NZTech Education Technology Summit – Keynote: Betsy Corcoran

Of unicorns and flying elephants: Is this the future of EdTech?

Betsy Corcoran, CEO & Co-Founder, EdSurge (USA)

What is EdSurge?
EdSurge aim to find what the right technology is for any particular school, any community. They have free EdTech newsletters and resources.

3 classes of trends

  • Science & tech
  • Business
  • Socio-political

Trends matter to our students. This is where they will find jobs. They will also be confronted with ethical, moral and cultural situations.

Questioning is really important

Aim for people to go away with a set of questions that we keep asking ourselves, colleagues, students, families etc.

Science & tech trends

Augmented reality

Augmented reality aims to be the next step on from virtual reality. Offers a way to see the world in a way that it doesn’t really exist.

HAPTIC technology

Sentient robots

Robots have been around since at least the early 1950s. Some of the technology is getting to a much more workable state.

Bioengineering living creatures

There is a lot of bioengineering going on. Eg. GloFish – fish that glow in the dark.

Synthetic biology

Blurs the distinction between organic and inorganic materials. Watch MIT Professor Neri Oxman – TED Talk: Design at the Intersection of Technology and Biology.

So these technologies are there, but what are the questions we should be asking about these technologies?

Business trends

Edtech funding

EdSurge have published a report on where Edtech money is going — State of Edtech funding.

Edtech investors club

Education has different goals than business.
Most of the money goes to small start-up companies.

Unicorns – a company that is valued at more than $1 billion created over the last 10 years.

In education this includes:

  • 2U
  • Lynda
  • PluralSight (similar to Lynda)
  • Udacity?
  • ABC Mouse?

The goal should not be to create billion dollar companies in education. Having lots of small companies developing products for education to solve specific problems is a good thing.


  • What is the value of the technology for your school?
  • What is the problem/challenge you have right now?
  • Is there a tool that will help you do that?


Demographic shifts

Students from impoverished background have a more difficult time in school. In US but 2023, more than half of the population will be from the current “minority” – the minority will become the majority.

We also know that the types of jobs for the future are changing.

We need our students to understand science and tech so that they know what questions to ask about the world.

A big trend in the US has been the growing voice for the people who feel voiceless. There has been a lot of conversation around how we can give more voice to people, especially those who feel the don’t have a voice.

What does this all mean?

Gartner hype cycle

We go through stages. We have a peak of expectations and then we slide down to the trough of disillusionment.

We want to get to the slope of enlightenment. We need to see how technology changes the way we work and the way we teach.

The technology is just a tool, but if we start with, “what do we want to do with our learners?” then it can be very effective.

If we teach today’s students the way we taught yesterday’s we rob them of tomorrow. — John Dewey

All of us need to consider what the role of technology is and how we choose to use it. We have to figure out what parts of the technology we want to influence our lives.

We have to give our kids the power to ask questions, to push back, to be rooted in their values and their culture, and then what tools will help them build the lives that they want to have.

Nathaniel Written by:

Nathaniel is passionate about people reaching their full potential. He has expertise and experience in education, e-learning, face-to-face and online facilitation, virtual mentoring, training, leadership and school governance.