The Internet generation teaches the next generation

By Richard Nieva , written on April 26, 2013

From The News Desk

For the first time in the history of education, young teachers entering the field are people who have grown up with the Internet (even though, for a long time, it was AOL’s version of the Internet. Still counts.). That’s kind of an obvious statement, but its implications shouldn’t be overlooked.

That was the takeaway from a conversation I had with Tim Brady and Geoff Ralston, founders of education tech accelerator Imagine K12. The incubator this week announced raising a new fund for its startup companies. The capital came from Y Combinator founder Paul Graham, Yahoo cofounder David Filo, Angela Filo, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, Chegg CEO Dan Rosensweig, NewSchools Venture Fund, and GSV Asset Management. Through it, $80,000 convertible notes will be doled out to each of Imagine K12’s 39 startups, on top of the $14,000 to $20,000 they originally received.

“That generational change in teaching is already making a difference,” says Ralston. The main reason, he says, is the willingness to engage with new education tech. The kindergarten through 12th grade market is notoriously difficult for entrepreneurs to innovate for. There are a lot of reasons for that. For one, the market is so fragmented. Every school district has its own set of quirks. It takes a long time to even get a meeting with a superintendent. And pilot tests take an eternity before a school will embrace the technology. Having a generation of teachers who understand the speed and pace of the Internet makes them natural cheerleaders for digital tools. And when they can’t have them, it’s baffling instead of just an inconvenience.

Ralston points to the enthusiastic response the accelerator has gotten from teachers willing to beta test his portfolio companies’ products. Some of them are ClassDoJo, a way for teachers to regulate classroom behavior by awarding and subtracting points to students, and LearnSprout, a student data analytics platform.

Of course, in this age of teacher and student connectivity, there comes a question of excess. When students can be online, and theoretically, in school mode all the time, schools need to make sure access doesn’t become a burden for a student. “As a society, we’re still trying to figure out what’s appropriate,” says Brady.

With this generation of teachers so effortlessly able to embrace what the Web brings, it also raises the question of a widening gap between them and educators who don’t find the Web to be second nature. It’s not any real concern because anyone can master basic technology (Facebook’s oldest user is 105-years-old.) And even if technology doesn’t come as naturally to some than in does for their counterparts, it won’t matter for the good teachers, says Ralston. “Most teachers just want what’s best for the students,” he says, adding that he’s seen teachers of all ages take the time to learn unfamiliar technology.

In any case, even younger teachers may not have such a leg up. Millennials can Tweet and Facebook all they want, but that’s still no match for those who were literally born into the Internet age, and already have the technological high ground.

“As with any big shift, if you’re born into it, and it’s there, you think about it differently,” says Brady.