Educators Share What Edtech Entrepreneurs Should Know

I want to thank Robyn D. Shulman for the opportunity to contribute to the ongoing discussion about technology in education in a recent article in Forbes online:

Voices From The Field: Educators Share What Edtech Entrepreneurs Should Know

From Robyn:

“In this article, which will be a short series, teachers, superintendents and support staff from public schools around the country share their insights based on the following questions:

  • Why some teachers are afraid of technology
  • Best advice for entrepreneurs who want to go into education technology
  • What catches a teacher’s eye for a prospective product”

I’ve included my response here because as I go back into the classroom in a couple of weeks, I want to remain optimistic about the future of public education in Ontario, in Canada, and in the US.

I feel that ‘education’ is becoming more and more exclusive, and I don’t know that it has to be that way.  The facts remain that public schools are getting less funding, and that teaching as a profession is becoming less and less attractive to newcomers.

If public education is to thrive, two fundamental shifts need to happen;

  1. Teachers need to be supported.
  2. Schools need to become innovation hubs (you can read more about this idea in this website).

Here is my contribution to the article  –  I will try to expand on these ideas in the coming months, your comments are always appreciated.  Thank you, R


On Technology Resistance: Rich Baxter, 7th-grade educator says, “To use technology effectively, schools need to be places of innovation, and they are not designed to be so. So how can we expect teachers and students to use technology in productive ways? Our prime minister says Ontario classrooms are an environment that is generally hostile to teachers, so why would a teacher want to exacerbate that situation by innovating with technology?”

Best Advice For Entrepreneurs: Entrepreneurs who want to have an impact on student learning in a financially and socially meaningful way should spend resources marketing solutions directly to learners or their parents. We are facing a 69 million global teacher shortage by 2030.

The education space is not where the future is headed, and if we continue to use the term edtech, I think that’s where we are getting stuck.

Switch the term to learntech and market directly to the consumer – especially youth who are not and will not be served by our crisis-ridden education systems (with a few global exceptions) – and now an entirely new market of learners opens up. Global education and global learning to me are not the same things.

Global education is systemic, but global learning is personal, meaningful, and fulfilling, and the hope for our future survival and prosperity. But the [r]evolution must come from within us, with the humbling realization and the responsible acceptance that half the world’s population is carrying with them in their pockets in the form of mobile devices, the solution to all our global crises, and the other half is not.

I have been teaching for 25 years and have been innovating in my classroom for most of that time. My classroom went paperless around 2012 and technology hasn’t changed all that much since then. I espouse a hybrid approach that includes tasks that have both an analog side to their digital side – and this comes back to arts education, which is by nature technical.

Technology helps when students are encouraged to produce the media they also tend to consume. For example, they learn about dance by creating dance. They learn how to draw by drawing. They learn how to write by writing. They learn about video production by producing videos. Technology has to support and help implement those acts of creation, and I think a lot of the technology that was created years ago still isn’t being used properly now.

Catching An Educator’s Eye: I am interested in edtech products that help learners realize their creative visions mainly through arts or entrepreneurship practice, which by nature are technical endeavors, but the technology doesn’t always equate to digital, and there should always be hybrid solutions available to learners. So as entrepreneurs do we invest money and time creating new technology or do we invest by creating awareness of how to use the technology that already exists? I advocate for creating awareness and giving hope so that people know that they can learn – and I don’t think you need education systems to achieve this goal.


Rich Baxter is a founder, educator, and advocate for social innovation, the arts, and entrepreneurial education. His program The Bootstrapping Checklist was Shortlisted in the Teaching Delivery Category and Showcased on December 5, 2016 and December 4, 2017 in Philadelphia at the Reimagine Education Awards and again in 2020 and exists in the Creative Commons as an open innovation project. Rich is a judge in the K-12 category for Reimagine.

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Innovating In Public Schools Made (a bit) Easier

If you are a teacher and you are creating a really cool program in your classroom you should scale it globally. But if you think you should also make money from scaling your awesome program, it’s probably not the best way to go about it.

To innovate in a school setting, going the open source or open innovation route, however you define it, is probably your best choice.  Likely, a combination of proprietary and non-proprietary intellectual property scenarios might be more favourable.  Below is a list of things that in my experience are important to consider – please feel free to comment.*


As a public school teacher going the proprietary route in terms of IP would lead to many conflicts of interest –  a non-proprietary route (or at least a mix) is much easier.

You have to ‘give it away’. Some teachers or students might have problems about giving their work away. Of course, you always need a ‘bread and butter’ gig that pays the bills. But on top of that, participation in a coding or entrepreneurial community (or similar), to gain experience, knowledge, and reputation is increasingly possible. Consider ‘giving your work away’ in exchange for these valuable assets.

Going the open innovation/open source route is a good model for students in schools as a basis for project based learning. Assuming they have access to internet, cloud computing, and [mobile] devices, students can innovate using increasingly available webtools. The ‘soft skills’ learned by working in teams to solve problems are transferable and sought after by both the private and public employment sectors.   

Service learning, project based learning, entrepreneurship education, and STEAM are all well served when students understand their level of IP commitment, especially because cloud computing now allows for student projects to last over many years. A lot of work can go into a three or four year project, and a proprietary IP stance won’t likely stimulate innovation or cooperation.

If it’s innovated at school, student (and teacher) work in the form of cloud stored portfolios should be saved and shared in a school improvement repository/library/bank –   a sort of ‘creative commons’ for the local community – viewable by parents, staff, students, district supervisors and trustees. This data can also be used to attract mentoring or outside partnerships and/or investment, in effect transforming the school into an innovation hub with classroom as incubator and school as accelerator.

However you define open source (I’m studying Github Open Source Guides), the tools available for working this way are becoming more and more available. Google, AWS, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin are all free or relatively cheap tools for scaling your awesome program. Twitter is extremely powerful, and although ‘following’ and ‘liking’ is not supposed to imply reciprocity, if used well it can inspire collaboration.

Choosing the more non-proprietary route, teachers can be more assertive (i.e. pushy) at acquiring resources for their students.  Resources can come in the form of funding, mentoring, and equipment, to promotion on social media, and so on.

School district legal departments can more easily facilitate this type of open innovation by providing teachers and students with some basic IP guidelines. Also, teachers and students need to do their homework and learn more about IP law.

We can use and grow our present internet age economy of knowledge abundance. It is not constructive to stray too far to any one side of the non-proprietary or proprietary debate – we all need to mix it up according to our circumstances. Education can share the hope and skills that our internet age brings, and open source and open innovation projects can make local and global solutions happen.


*This article is not a substitute for professional legal advice. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice. Thanks!


Rich Baxter is a founder, educator, not a lawyer, and advocate for social innovation, the arts, and entrepreneurial education. The Bootstrapping Checklist was Shortlisted in the Teaching Delivery Category and Showcased on December 5, 2016 and December 4, 2017 in Philadelphia at the Reimagine Education Awards and exists in the Creative Commons as an open innovation project.

The Bootstrapping Checklist is a global initiative because it uses  Twitter and YouTube to promote the program, and Github and AWS to build the website hosting the short slide deck on How to Run the Bootstrapping Checklist .

When teachers or groups of students download the slide deck and then try the 5-step process, I wish them to post videos about their experiences on our YouTube or Twitter – this is how we are building community.

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The Reimagine Education Conference and Awards, Dec. 2017

Thank you Reimagine Education for inviting me to another inspiring event and for allowing me the privilege of presenting again The Bootstrapping Checklist, an open innovation program happening in my classroom in Toronto. The program is a grassroots online student social network centered around social entrepreneurship.

As a an educator in Toronto, I am heartened by the work being accomplished at University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. The Education Entrepreneurship Master’s Program is forging the alloy of Education Entrepreneurship with The Graduate School of Education, The Wharton Business School, The School of Engineering and Applied Science.

We need to attract the best and brightest ‘teacherpreneurs’ to help develop the next generation of teachers and support and inspire those who are innovating now in classrooms locally, nationally, and globally.

I have included the slide deck from my Bootstrapping Checklist 2017 Reimagine Education Presentation, but for ‘How to Run the Bootstrapping Checklist“, please click here.

Oh, and please check out my mention in Forbes – thanks Robyn Shulman!

Thank you,

Rich Baxter, December 2017


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Why (Not) Teach Entrepreneurship in Public Schools?

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Entrepreneurial skills such as resilience, focus, commitment, developing relationships, self-reflection, and a positive attitude are not intuitive skills. They take practice and dedication and it becomes a momentous event for a young student to begin to understand that just because they may not already have many of these skills, it doesn’t mean that they will never be able to develop them. This revelation for many kids lifts a weight for those that begin to grasp that skills are developed through dedication and practice, and that because these can be learned and taught, they become very much accessible to all students.

We are generally predisposed as humans to shy away from conflict – our first reaction is almost always the wrong one – and so teaching kids to embrace change and challenge as opportunities is critical at an early age if they are to grow into adults who will be able to excel in our uncertain future workforce. So entrepreneurial and change management skills are important skills to teach in our classrooms.

One of the things I notice through the Bootstrapping Checklist is how students learn to relate to each other in a more respectful and professional way – they start to look at school as an opportunity to practice skills to help them relate to each other in a professional manner in order to try to realize their project visions.

Students learn to separate their behaviour from their personal identities, meaning that if they behave badly out of frustration or anxiety during a tough team meeting, it doesn’t mean that ‘that’s who they are’. It means they behaved badly in a stressful situation and entrepreneurial education of this type teaches kids to recognize and respond to challenge, rather than simply and continually reacting to stress.

Thus students begin to objectively see how their language and the way they and their peers speak to each other can positively or negatively impact the group’s success. They also learn that problem solving is hard, that getting frustrated is normal, and that there are specific skills and strategies that can be applied to mitigate the difficulties of complex problem solving.

I claim that the Bootstrapping Checklist can produce ‘cohorts of students who are more than HigherEd ready’ – and what this really means is that students learn to understand what agility looks like in a constantly changing and unpredictable global and local employment market. A fundamental quality of the Bootstrapping Checklist is what I call guided iterative inquiry – it is very much process oriented design thinking, heavily influenced with the Japanese concept of Kaizen, or continuous improvement.

Teachers are fortunate in Ontario because we have a lot of freedom to plan curriculum delivery in our classrooms, and Ontario is a global education leader in inquiry and project- based learning, but we need to go further and normalize ‘cultures of innovation’ in our schools – and so teachers must take up the mantels of ‘teacherpreneurs’ and model this mindset for the students daily.

I go as far to suggesting that schools, especially middle and high schools, should be turned into ‘innovation hubs’, where the classroom is project incubator and the school/district is accelerator – cloud computing and iterative design thinking can practically support student projects over years – with the potential of student projects actually deploying in communities.

This is a paradigm shift of the purpose of our education system – to produce students who are not only skilled at change management, but who critically have not lost their desire to be imaginative, empathetic and creative people who are excited at the opportunities that constant change and uncertainty produce. We need to teach our kids never to lose their brilliance, and schools need to support this creative drive from the beginning to middle school, to high school, and beyond.


Rich Baxter is an educator and advocate for social innovation, the arts, and entrepreneurial education in our public schools. He is honoured to be a Judge in the K-12 Category for the 2017 and 2018 QS Stars Reimagine Education Awards.

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Wharton QS Stars Reimagine Education Awards 2016 and the Bootstrapping Checklist

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Dinner Gala at the National Constitution Centre, Philadelphia, Dec. 6, 2016

The following was posted on the Information and Communications Technology Council website as a guest blog:

http://www.ictc-ctic.ca/wharton-qs-stars-reimagine-education-awards-2016-and-the-bootstrapping-checklist/

I had the honour to present The Bootstrapping Checklist at the Reimagine Education Awards in Philadelphia on December 5, 2016. I am a Teacher for the TDSB and this program for my Grade 8 students, the result of over 10 years of research and experimentation in the classroom, was Shortlisted to the Teaching Delivery Category.

The power of guided iterative design such as The Bootstrapping Checklist is that it provides the seamless integration between pedagogy and technology needed to accelerate technology adoption by students and facilitate sustained entrepreneurial and socially innovative student projects. It is inherently mobile, social, and cloud based, and it demands that students use validated data to make design decisions.

I have been innovating education for over 20 years, and in that time have learned that a school board (i.e. district) has many jobs to fulfill, and helping teachers innovate at the classroom level is one of them.  Part of my job is to interpret global trends and deliver these as a service that satisfies my students, their families and me – this is real accountability, and three-part lessons or standardized tests just aren’t going to cut it anymore.

I know that guided iterative design (or guided iterative inquiry) is likely the most important pedagogy teachers should be doing to successfully blend ICT and good teaching in our classrooms.  I understand why it might be hard for teachers to grasp that very soon we won’t be ‘marking’ anymore, and that machine learning and extreme personalization (the automated solution to what teachers like to call ‘differentiated learning’) will accomplish these tasks with the speed and accuracy impossibly achieved by any teacher.

Closing the gap between the ‘system top’  and the ground, where the Teacher is social entrepreneur, and leadership is shared among innovative Teachers, Principals, District Supervisors and the rest of the EdTech Innovation Ecosystem, as described by UPenn’s Bobbi Kurshan here –  http://bit.ly/2gOO816 –  is one critical challenge to overcome if we are to balance automation with our humanness in education, both locally and globally.

Teachers should now practice Project Management skills more to facilitate schools as innovation hubs (the classroom as incubator – the school board as accelerator), where guided iteration like The Bootstrapping Checklist will help students to glean the data needed for capital and resource acquisition specific to their community needs, using a truly constructivist learning model. The data can be used to build public and private community partnerships, and turn public schools into hybrid remote/physical community innovation hubs.

By properly combining pedagogy like The Bootstrapping Checklist and ICT, we can accelerate technology adoption and collaboration by middle and high school students to produce cohorts of students that are more than HigherEd ready, and we can start now to try to alleviate a projected year 2030, 25 million global teacher shortage by attracting the best and the brightest to the teaching profession.

We live within a dualism inherent to our physical universe, and the EdTech universe works the same way – we will never fully automate, and perhaps for global regions that are desperately in need of educational interventions, bringing in automation to initiate a support level of literacy and numeracy is an amazing idea, and I hope it does happen.

But these interventions are not the end goals, and will lay the foundation necessary to incite and produce teachers who can integrate the arts, entrepreneurialism, and social innovation to facilitate the human interactions needed to balance and sustain any system that we create.

The EdTech Innovation Ecosystem is rich and vast and will require participation from many varied players – but one thing I have learned is that any future reality is possible – we can build systems where technology fully automates education to the service of an oppressive few  – of this I have no doubt.

Much more suitable is the coexistence of extreme automation and human participation – this is the brave new world that excites me and my students. Good Ed/Tech Innovation occurs at the intersection of sound pedagogy and technology, and are thus critically complimentary.


Rich Baxter is an educator and advocate for social innovation, the arts, and entrepreneurial education in our public schools. The Bootstrapping Checklist was presented on December 5, 2016 in Philadelphia at the Reimagine Education Awards and exists in the Creative Commons as an open innovation project.


Special thanks to Kristan Uccello, Dr. Paul Kim CTO of GSE at Stanford, CTO at TDSB Peter Singh, and Salar Chagpar and Marc Lijour at Prepr.org

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The Bootstrapping Checklist Shortlisted to the 2016 Wharton Reimagine Education Awards

reimagine-education-teaching-delivery-awardWe are proud to know that our work is engaging the most innovative educators in the world, and momentum to see our program scale has increased since we have been Shortlisted for the Reimagine Education Teaching Delivery Award 2016. My students know that their work is being considered internationally, and they are empowered to continue working hard to address issues that affect our community – this is our greatest success.

The power of guided iterative design such as The Bootstrapping Checklist is that it provides the seamless integration between pedagogy and technology needed to accelerate technology adoption by students and facilitate sustained entrepreneurial and socially innovative student projects. It is inherently mobile, social, and cloud based, and it demands that students use validated data to make design decisions.

Graduates keep visiting to receive updates about projects that they used to work on.

One project in particular, Broadcast Out Loud (BOL), is in its third year. BOL is a media service for the school community that will engage students on their mobile devices to keep them connected to school events. Over the past three years, about 30 students have worked on or are currently working on BOL – with the ultimate goal of actual deployment to classmates and the community.

The Bootstrapping Checklist is excellent training for students who need to practice the entrepreneurial ‘soft skills’ and 21st century competencies, as they learn to construct and to connect with each other in an impassioned and respectful way, fully anticipating the problems that lie ahead, and yet with an attitude toward committing to the process for the benefit of themselves, their families, and their communities.

Check out the program here:  https://bootstrappingchecklist.org


“We believe that the The Bootstrapping Checklist allows us to expand our knowledge and skills in mathematics (analytics, data management, graphing, etc.) and literary skills, while also creating a larger sense of independence, and giving us a taste of real world problems and entrepreneurial business. It is vastly different from what we have been doing for most of our school lives so far, however we see it as a positive difference and a new and interesting learning experience that improves academics while still being interesting.”  Grade 8 students, October 2016

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Check out the competition here:   http://www.reimagine-education.com/

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