It’s not every day we get a request for 500 lengths of Factorylux fabric cable, each one just under 29.9cm in length.
The lighting cable was not for pendant lights in a very large and low ceilinged building, but used to demonstrate how far light travels in a nano-second. At 299,792,458 metres per second, it takes light – and electricity – one billionth of a second to travel 29.9 centimetres. The request came from Richard Taylor, founder of a number of highly successful enterprises including Media Taylor, a specialist media company focusing on the education market. Richard kindly agreed to be interviewed about his work.
Richard, thank you for talking with us today. Can you tell us what edtech and ed-invent are?
Edtech is educational technology. It can be hardware, software or services. Ed-invent is a programme I established about a year ago with Cambridge Assessment, it grew out of my helping a company called Night Zookeeper organise StartUp Weekend Education London in 2014. Night Zookeeper won the first ever StartUp Education Weekend held in the UK in 2011. Cambridge Assessment were one of the main sponsors, they liked what they saw and so we decided to work together to build a programme that tried to give educators a say in how edtech is created.
You’ve been a jackaroo in the outback, worked in banking, been involved in consultancy and invested in successful start ups. You sat on the Independent Monitoring Board of Wormwood Scrubs prison, are a former director of the Australian Sponsorship Marketing Association and written two books on sponsorship. Phew! How did you get involved in eduction?
I fell into education entirely by accident. My wife ran the largest educational publishing company in Australia and before we were married I met some of her friends in London who ran the first educational marketing agency in the country. The founder, who was a pretty idiosyncratic bloke, asked me to write a business plan to set up an Australian office. I did this during my honeymoon in Barbados and it was enough for them to fund me for 3 months to try and set up the business in Australia. It’s a pretty unconventional route as I knew nothing about education nor how to set up a business. Like lots of things in life it was a combination of luck and embracing an opportunity for all it’s worth.
What is your ultimate objective for ed-invent?
The aim of ed-invent isn’t to make educators into entrepreneurs or to get them out of the classroom, it’s about helping them to see how valuable their experience and ideas can be in this space. Hopefully some of the better ideas may eventually become products or services, but that’s not our key aim, nor are we offering to invest in any of the ideas that educators may want to take forward. What we do offer is the freedom to think about edtech and give educators the freedom to use their experience in a productive way that will ultimately help them and their sector.
What’s the difference between ed-invent and other idea incubators?
We are more a catalyst for what we think is a gap in the edtech ecosystem rather than an incubator or business accelerator. We want educators to see how the industry works, why their ideas are important and how they might be able to use the experience back in their institutions or to take them forward in what ever way they like. One way may be via an incubator or accelerator.
How important is it for teachers to be involved in these programmes?
Teacher involvement is vital. One way of seeing this is to look at how many teachers use edtech. In the last 10 years we have probably invested £10bn in edtech in England and yet I’d estimate only about 20% of teachers are really using it. This is, by any objective measure, a pretty huge failure and we believe some of the reasons are:
– a top-down approach where the government and their appointed specialists/agencies have made key decisions
– a distinct lack of educators within the organisations who imagine and build edtech, particularly at the very early stages
– a serious failure in the procurement systems within education
– compassion fatigue amongst educators who have now had at least 3 edtech ‘revolutions’ imposed on them over the last 20 years – along with almost never ending political initiatives to ‘fix’ education
– success of products that are marketed as free and useful but are designed purely to measure and sell information about users from across the education spectrum
What can we expect from ed-invent over the next few years?
ed-invent ran a few hundred educators through our first programme and of our 14 finalists, 3 are trying to develop their products (both independently and with an existing edtech company). Like any start up, we got a few things right and plenty wrong. If we can get enough money to keep it going, my plan is to create a structured/accredited online course and build a network of partners to deliver smaller local events at a county and school level. What I hope to do is based on keeping ed-invent rooted outside the M25 and probably in Cambridge. Most of the best edtech ideas I have seen come from outside the M25 whereas there is a perception that they all happen in/around London, mainly in Shoreditch.
When is the next event?
The next ed-invent is being run by one of our first finalists Dan Axson at St John’s near Brighton on July 12th 2014.
Richard, it’s been a pleasure, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.
Thank you. The lighting cable has been a huge success in getting teachers to understand how great edtech (and ideas in general) are about thinking differently. The nano second cable was the invention of one of Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, one of the most famous women in technology that few people have ever heard of. She used this as a tool to help explain abstract concepts politicians and senior navy staff who controlled her projects funding. She also used this in her lectures to thousands of school and university students.