actual time. It's an interesting time.

I'm curious to get your thoughts, Alex, also. 

Alexander Sarlin: I totally agree. And I mean, there was a big article by Phil Hill this week who chronicles this stuff very carefully about to use latest filings and basically talking about how they're, you know, they're restructuring all sorts of things. They're, you know, quote, shrinking to grow.

There's lots of layoffs there. There was really doing a major financial restructuring, which led him and others to say they really seem to be sort of heading right towards bankruptcy. They have lots of outstanding debt. And then they came out and said, Hey, we're. We're not closing down, but, you know, we are restructuring a lot of things.

And I, I think, you know, OPMs that's online program management, by the way, they, they had a very particular moment and they had a very particular business model of these very giant upfront contracts, revenue shares to basically do the soup to nuts, you know, basically take a university online, create their entire degree or their entire degree system.

And, you know, So many things have changed since then. There are so many more technologies. There's so much more embracing of online learning from so many different quarters that a lot of competitors have come up. Noodle Partners was a competitor that spun out of one of the founders of 2U that sort of pioneered the feeing model.

There's a whole history here, but I think it speaks to the broader example that I'm trying to say, which is that And what you just said, a lot of the companies, even that successfully make that leap from being a sort of scrappy startup to a scale up in a real working company, still don't break through to become a very big company because things just shift in all these ways, both from the technology and the education side.

And it's, it's a, to you, I think was a major victim of that, frankly, even though, I mean, I always say this, people who listen to the podcast have probably heard me say this a hundred times as somebody who is inside it from an acquisition and inside it, I think they've made incredible, really smart acquisitions.

And I think they have had the ingredients to like, they were doing the things that would have allowed them to adapt and evolve beyond the traditional OPM model. But they never did. And it was really, I think, a strategic issue, which maybe they're trying to remedy now, uh, putting the pieces together and having a better business model to your point about do a lingo, do a lingo when mobile at just the right time, certainly pioneered the use of gamification.

But I think another thing they did right. They never got involved with schools or universities, right? They never, they never did B2B in any real way. They basically focused all their attention and technology and A, B testing and funding on B2C on becoming the go to language learning app in the world. And.

And they did, they succeeded and they have, their stock price is incredibly high. And I think, you know, that also speaks to some of the complexities of ed tech is that you're not, you're in a complex ecosystem, right? You're not just selling to customers like Netflix, right? You're selling to universities, you're selling to schools, to districts, to States, you're selling to really complex systems that have their own agendas and their own needs.

It is a really hard business. And I, and for all those reasons, I think we should really all be rethinking the sort of porting of the traditional tech model of, you know, Oh, you're a garage startup and then you hit product market fit and then you scale like crazy and then you hide, then you, you know, bring in another, a different person to supplement the founder.

And then it goes crazy and then you build it to be a giant company and then takes over the world. And, and, and it becomes, you know, a fang or whatever the new. The new acronym is like, that's the, that's the tech narrative. I don't think it works in a tech. And I think we probably need a better and different narrative.

We, this is a long episode. I really love talking to you about all this stuff. There's a couple of things I do want to cover just before we get to our guests for this week. One that really jumps out to me, and I'd love your thoughts on this too, there was a big New York Times story about a continuing trend, which is this concept of deep fake nudes in schools.

This is basically, there are these apps that allow Individuals to take pictures and basically generate AI versions of the pictures that are pornographic. And as you can imagine, these being accessible on phones, this is something that has gotten a lot of beginning to get a lot of traction in high schools.

And people are putting, are creating fake nude images of their classmates. This is pretty horrifying in a lot of ways. And for me, as an ed tech person, what worries me again, something you've probably heard me say a lot is This feels like the beginning of a very concrete, very negative consequence of AI that is, has the chance to really make school boards and school administrations start to rethink their embracing of AI because, you know, you have a handful of, of families that are coming and saying, this is happening in this school.

This is horrific. It's a huge problem. You don't have a good policy on it. You don't know how to handle it, which is what this article is all about. You just have to ban AI. You just have to ban phones. You just have to like, you need to solve this. And if it's a broad brush solution, we don't care. You need to solve it.

And this worries me a lot, even though, I mean, it's, it's, it's something that needs solving, but I think the, there may be a feeling of throwing out the baby with the bath water here, or at least a temptation to say, You know, I mean, I was worried that it was gonna be cyber bullying or self harm. Those were the two things that I was most worried that I was going to do.

This is sort of a variation of that, right? It's basically a type of bullying. And if this happens, it's like psychological bullying. You know, if this Takes over the narrative of what AI in schools is and we don't as an ed tech industry have a very, very strong, very concrete counter narrative of actually AI in schools.

Is this incredible thing? I think we may be set back 10 years in terms of schools actually embracing AI. That's my take. It's very specific. It's very extreme. What do you think Alberto? What did you make of a story like this? 

Alberto Arenaza: Yeah, I mean, so I went through high school when phones started to become sort of commonplace for teenagers, right?

And I, I kind of saw that moment where the technology that the kids have outpaces our ability to understand what kids are going to do with it. And I saw a lot of nasty things that were happening in, in those classes, in those classrooms. And I kind of see it as a similar thing. We have a technology that maybe we Couldn't foresee a lot of these use cases and they're now being used in a way that maybe our regulatory system or even our preventive measures are not really catching up with, with that.

And so, yeah, this is very concerning. I think this is definitely something that is going to push parents particularly to look for safer options to use technology in schools, which honestly is probably like overall, like a good thing to do. But yeah, I also worry that the pushback kind of ends up. Getting applied to other things that have nothing to do with this issue and it could actually help give more access to education, improve outcomes.

And I guess the interesting thing with AI is that it doesn't really have one piece of hardware. It's really hard to even visualize it. And so when people talk about AI, it's actually interesting because with the internet, you would imagine a computer screen with phones, you think about an actual mobile phone, but with AI, I feel like it's, it's a little bit harder because There isn't one common object that we can all think about, uh, think of when we think about AI and it might end up kind of bundling together all these different use cases of AI that actually have nothing to do.

And so that's my, my concern actually with AI in schools. 

Alexander Sarlin: Fantastic point. And I, something, you know, it's funny, I ran into this. Literally this week, but I didn't think about it the way you just thought about it, which is I was putting together a deck about, you know, some different areas of technology focus.

And I was 1 of them, of course, and I was looking for images, right? It's like, what is the image you're going to put up to show? I. Yeah. And you start looking at stock images of AI or, you know, what comes up when you, when you do image searches and it's just ridiculous. It's either, you know, robots, which is not what AI is, or it's these like literally chips with the word AI on them.

I mean, things that are just totally bizarre and, and, and have no semblance to anything real. And to your point, if people start thinking, Oh, what's AI, it's students asking chatbots to do their homework for them. That's what I picture or what's AI. It's a, it's a teen boy. Taking a picture of a teen girl and using AI to undress her.

If, if that's what we start thinking of as AI in an educational or, you know, at least a youth context, we are screwed because, because that's what people think of. They have every right to say, get rid of this technology. This, it doesn't do anything good. It does all these terrible things. And I just can't say this enough times on this podcast and going into ASU.

I'm going to probably say this. You've probably got to, anybody who talks to me is probably going to hear me say this in real life too. Anybody who's working in AI and education needs to be thinking about concrete, to Alberto's point, visualizable, right? Memifiable, like you have to be able to see what the thing is that you do.

Maybe, I mean, reminds me of 3D printing, right? 3D printing, when that's when, when the maker movement started coming out, that caught fire for, for a few years. And part of why I think it caught fire is, is Very visualizable. People were making these amazing things. These color objects that the machines themselves were really exciting looking, and I think it was very easy to sort of embrace that movement and all these schools created maker labs and all of these clubs came up and all of these things.

A. I. Is it very deep risk of being defined? By whatever comes first, whatever happens to happen. And this really scares me a headline like this, not only because of the psychological damage and the horrific things happening in schools, but also because I think it has a very strong chance. It's hard to get an image like this out of your head.

When you start thinking about this being what AI is, it's like, that's pretty. You know, that's a pretty sticky image. You need a very sticky, positive image about what AI can do, what students can do with it, what teachers can do with it, what classrooms can do with it. And that's, it's not that easy to do.

So yeah, I'm, I'm with you. So let's just do a quick round the world here. We saw the Biden administration roll out another big round of, of debt relief this week in higher ed. We saw 11 states suing. To stop them from doing that, it has just been this ridiculous political fight in the U S Biden is clearly trying to use the student debt as a way rightfully.

So in my opinion, to appeal to young people and people who have student debt, which is many, many, many millions of people in the U S he was blocked from doing it at major scale, and he's been doing it incrementally for years. Now the administration. This is not directly an EdTech story, but I do think it is shaping the sort of shape of what the higher education space is looking like now and in the future.

And I think we're going to see continuing growth in EdTech companies that are trying to figure out how to help students with this debt problem, as well as, you know, just a lot of, you know, Political undertones to anybody working in college finance. And then another story that came out this week was that poll basically a new poll from, I believe strata says that half of college graduates do not use any of the skills you learned in their degrees at work.

This is something that has been a major complaint about the sort of ROI. In college for quite a long time. Yes, this data was the Burning Glass Institute and strata. This is one of those things again, not directly about edtech, but it shapes the narrative and shapes the sort of underlying conditions that college has really lost the narrative, in my opinion, about at least part of its role, if not all of it.

The major role that it does, certainly the role that students wanted to do is prepare them for their careers. Yet half of college graduates don't using nothing they learned in college in their career, then they're really not doing a good job of doing any kind of preparation for the workforce. So I think, you know, this is yet another stat, yet another study that is going to sort of help.

Feed what is the ROI of college narrative? Any thoughts on either of those stories on the college debt or the college graduates not using their skills? 

Alberto Arenaza: This is a really important conversation, and I think they're definitely linked to each other, right? I think we were talking about it in the context of AI.

If we're using AI to help us optimize on a very hacky way, like how to get to from point A to point B, but we're not really thinking about why we want to get to point B in the first place. Then that's a pretty meaningless use of technology. And I feel like this is the conversation of like, what does that path look like?

I just want to shout out the great work that the AGA group is doing around, um, ROI, measuring ROI for universities that are able to do it at scale. I think that's kind of the big question. It's like, not just can you drive ROI for your students? In a very small group, but can you do it at a large scale?

And what can we learn in terms of what's working for them for other universities? Obviously, a big part of this in the U. S. is going to come down to the president, a presidential race in the next year. We'll see how that shapes up. And I think that will definitely define how much scrutiny there is over the ROI of universities.

And I think internationally, we at least in, Europe, I would say this doesn't feel like as much of a problem because it's often university higher ed is in a big way publicly funded. But I think that question of ROI is very important. It's just that it's not coming out of people's pockets. And so we're a little bit less sensitive to that conversation outside of the U S, but I think it's an important conversation for every country in the world.

So yeah. I'm excited to continue following it. 

Alexander Sarlin: No question. And two relevant sort of funding and acquisition pieces this week that went with that. We saw Mackenzie Scott, the ex wife of Jeff Bezos, who has a lot of money to give away and has been giving it away in some really innovative and interesting ways.

Donate 12 million this week to a place called Co op Careers, which is basically all about training low income first generation college graduates in Job skills and interpersonal skills to basically help them, even though they're already graduates, which makes them a minority of students that have low income first generation college students.

They, even the graduates are not yet sort of fully ready for the workforce. So this is a nonprofit helping to fill that gap. Really interesting. And we saw the acquisition this week of a forage, which is a, I believe in Australian ed tech company that basically creates job simulations and sort of, uh, gives students.

Virtual work experience be bought by EAB, which is a big college marketing company. 

Alberto Arenaza: What did you make of that? This was very surprising to me and a really interesting acquisition from a strategic perspective. So my understanding, and maybe this has changed, but what Forrest does is, It helps corporates figure out their recruitment by creating learning experiences for university students that want to get almost like a pre internship, right?

So if you're, I think they work with large consulting companies. So let's take. Deloitte you want to create a learning experience about what the consulting experience looks like and you create a course where there's deliverables every week and you sort of roll it out to hundreds of thousands of students and then those students can use it to as part of their professional experience.

This is kind of a surprising fit with a college marketing sort of company like EAB that's operating a very large scale. My understanding is that 4 H wanted to go the Handshake route, which is that Handshake now primarily monetizes from employers, not from universities. So while Handshake is used at pretty much every university in the U.

S. and in many universities globally, it barely makes any revenue for them because they get the recruiters, the corporates, to pay for the product to get access to the students. I think 4 H probably wanted to go in that direction, but my understanding is that they're now going more in the college route.

So I don't know if this was a good exit for the team. The terms were not disclosed, but they, they raised a big round about three years ago. They haven't raced since then. I don't know their team, but it's a tough space. I don't know if they were able to get to the scale that they wanted. And so my understanding is that this is something that now EAB is able to take to all of their university students.

And take as a, as an add on to the product, right? So if they're, they already have a university customer, they can say, why don't you add forage to the contract basically, and it will help upscale your students and prepare them for their professional careers before they take any internships. And so that's my assumption.

I have not talked to anyone about this, but this is probably how it makes strategic sense for both of them. But yeah, definitely really interesting acquisition. I'm curious how you thought you've spent a lot of time in higher ed as well. 

Alexander Sarlin: I agree with, with almost all of that. I think the only thing I would add is that I think so EAB plays an interesting role.

I'm not sure I fully understand their business model, but they're, they're in marketing, they're in student recruitment, enrollment. They basically work with many colleges, but they also work with corporates. And I'm not exactly sure how they work with corporates, but they do. So one of the things that they're saying that they're going to do is they're going to embed forages, virtual job simulations into their, student technologies as a way to allow their corporate partners to hire interns and recent graduates from, especially from historically underserved groups or communities.

I know that's a, that's a lot of ideas in one, but I think they're basically, what I would sort of Reduce that to for better or worse is EAB is trying to make the college to career transition as smooth as possible. Whether that's offering things to colleges to help their student, their graduates get jobs or offering things, you know, services to corporates to be able to identify train, recruit, you know, hire recent graduates or give internships or things like that.

They're sort of play a little role in between. And given that they're in between, that's exactly where Forge is too, right? Forge is right in between these two things. They're trying, especially on the corporate side, to your point Alberto, right there, they've worked with Citibank, they work with Deloitte, Accenture, all these folks, KPMG, and they're doing these sort of like This is what it's like to work as a investment banker at Goldman Sachs.

This is what it's like to work as an accountant at Lululemon is one of their partners. And I think they, you can sort of see why I, again, I agree with you. I, it's not clear if this is a super successful exit or not, but you can see the. Shared DNA potentially in that a place like EAB wants to be able to help both sides of that sort of double sided marketplace, right?

Students and corporations find each other more smoothly. And I think that's what they're seeing forage as here, um, given that they had a 25 million dollar round right in 2021. I'd be surprised if this is, you know, as you say, even a sub unicorn or certainly not a unicorn. But, you know, depending on how you look at it, you could see it as a, as a successful, you know, outcome for Forge's mission, because they are getting to scale like crazy, right?

Because BAB works with thousands and thousands of institutions, and Forge has worked with 125 companies. So, you know, it's a 100 X or whatever, 50 X scaling of what they do potentially. So depends on how you look at it. I'm not sure it's a financial windfall, but that's my read on it. So similar to what you're 

Alberto Arenaza: saying, Alberto.

I think for the employers, the recruiters, there's probably a lot of interesting data that they're able to get from Forage. My understanding is that, and I believe they used to have a different name before Forage as a, as a company. The really big challenge in this space is scaling your distribution to either corporates or higher eds.

And so I think this is the type of Acquisition. We see all the time where it's a good product that is having a hard time reaching more customers and incomes, a company that's been around for a little bit longer that has strong relationships and what they want to do is add a product to their portfolio so that they can.

upsell that, uh, I can, they can upsell their customers a little bit, keep supporting them in different ways. Right. So I think this makes a lot of strategic sense and yeah, hopefully it's good to use. You can speed up that mission of forage. 

Alexander Sarlin: Well put. I think your handshake metaphor makes a lot of sense.

It's also a perfect example of what we were talking about earlier of what is the actual sort of ed tech pathway. This may be it, right? This might be the ed tech pathway. Ed tech pathway is. People have a really interesting idea. They find product market fit by playing with the idea. It used to be called inside Sherpa.

They had virtual internships. They played with different ideas. They found something resembling product market fit, but to my point before they couldn't, and to your point exactly right now, they probably couldn't build enough of a sales function and a distribution function and a marketing function to be able to be noticed by enough.

Universities and or colleges and or corporates, although they seem to get some traction, some traction with very big corporate entities to make it the kind of business that that 25, 000, 000 investment would have wanted them to be and. Instead, they have to team up and pair up with a much bigger, more incumbent company that has all those relationships in place.

And I think that is, I mean, we just see over and over and over again, that being the, the outcome of so many of these different acquisitions that in the last year is that the ed tech companies with really good ideas get to a certain point. We saw this with soapbox labs and curriculum associates, right?

Really good idea, voice recognition for kids in the service of literacy. Did okay, but couldn't quite find enough of a business model to really explode on their own. Get purchased by Curriculum Associates, which has incredible relationships very deep with many districts all over the country and can take their functionality and embed it in products that are Very widespread.

Like I ready. We see it over and over again. I think maybe we just have to accept it. And this is what this is what happens these days. 

Alberto Arenaza: I think for it to companies to become really big, they have to either become a platform like strategically needs to be a platform. And as you mentioned with to you, it's really hard to do and have like some network effects to more students being there.

Or you have to do. Get really, really big in one vertical and become so, so good at it that like Duolingo, which kind of sort of address a very narrow need, but like did it so well, the people, it's really difficult to find enough funders to wait for so long or enough problems in education where you can actually drive that platform play.

So it's, it's really difficult for players to get there. And so you often end up becoming more of like a point solution. For something that you can get integrated within a curriculum associates or a EAB. So that's, uh, I think my, my closing thought on this type of difficulty of scaling. They're 

Alexander Sarlin: really, really well articulated.

That is it for us on Weekend Ed Tech. We have our guest segment coming up and hope to see a ton of you at ASU GSV. Let's continue to discuss this really important moment in ed tech and at AI. Thanks so much to Alberto Arnazza, Transcend Network, runners of the Transcend Fellowship and the Transcend Fund, a absolute gem of the ed tech community, beloved by everybody as far.

I've never met anybody has a bad word to say about you, Alberto. And it is. Really a pleasure to have you here this week. Thank you, Alex. 

Alberto Arenaza: I'm already hearing the outro music of the audience. We 

Alexander Sarlin: have two special guests on the podcast today for our deep dive. We're talking to Ysiad Ferreiras, CEO of Fullmind and Haley Spira-Bauer, the COO of Fullmind and host of the Learning Can't Wait podcast.

Welcome both of you to EdTech Insiders. 

Hayley Spira-Bauer: Thanks for having us. 

Alexander Sarlin: Yep. Happy to be here. So we're talking about the week in EdTech this week, and there's all sorts of AI news. There's all sorts of news about the state of education. Before we get into the news, tell us a little bit about your backgrounds and what brought you into EdTech.

And what you've been doing at full mind. 

Hayley Spira-Bauer: Sure. I'll start. So I have been in education since I graduated college. I did a little known program called teach for America, where I taught in a public school in the South Bronx for a couple of years. I continued my career at a charter network in Harlem, where I had the amazing fortune of being a teacher, founding a school, becoming a school leader, and really getting my feet in the ground on education and the power of transformative.

I've engaged educators to really provide a quality education for every student. And I came to a full mind about seven years ago, and I've been at full mind supporting more schools in a greater capacity ever since then. 

Ysiad Ferreiras: Yeah. And hi folks. Ysiad here. I'm the CEO of Fullmind and I've been CEO of this company for the last three years.

To help us kind of like get to the point where we're having strong positive feedback loops around how we serve clients and how we go wider. So what excites me about working in this space is that a lot of my previous work was around like, kind of like future of work, increasing labor participation across different demographics and different industries.

And, you know, one, there's over 3 million teachers in the U S so getting it so that more and more teachers are. Paid equitably, have more flexible working environments and situations. And it just generally getting it so that when somebody says, Hey, I'm going to be a teacher, you don't do a double take. And like, if you really care about them, ask them, are they sure?

Like working on that challenge is I think foundational to increasing political participation, like strengthening our democracy, all sorts of good things happen when we educate the next generation. And also when we focus on the education of the current generation, You know, because the more we invest in teachers, the more we're investing in 3 million people and all of those folks that they touch directly.

So that's what makes me excited about being in the education space and kind of what draws me to continue to stay in it. So, you know, full mind offers 

Alexander Sarlin: a lot of different types of services to schools. And when you're talking about the teacher role, one of the things we've talked about a lot on the podcast is.

Post pandemic especially, but even pre pandemic, there's been major teacher shortages in the U. S., major issues with just, with schools being able to fully staff with professionally qualified teachers. It's just been, you know, the education profession has been, as you mentioned, sort of just underfunded, undervalued, you know, not high enough status for a long time.

Tell us about a little bit how Full Mind supports schools in this really intense moment with all this learning loss and teacher shortages. 

Ysiad Ferreiras: Yeah, so I think a lot of it has to do with getting curious about these sorts of challenges and being very open to change kind of like our focal length, changing our aperture, right?

So like everything that you're saying is absolutely true. There is a teacher shortage, right? There's, you know, challenges in retaining them. When you zoom out a ton, right? But then when you start focusing in and saying like, Hey, is this actually true? Everywhere? We start seeing that this teacher shortage is not evenly distributed.

That in fact, there's some places that have a waiting list of teachers that in fact, there's some school systems where teachers don't retire early. Right. They're having a great time. Right. And so if we start asking ourselves the questions of like, well, wait a second, what is it that's making it so that this shortage is not evenly distributed.

And are there things we can learn from those areas and what can we do to make it so that the schools that are still having the most challenges. We assume that it's not for their lack of trying, right? And we instead assume that it's because of their access to certain kinds of resources, or it's because of, you know, being able to take certain actions, which oftentimes if you earnestly ask folks, you know, so like a large part of the places where we have a teacher shortage is in rural areas.

Right. Where they simply don't have the population to have all the specialists necessary, but nobody's asking, how come the best cancer research facilities are not in rural areas? We assume, well, of course not. Like there's just simply not the population to support, you know, that level of specialized infrastructure, right?

Well, what's happened is what many things have happened, but one of the things that's occurred is. As we've gotten more information and done more research on how to educate children is that we've gotten more and more specialized. So this concept that every single school district needs like special ed instructors, et cetera, simply wasn't there 50 years ago.

Right. So of course. We've got, for structural reasons, schools unable to staff to help all of the kids that need the help, right? And so if we were like, well, what does some school districts have in common that are able to fill these gaps, right? And can we be part of that success story? Well, we've learned, oh yeah, there's actually some actions you can take.

So an example of an action you can take is figuring out ways to pay teachers more, right? Well, you ask school leaders, well, why can't you pay teachers more? They'll find out, well, actually, we don't actually have the flexibility to set that. It's set at a board level, or it's been something that was negotiated with the state or the union or something, right?

But for some reason, people's hands are tied. Okay, cool. So are there methods to get around that? The answer is yes. We'll get into that later, right? And then the other thing is around like the location that a teacher can be in. Right? So, you know, like certain areas of the country, generally ones with higher population density have a very easy time recruiting teachers.

Well, you're not going to change the location of this rural school district, but can you make it so that a teacher that is so that the people who are living in these high population areas can still work in the rural area? Well, the answer is like, yeah, there's a few ways around it. Some are easier than others.

Right? So what does full mind do? Full mind. We're just like, Hey, let's help whoever we can, whoever's interested, run some experiments, And see if implementing some of these things that seem quite rational and obvious for very, very like real reasons are actually quite challenging to implement can be implemented.

And so what we've landed on that a lot of people seem to get benefit from is enabling folks to hire live synchronous instruction. So like state certified educators. To deliver instruction remotely. And that's super useful for homebound kids. It's even useful for kids, you know, in the school building, we need specialized help.

So we're like, you know, they can't for structural reasons, just say, like put on their website, we're going to hire a fully remote teacher. Because then, you know, well, how do they manage that versus their in person teachers will, you know, will they kill the culture of their current area? Right. So what a lot of them find is that if you have an outside company, that's your consultant that hires those teachers and provides them that way.

Okay. That actually solves a number of problems for them. And then of course, because we're an outside consultancy, we have the flexibility to pay more than they'd be able to. So of course they need to pay us and then we pay the teacher. But then you look at the actual cost structures, you find out that there's actually room to do that while still being cost effective for the school.

They just need a partner who does that and is optimized around it. Right. And so like one of the main costs of even just like providing a teacher is the recruiting costs. Well, because we're working with. Well over 200 school districts at this point, we've worked with 358 of them. As of this morning, we were able to recruit at scale.

We were able to like cut down costs. We were able to pass those costs along to the schools. And then by being at this level of scale, we're able to reduce the amount of the percentage of what a school pays us, that's going into our own administrator overhead and have more and more of that go into teachers.

And the more we grow, the larger percentage can go to a teacher while we still cover our overhead. So that's in general, like what we're doing. So we look at it as like we're partners in helping the school, Run that kind of experiment, see if it's going to help them, and if so, just keep going with it. And then the more proof points we get, the easier it becomes for other people to take these same sorts of risks and just be like, well, you know, the school down the road did it like, and it worked for them and their parents are happy.

Like, why don't we try it? So that's, you know, kind of a long winded answer, but hopefully that gives some context on not just what we do, but also like the rationale around it. Because if, and when our solutions change, you know, you can imagine, well, it's because We ran some other experiment and we saw that something works well or in complement or better than.

So it 

Alexander Sarlin: makes a lot of sense. And I appreciate the answer is sort of working with the rationale behind it because I think there is a sort of really deep dive approach to what is the real root cause of some of these issues, right? Why do some school districts have trouble recruiting certified and qualified teachers and some don't?

And, you know, the simplest answer when you really back up is, as you say, it's the location and the population density school. There are other answers as well, but that is a big one, and it does make sense. And obviously, that's one of the biggest benefits of technology is be able to remove distance and allow people to connect over.

You know, you might have a rural school and a teacher working from a nearby Suburb or city that doesn't have to commute that is, as you say, may be able to be paid more than an in school teacher because of the way that it's structured and that could maybe cover their potentially higher cost of living.

I mean, I like this sort of zoomed out sociological approach to this thinking, and it makes a lot of sense to me. One thing that I think is really interesting about what you do, and Haley, I want to bring you into this as well, is that, you know, the relationship between teachers and students. is one of the most important things that can change educational outcomes and change the sort of quality of schooling as well as, you know, the tenure of a teacher, you know, why, when a teacher would want to stay in school is if they have relationships.

And one of the things that you focus on is sort of how to create those intimate. Real relationships between teachers and students, even in a virtual environment, your teachers are social emotional learning trained, and you're really thinking about how to not just have them be a face on the screen, but be somebody you actually really have a relationship with.

So Haley, tell us a little bit about that, because I think that's maybe counterintuitive. It's not the first thing people might think of when they think of virtual instruction. 

Hayley Spira-Bauer: It sure isn't. And I think that we had to do a lot of virtual instruction. Understanding of where schools were when I first joined the organization 7 years ago and where the climate was around the term, social, emotional learning and rapport building.

But research is unequivocal. Someone who invests and pours into the relationships that they have with their students has higher engagement from their students. Long term academic gains. by their students, more pro social activities in the community and in the world long term for their students. So it benefits not just the teachers who are happier and stay in their career, but it also benefits the students on a short term and a longitudinal scale.

So anyone who's arguing against it, I just have so many questions about, because we know it's good for everybody involved. So at Full Mind, we have From the very inception of ensuring high teacher quality, our educators are implementing a model that allows for rapport building. They are taught not to begin instruction until they spend time with their student, 

Ysiad Ferreiras: asking 

Hayley Spira-Bauer: him about how their soccer game was inquiring about their pet, making connections to the student and their learning.

There are so many resources that we lean on from experts like Kate. I always say it wrong as a castle or tasel, but my castle about how to ensure that social emotional learning and being an active part of a student's life is not something you do once in a while. It's not a lesson you teach once a month.

It's something that you embed in your instruction every day. And I love it. We know that this is effective. Our student ratings of our teachers are extremely high. Our teacher satisfaction scores are very, very high. When you look at even the Pew research data that came out this past week, 52 percent of people say they would not advise that people become teachers.

Our teachers don't feel that way. We get anecdotal evidence and we get hard data that tells us they love the time they get with students. They love connecting with them. They love making the learning come alive. They love seeing their students success. Teachers have a skill. They have a gift. 

Ysiad Ferreiras: And I'm kind of like taking even there, like, there'll be like a little bit broken record here.

You can imagine I'm going to be like, Hey, well, let's take a step back. Right? So, like, let's do that for a second. Right? So something that I think is a very core natural human thing is to want to connect with people. Right? But that takes time. So trust building takes a certain number of interactions. Right.

And it's very easy to lose trust. And so I think like, you know, just core principles, that revisiting of the marshmallow experiment that occurred a few years ago, right. Where for anybody who's not familiar, like, so there was this experiment famously called the marshmallow experiment run at Stanford, where you give a kid a marshmallow and you tell them, Hey, look, you can have this marshmallow now or certain period of time later, maybe it's like 20 minutes or an hour, you know, we'll give you two marshmallows.

Right? And it turns out that being able to wait for that two marshmallows is strongly correlated with success. And the researchers assumed the first time around the strongest correlation there is just your ability to have delayed gratification, right? And that that's strongly associated with IQ and that that's strongly associated with just success in life in general, right?

Some folks reran that experiment turns out and asked a few different questions. Turns out the largest correlation is actually, do you have trustworthy adults in your life? Have you been conditioned to think that if somebody tells you you're going to get it with two marshmallows 15 minutes from now that it's actually not smart for you to trust that and you might as well take the one marshmallow right now, right?

And it's very easy to condition children to believe in that manner, right? And one of the many ways you can do that is by having kids. Connect with a teacher and then you swap out their teacher multiple times a year. There's only so many times you can go through that process of bonding with someone and then having that person who says they're going to be around to support you disappear before you actually get conditioned to think that it's not worth doing that.

Right. And so one of the things that's like core is any way that you can get it so that kids have consistent figures in their lives. Right. Teachers, an example of one, right, is going to increase the likelihood that they get a positive feedback loop around bonding with this human and believing that they can indeed accomplish tasks.

Right. It can indeed learn. Right. And so like, here's a great example of how to make things like remote instruction or in person instruction not work. And we already know this, right? So we already know that one of the. Great ways to disrupt student learning is to always be swapping and substitute teachers, right?

Performance doesn't matter how good that core teacher is. If that teacher core teacher keeps not showing up is inconsistent, gets reassigned class in the middle of the year. You know, this happens a lot with kids. Like we see that kids in foster care, et cetera, who don't have the same instruction because they're moved around school district, they perform worse.

Of course. Right. So if we were to implement remote instruction in a manner where they keep getting a different remote instructor. Would that be a state certified educator or a tutor or whatever? Of course, the performance is going to be worse, right? Flip side is if we can make it so that the kids get the same instructor, right?

That instructor gets a feedback loop where it's actually worth investing in that relationship. And so does the child, right? So does the learner. So, you know, there's, there's some things like this that are like super obvious. Right. Where if we're asking like remote versus in person, we're actually asking the wrong question.

You know, it's a relevant one, but even more relevant is going to be stuff like consistency in the relationship, right? It's going to be stuff like getting the teacher to show up on time because like there's something that immediately disrupts trust is like the kid shows up, teacher's not there, you know, teachers that are late.

Like there's all this kind of really basic blocking and tackling stuff that needs to be handled. We handle those things. Right where the student outcomes will follow. 

Alexander Sarlin: Yeah, you know, it strikes me as I hear you talk about this, the rapport building, both of you talk about sort of the value of consistency, trust, maintaining a consistent relationship between teachers and students.

This is a realization that has happened over, I would say, the last year or so post pandemic again in the tutoring space, you know, as many of our listeners know about this, but, you know, as the tutoring sort of took off, especially remote tutoring during the pandemic. A few different models sort of were tried, and one of them that was tried very consistently was and widely was the idea of you don't have a relationship with a single person, but if you need help, you can reach out for help, and somebody will be there, and you know, it's an on demand sort of on call model.

But every time you reach out, it could be somewhat different. And, you know, people were looking at this as a way to raise efficiency and raise availability. And there's lots of reasons why that That could make sense, but when actually put into practice, the students were hardly ever using it. They didn't know when to reach out.

They didn't obviously weren't building relationships with these tutors and it became a real issue. And over the last year, the flip side of that type of tutoring, the Model that is very similar to what you're saying, you know, social, emotional build rapport before even starting to do anything academic, understand each other, trust each other, you're going to see me next week, you're going to see each other next week is huge.

And, you know, it resonates with my personal experience. I was a tutor for many years and I will tell you the two things I would always do in the first, You know, week or two seeing a student was one, find out what they were interested in outside of school and meet them where they are and find out more about it and talk to them about that with no, no academic tie in at all.

And to help them understand that I was going to be there consistently and that I was on their side, not the side of the parent, because I was often brought in as sort of the parents proxy. They'd be like, from their perspective. The parent found some person that they had no idea who they are, and they're going to come in, and they're sort of going to be a spy for the parent.

So, it was just so important from a tutoring context to build trust, build rapport, understand each other, all those things. Hearing you talk about it in the full teaching context is really eye opening to me, because it's something that Have not heard actually before we, I I've heard some variation of this story within tutoring a lot, but for actual teaching, the idea of being able to bring in virtual teachers, but have that same social emotional connection and have it be baked into the process is really.

It's exciting. It's an exciting vision of what the future is. So I want to ask you about both of you about one interesting variant of this, which is AI. We saw two interesting articles come out this week and I want to ask you your reaction to them. One, we talked with Alberto today about, you know, college counseling, AI for college counselors, hugely improves or not improves necessarily, but it expands efficiency ability to crunch lots and lots and lots of data Like all the data about colleges to, you know, the ratio of college counselors to students is very, very high.

And this can remove that, but certainly doesn't bring that, that relationship into the mix and great article from Greg Toppo from the 74 about the history of AI tutoring, you back to the IBM Watson attempts to very expensive, very in depth attempts to build AI tutors. And their big realization was again, exactly what you're saying.

It's not enough to know the answers and be able to teach somebody pedagogically. You have to actually have a relationship. And the students were getting less and less interested in talking to an AI tutor. So I'm talking a lot here, but I'd like to hear both of your takes. And Haley, let me start with you again.

This time on how the AI movement for tutors or teachers is going to run up against this realization that you're both talking about of the need for relationship building. 

Hayley Spira-Bauer: So I actually think the two topics we're talking about here are connected. There's a teacher shortage for a whole bunch of reasons, and teachers are burnt out.

They are overwhelmed and they are tired, right? Again, going back to that Pew study, the statistics that were raised in that study of discontent, unhappiness, feelings of being overwhelmed, feelings that their school was understaffed, which is 70 percent of teachers feel their school is understaffed. That doesn't match.

Exactly what the media is saying right now about teacher shortages, but it's what teachers feel really aligns with the conversation around AI, in my opinion, with both AI and tutoring and AI and teaching. Specifically here, we're talking about the two articles as it relates to tutoring and counseling.

These two things don't happen in isolation. Teachers are important. Their jobs are extremely challenging. Anything that we can do to make teachers lives easier and tutors lives easier so they could be more effective at serving students more effective at aggregating data that that is collected by a I in a session, let's say, and reporting an analysis to enable a tutor or teacher to more effectively impact strategic areas in a kid's learning.

The better in my opinion, this isn't an either or it's a both and and we're not there yet. And you see, you know, you see, and I talk often about this and they very eloquently will state this point, but we created this like very polarizing opinion here. In the media, which is what the media often does. And I host a podcast.

I guess I'm technically part of that media there. But like, it's interesting to talk about, can AI replace teachers? Can AI replace tutors? But the question really should be is how can we make teachers lives easier? How can we make teachers and tutors more effective at meeting students needs? Every single time they meet with them.

That's the question I'd rather be asking. 

Alexander Sarlin: Eceat, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this as well. She set the, set it for you to spike. 

Ysiad Ferreiras: I agree with those, those questions that Haley's talking about. And also there's, there's another couple questions that I find really interesting. I would love to find out, right, when, when we're reporting on, on these kinds of things, and I'd love to see article writers focus on more, which would be, so when we, when we run an experiment like the IBM Watson one, right, and we're like, this doesn't work for kids, I feel like we could, there's also probably a case where it's working phenomenally well for some kids, right, or it's working phenomenally well for some kids for some period of time.

Right. And, you know, like going back to that example you were giving of like tutoring companies and like how school districts are trying it out where they were like, it was always available, but you wouldn't necessarily get the same person, right? You have to run that experiment, right? Like, if I'm, if I'm the superintendent of a school district.

And I'm like, Hey, I've got to provide, I've got to provide this tutoring, but the cost of having like synchronous tutors is, you know, prohibitively expensive. You got to try this thing out. Right. But I think then the next, the next step starts becoming like, well, who did it work with? Let's keep providing it to them.

Right. And then, and I bet you that what we're going to find out is that things like Watson AI tutoring and in an, even the inconsistent you log on, there's always an available tutoring. I bet you now I haven't seen the results, but I would hypothesize I'd put like probably put like a few hundred bucks also even give it 10 to one odds that what we would find.

Is that it works really well with kids that are high performers and, and already have like a self learning sort of practice self learning confidence, right? This is going to work phenomenally well for that kid who's like exploring things proactively, right? So, like, if any of us were, you know, here were the kids who was like reading the encyclopedia for fun.

Right. I certainly was. I think it's going to work very well for those. I don't think it's going to work as well for anybody, including like you take the version of myself that didn't know how to read yet or what it wasn't yet confident self learning with the encyclopedia that kid, you know, she's the same kid, just different levels, you know, different level along the path is not probably going to do as well with just like finding a resource.

Right. So I bet you that yeah. A lot of it has to do with where somebody is in the learning path. And while you're reaching somebody who's still in the process of cultivating and developing a positive feedback loop around taking proactive actions around learning, that they're going to benefit a lot from having, from having a relationship with a human that they believe cares about them.

And that I bet you that as they transition to being more and more confident, that a larger percentage can go towards the AI tools, et cetera. But I bet you, it needs to also be revamped. So I bet you that like, as the kid gets a little bit further and further ahead of their skis, like a little bit further and further outside their comfort zone, that some interactions with humans will also be very useful.

So my guess is that we will find that an optimal, that there's going to be an optimal mix. That and here's the important part is specific to not just the kid, but the bit like that person where they are in their learning process and confidence at that time. So it's not as baked as this works for some kids and not others.

It works for some grade levels and not other grade levels. I bet you we're going to find that a lot of it has to do with just like with these aspects. And now doing that level of nuance. You know, reporting on that level of nuance is quite challenging. So I bet you what's going to happen is that we're going to need to wait until things get tested out more in public.

Things get tested out more widely for us to start getting to the point where the implementation is itself that nuanced. 

Alexander Sarlin: Yeah. I mean, you're talking about. Academic self efficacy and self confidence, which we know varies between subjects. It varies from week to week. Yeah. Yeah. All the examples you're giving, I think are incredibly good that it's not about, you know, one kid all the time or one grade level or one subject or one, you know, type of anything.

It's really, it's a very nuanced trajectory. I, we talked to, um, CEO of a tutoring company called my tutor a number of months ago about AI, and I thought his take was very interesting, which was, you know, You know, his take on what the ideal tutoring experience is, is you have a consistent tutor who you trust and you know, and you see every week or every, you know, on a cadence and in between, you have a virtual version of that tutor that is available all the time, can answer any question you want.

Can literally potentially speak in the same voice and have the same personality as your tutor. You know, it's not, they're not pretending to be the real person. But as you build rapport with the real person, you start to trust the AI as well. Not as much. You're not going to tell it your secrets. But I thought that was a very intriguing vision of what.

You know, the future of tutoring might look like, and I think it probably has some interesting implications to the type of teaching and the type of relationship building that you're thinking about it full mind as well. I don't know if you would agree with that as a vision of the future, but I thought it was an interesting way to combine the always available, you know, when you, when students do have high confidence and they are feeling like they're, they're almost getting something, but they just need that little push.

Then they might actually want to ask for help from an AI if they're out of their comfort zone, out of the doing something new, don't have low self advocacy. That's when they absolutely need a human there. So there's an interesting, you know, I could almost see it going back and forth, even within the same person in the same subject.

Hayley Spira-Bauer: There definitely is a question that I have, and I know Digital Promise actually put out some, some writing today about this and how is Gwinnett in Georgia leading the charge and really providing AI literacy for kids. I imagine what we're talking about here and what, you know, the CEO that you spoke to shared in your last conversation a few months ago is very much the model of what education is going to continue to evolve to look like in general, right?

They're going to have, we're not going to replace brick and mortar schools. Right. Absolutely. For a whole host of reasons that have to do with childcare and America and brick and mortar schools will exist for eternity. The question is, is how will innovation continue to help people? Brick and mortar schools evolve, right?

So when we think about what our future state looks like, what our ideal future state looks like, you know, ECI touched on, which I think you're right to cut and double click on Alex, the idea that a consistent educator, whether it be because they have substitutes rolling in and out, they can't find a certified teacher.

You know, you can make instruction better. You can improve quality. You can ensure consistency through innovation. We're just talking about different kinds of innovation here. We just have to find their schools have to be open minded and thinking beyond how they've operated for decades and superintendents and leaders have to be willing to adopt new ideas to ensure that their students can.

Move forward. 

Alexander Sarlin: I totally agree. And I think there's some really interesting innovation coming as we understand AI better as we understand student psychology with relationship to AI better, there's a lot of opportunity. So speaking of AI, speaking of, you know, all the innovation, we are right in the week of ASU GSV.

Haley, I know you're going to be there. What is your expectation for, you know, some of the top subjects you're going to, you Follow up on, learn about, talk to people about on the conference floor. And just to double down on that, you know, you also run a education technology podcast, which is. Terrific. What is your plans to use ASU GSV to sort of build more context and think about the next phase of the learning can't wait podcast.

Hayley Spira-Bauer: So I am headed to the air show this weekend, right? So that's the kickoff for ASU GSV. And I am curious, last year at ASU GSV, no one could talk about anything but AI. So they've dedicated a whole weekend to making sure folks can talk about. AI. And it contains space with a bunch of vendors, which is really cool.

I'm eager to walk around that floor and I'm eager to see what has popped up. You know, it is really interesting when you think about some of the work that's occurring in and around the ed tech space related to tools and how tools have evolved over the past couple of years and how, what tools are going to make it past this Esser cliff, right?

That's, that's a whole other conversation. So one. I want to see how that four feels. I also am, as I'm always eager, excited to be around school leaders and the folks that come from their districts. To hear what their, what their interests are and where their interests lie. What's really interesting about full mind is that our evolution has been born from our partnership with our schools.

Every single thing that we offer today was because of school asked for it. So I care way more about what pain points exist in schools. And the folks that I'm most excited to talk to are the ones that are coming directly from schools talking about what's really working in their communities and what isn't in terms of the podcast.

I love that I get to meet so many folks that have been on the podcast, but I've never met in person. Um, ASU GSB is a place where a lot of those folks could be, and I'm sure you feel the same way. I'm going to meet you next week as well, but I, I'm really eager to, I'm wrapping up season five with a focus on rural schools and I am not done recording all those episodes.

I'm about a quarter of the way in, but there's still space to add folks. So I'm, I'm actually really. I'm interested to talk to folks that, that have innovative solution for rural schools, as well as again, school leaders that are coming from some of these rural schools to continue to learn more about a portion of America that is the majority of America that I have no lived experience.

And I just want to continue to grow my understanding of the needs and unique kind of facet of. 

Alexander Sarlin: That's a great answer. I, that's interesting that to, to the rural school districts are a, such a fascinating. Use case for technology as we've sort of been talking about this whole time because they have such specific needs.

And that's, this has always been true. This has been true for the very early ed tech era. It was often the rural schools that were figuring out how to supplement their curriculum and their teachers with, with all sorts of things. And now they're doing it in these even more amazing, innovative ways with companies such as full mind.

This has been a great conversation. I really appreciate all your time. This is Ysiad Ferreiras. Thank you. CEO and Haley Spira-Bauer, the COO of Fullmind. See you all at ASU GSV and thank you for being here with us on Week in EdTech. 

Hayley Spira-Bauer: Thanks for having us, Alex. 

Alexander Sarlin: Yep, thanks for having us. Bye all. Thanks for listening to this episode of EdTech Insiders.

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