Definitive Disruption

Finally, some real fun: my edtech journey to ETIS 13.

GUEST COLUMN | by Todd Marks

Education Technology Innovation Summit logoIn 1998, my first year teaching high school mathematics, I spent most of my time lecturing on the chalkboard and having students practice textbook-based drills. The first web browser, Netscape Navigator, came out three years earlier when I was a sophomore in college and by senior year the invention of Internet Explorer started an all-out browser war. It has been another decade since that time and a majority of classrooms still do not have computers, and go so far as to ban smartphones and access to the Internet. Classrooms have remained largely unchanged for the past 150 years.

After my first year of teaching mathematics, I was asked to teach Computer Science, and got to teach from a computer lab — which was a big departure from the typical classroom. We dubbed it, “The Bat Cave.” This was 1999 and web-based technologies were exploding. Google had been out for a year and we were using the web and instant messaging daily. I had taken Computer Science classes in college, but this was the first time I was really excited about the possibilities of the Internet.

Toward the end of my second year teaching, a friend showed me one of the early versions of Flash while the “dot com” era was in full swing. I was hooked. I took a hiatus from teaching, waited tables at night, and started a digital agency with him and his brother. We made Flash and HTML websites, and custom learning management systems for the better part of two years. We had a good run, but like many companies during that era, we went out of business after September 11th, 2001 and the big “dot bomb.”

After the collapse of that company, I founded Mindgrub Technologies in 2002. My focus was on rich Internet applications and I earned my first contract developing flight information display systems near Washington, D.C.  For the next six years, I had checkered experiences trying to work for myself. I did a stint at a DOD company as a Training Programs Manager, I tried to start a second company with a friend focused on location-based services, and finally landed in New York City working on front-end web development for a digital agency.

From YouTube and Twitter, to the invention of Video Conferencing and the advancements in interactive and social media, 2002-2008 provided an explosion in new web technologies. I also had the pleasure of teaching Instructional Technology for the University of Maryland’s (UMBC) Graduate Program for Instructional System Design. I was one of the first teachers to bring my course online using Adobe Connect for synchronous online learning, but couldn’t shake the feeling that I could be doing more.

Finally, in 2007 – 2008, I got my big break with the release of the iPhone. For the first time, the stars aligned. I had over 10 years of experience producing digital content, I had a need to support my four kids, and there was finally enough disruption in the marketplace that I decided to make a run of it. I quit my day job once again and held up in my basement with several student interns to focus on producing iPhone applications.

These years, 2008 and 2009, would prove to be very challenging. The economy went through a well-documented recession and I almost lost everything to get Mindgrub off the ground. I ate Ramen noodles, hot dogs, and McDonald’s dollar menu (not recommended) for the better part of a year. I rode my bike or ran to client meetings and secured a small loan to move my then eight-person company out of my basement. But it was well worth it. Internet technologies continued to flourish with the proliferation of technologies and platforms like “The Cloud,” iTunes University, and much more — paving the way for Mindgrub to explode in to new markets.

Mindgrub finally started to make it in 2010 when we picked up big name clients to produce their mobile applications. I bought out my partner in the location-based services company, and founded viaPlace LLC. We created new divisions of the company focused on Mobile Gaming and Augmented Reality. This was also the year of the iPad.

Currently in 2013, Mindgrub has over 50 employees and a full Technology Innovation Agency that produces mobile, social and web applications. We have received distinctions such as Maryland’s Technology Company of the Year, the top 100 Best Run Companies, a Webby Award Honoree and several Addy Awards for Best Mobile App. But there is much more work left to be done.

Fast forward to today. Despite all the Internet has to offer, schools still have students sitting in rows and listening to teachers lecture for the most part. But it is clear there is a real focus in the technology sector on education technology, and ‘disruption’ is finally making its way into the school system. We need to accelerate this process; Mindgrub is doing its part by hosting the first-ever Education Technology Innovation Summit.

We have assembled some of the best and brightest minds in edtech for a one-day summit in New York City. We have panel talks including: How to Build an Edtech Ecosystem, Mobile Learning, EdTech Startups, Game Based Learning, Learning in the Cloud and Professional Development. We have a morning keynote by Eric Sheninger, Principal of New Milford High School and the 2012 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year. The afternoon keynote will be given by former Teach for America teacher, Andrew Coy, who will share his experiences turning Recreational Centers into Tech Centers for after school programs. Lastly, we have a networking and cocktail hour where we hope all these great minds and attendees can meet and forge a network that helps bring real change to our classrooms.

If we can focus our attention on the Education Industry and bring definitive disruption to the classroom, then we can create a positive change in our kids’ learning. ETIS will focus on blended classrooms with online, mobile and gamified learning. We will share several case studies of education technology innovation that trumps traditional learning models. We all need to rally to break ourselves free of the 150-year-old classroom and learning model, and once again position ourselves as the top educators in the world.

Teacher-turned-technologist Todd Marks is the President and CEO (Chief Everything Officer) of Baltimore-based Mindgrub Technologies. Write to:

  • harrykeller


    “Despite all the Internet has to offer, schools still have students sitting in rows and listening to teachers lecture for the most part.”

    In addition, science classes still have students peering into microscopes, lighting Bunsen burners, collecting leaves, manipulating buret stopcocks, and the like with little or no purpose. We can do better, and I have.

    “We have assembled some of the best and brightest minds in edtech for a one-day summit in New York City.”

    You have left out edtech for science education. The most innovative idea is the online hands-on science lab. Check out Smart Science Education Inc.

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