Sharing the Value of Startup Weekend EDU

Since last fall, I’ve had countless valuable experiences, beginning with my participation in Startup Weekend, which was the catalyst that started the journey that I am now on. This first taste led to collaborating with some of the most dedicated, caring, and hard working individuals I know, to host western Canada’s first ever education-themed Startup Weekend events in Calgary and Edmonton.

9 year old Lauren

9-year old Lauren, team lead for the Crowd Favorite, How Do You Do? robotics kits, Calgary. Photo: Victor Panlilio.

Last week I had the opportunity to share what our Startup Weekend EDU team has learned at the University of Calgary Werklund School of Education Ideas 2015 conference. This week I am excited to be in gorgeous Niagara Falls, Ontario, sharing Startup Weekend EDU at the Connect 2015 conference.

Reflecting on all that we’ve learned has been an experience in itself. When I sat down to create my presentation, a flood of memories filled my head. I thought of every bit of insanity, hope, fun, and inspiration that make up Startup Weekend EDU. I thought about all of our participants: the retired educator, the nine-year-old student who loves robotics, the startup guru, the architect, the parent, the experienced judges, the pre-service teacher, and everyone who participated, mentored, or volunteered. I actually had a physical reaction while reflecting. I could feel heat creeping up my neck as the adrenaline began pumping and I re-experienced the feeling of doing something both scary and exciting.

I’ve packed my presentation (slides below) with a wealth of insights. Here are a few highlights that I’ll build upon during my presentation.

  • Creating learning environments that foster creativity, risk taking, and innovation requires educators to experience these environments themselves. When was the last time you did something that was a real risk for you? Without doing it ourselves, can we truly understand how to shape these experiences for our students?

    SWEDU venue at SAIT Campus

    Our fantastic venue at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary, October 16-18, 2014. Photo: Victor Panlilio.

  • Diversity in expertise, interests, and skills is the key to creating dynamic and authentic learning experiences. Students and educators must also apply their diverse expertise in authentic ways that impact the world. Collaborating with a network of people who know and think differently from one another is necessary across the education space if we are to create what is not yet known.
  • Fostering entrepreneurial spirit in learning means thinking like and learning from entrepreneurs. It’s not just about telling educators and students to take risks and collaborate. It’s about fostering a culture in and out of the classroom through explicit opportunities to do so. In my presentation I’ll share a ton of strategies used by entrepreneurs all over the world, as well as tools that we’ve used at Startup Weekend EDU that you can easily apply in your own context.

You are invited to join me at Connect 2015 for Bringing Entrepreneurial Spirit to Life Through Startup Weekend EDU on Thursday, May 7th at 1:00 pm in room 206. See you soon!



Startup Weekend was the Best Risk I Ever Took

In the fall of 2013, I took a risk and experienced something that profoundly changed me. It was exciting, terrifying, and fueled by adrenaline. No, I did not go skydiving or F1 racing. I attended Startup Weekend.

Here’s What Happened

On November 8th, I attended Startup Weekend Women’s Edition, the first Women’s Edition in Canada. In a nutshell, Startup Weekend is an immersive 54-hour event where participants pitch, form teams, develop, and present an entrepreneurial venture in an adrenaline-saturated blink of an eye. There is a reason why the phrase, “No talk, all action” is the motto of the weekend! Here’s a short explanation of what it’s all about.

Why I Went

As a former teacher who currently works on a district edtech implementation and professional learning team, I have had plenty of opportunities to work with teachers, administrators and students and explore how to apply existing edtech in their learning. What has been glaringly absent is a connection to the people who develop the tools, software and hardware that students, staff and districts use. How can we use edtech in the most effective ways if we don’t even know who creates it? How do we move forward together?

What began as a glimmer of curiosity turned into eye-opening insight when I attended the EdTech Innovation conference in the spring. It was the first time I had attended a conference where the purpose was not to sell technology via a one-way transaction, nor to discuss how to use it without discussing how it was planned, designed, and configured. Instead, this conference aimed to connect researchers, educators, industry, and developers. Participants came from a range of fields including K-12, post-secondary, research and analytics, HR and business, and technology development. I participated in deep conversations and discussions that brought to the forefront the need to connect all of these groups so we can learn from each other and work together. It opened my eyes to the missing pieces in the collaborative equation in the edtech space. My experiences at this conference set off a series of interactions that connected me with absolutely amazing people.

One of the many people that I met suggested that I participate in Startup Weekend. I was reluctant at first, because I did not feel that my skills fit neatly into any of the three participant categories: designer, developer, or business. But an excited voice inside said I had nothing to lose. So I signed up, not knowing what to expect. I hadn’t planned on pitching. I just wanted to observe and learn. But an hour before the event began, I decided to risk it and pitch. And I am incredibly glad that I did. Here’s my conversation about the experience with my amazing mentor and friend, Angie Tarasoff.

Three Big Insights

In my conversation with Angie, I shared a few observations that I’d like to elaborate on. I won’t give everything away though, because my motive is to encourage you to experience it and feel the terriffantastimazingness for yourself at the next Startup Weekend Calgary in February.  Here are my top three insights:

  1. Take a risk. Especially if you work in an industry that is unfamiliar with: organization-wide flexibility and innovation, strategic pivots, thorough and continuous validation, clear value propositions that aren’t confused with resources or activities, and collaborative relationships that reach deeper and further than business transactions. An experience like Startup Weekend makes you feel free, uninhibited, and ready to try, fail, try, and keep going.
  2. Know your value. It’s there. We all have something to offer. I had no idea that I would end up with the second largest team, work with seven absolutely amazing team members, see the value, insights, skills, and strengths of each one, and blaze into a third place finish. I have never accomplished so much in such a short amount of time with people that I had never met before. And there was so much to learn, just like the awesome second place founder Jenn Egroff writes.
  3. Iterate using the Startup Weekend model. I am absolutely convinced that this model can be applied in just about any situation where you want to solve a problem by acting instead of getting stuck in a perpetual loop of planning/analysis/doubt/fear. It’s a way to experience a true iterative action cycle where experiments are small, failure is short, coaches are incredible, and teammates are committed. Creating a working prototype or plan in just one weekend is incredible. You just do it. I can see this model used in classrooms, schools, organizations, and teams everywhere at just about any scale.

Next Steps

Angie and I are creatively conspiring to bring an event similar to NYC Startup Weekend EDU to educators and students. Angie has shared our whirlwind brainstorming sessions and first steps in her blog post here, complete with descriptions of the heart-stopping excited panic that I’m sure will continue as we move forward. If you’d like to learn more, ask a question about my experience, pick my brain about K-12 education, or be involved somehow, then let’s connect! We are just in the first stages of planning, brainstorming, and throwing ideas up, down, out, and back in!

I have remained in close contact with many of the people that I met at Startup Weekend, as well as edtech developers that I connected with in the spring. I am happy to offer what I know about the edtech space while they have been terrific sources of inspiration and advice about the startup space. I feel lucky and excited to be part of an incredible community of open, caring, and creative innovators.

I am going to be at Startup Weekend in February. I hope to see you there!


On Badges and Rewards: Gut Reactions and Real Life Connections

Last week, a school in Calgary announced the elimination of certificates and ceremonies honoring academic and athletic achievement. The school board’s rationale addresses issues around internal vs. external motivation, competition vs. collaboration, and provides research that supports the school’s decision.

Right now, fierce debate is taking place around the use of badges and rewards to motivate people. Everyone has an opinion. Educators, parents, course designers, HR specialists, marketers, and app designers are all talking about how to leverage rewards to fuel motivation. I expect that when you encounter the use of rewards and badges in education, you have a distinct reaction either in favor or against the notion. And your reaction stems from your our own personal values and experiences.

Let’s dissect this topic and see where it goes. First, let’s see what others have to say. Some diverse and well-written arguments include:

  • Punished by Rewards? A Conversation with Alfie Kohn by Ron Brandt. Kohn argues that both punishments and rewards are ways of manipulating students. He says that there is scientific evidence that rewards reduce the intrinsic curiosity and motivation that comes from being tasked with meaningful challenges. He also says that praise is an instrument of control, especially if it is used to gain compliance. He argues that educators should focus on meaningful content, engagement in a community, and choice, instead of rewards.
  • I Don’t Get Digital Badges by Jackie Gerstein. Gerstein gives an overview of some of the main arguments against the use of badges and and highlights the the work of Alfie Kohn, Daniel Pink, Daniel Hickey, Bron Stuckey, Terry Heick, and others. Ultimately, Gerstein presents research-based evidence that badges do not equal motivation. She also argues that simply adding badges to a learning task does not result in the gamification of learning because badges do not provide formative assessment, and are not usually based on learner choice.
  • Learning Badges by Degree of Freedom. In this blog post, the author examines his experience in a MOOC where he earns badges and poses some thoughtful questions about how the recognition of badges is being debated by licensing bodies, organizations, and employers.
  • 7 Things You Should Know About Badges by Educause. This document is a great introduction to what badges are, how some educational institutions are using them, and what’s next in the development of badges as both formal and informal credentials in education. It takes a positive, informative approach to the concept of badges.
  • Mozilla Open Badges. Mozilla has taken an open concept approach to badges as ways to learn, issue, and display them as credentials for a wide variety of purposes by anyone or any institution. The project aims to help people recognize others as well as receive recognition based on specific accomplishments or skills. Mozilla has also created an electronic way of collecting and displaying badges in a Badge Backpack.
  • The Teacher’s Guide to Badges in Education by Edudemic. This article presents widely-held positive views on badges by drawing parallels between badges and gaming, pride in achievements, and goal-setting. It states that badges help to push students to try harder, think differently, and try activities that are outside of their comfort zones.

So there are supporters as well as opponents. The above posts also point out a diverse array of purposes that people see for badges such as:

  • Checklists or a series of actions to be taken
  • Choices of tasks to choose from
  • Verification of credentials or skills
  • Rewards for completing tasks
  • Tracking of levels of accomplishment or skill
  • Ways to pique interest and invite someone to take action
  • Presentation of a challenge or task

It seems that the uses of rewards generally fall into four categories: motivation to complete, recognition of achievement, assessment, and/or tracking.

Next, I will examine some personal interactions with badges and rewards. (This post is turning out to be a very reflective experience!) Examples from my own life include:


This made our sweat-drenched practices much more worthwhile.

  • Dragon boat competition – This summer I joined an amateur dragon boat team and had a real blast. We unexpectedly won a bronze medal in our division at the Calgary Dragon Boat Festival. It was a thrill just to be there but I have to admit that winning a medal made my aching muscles much more worthwhile.
  • Nike Training Club – This is one of my favorite apps. I’m not as motivated by the badges as I am by seeing the number of minutes I have accumulated through my workouts over time. There are different levels and focuses to choose from for each workout, and the instructional videos are fun and easy to follow.
  • Inspiration from people at the top of their game – From watching elite athletes compete in the Olympics, to world renowned researchers speak on TED Talks, to following people and organizations on Twitter, they motivate and inspire me to learn more, connect with people, and take action. Many of the people that I look up to have won awards or received recognition that helps them to gain the spotlight, increase their reach, and distinguish themselves.
  • Gaming – I don’t play many games, but there are a few that I enjoy. Developing skills and achieving the next level is a huge part of playing any game, online or otherwise. There is also an element of competition that fuels me.
  • Grades and formal credentials – Anyone working toward a degree, certificate, course, or any other type of credential knows that the final reward is the recognition of having completed it.
  • Black belt – Twelve years ago, I earned my black belt through my dojo, Okinawa Gojuryu Karatedo Kujekai. I put many years into this and consider this to be a source of immense pride. I also had a short but amazing experience at the Calgary Tai Chi & Martial Arts College where I practiced wushu. Both were incredibly valuable experiences.
  • Career – Many people consider their job to be a source of pride. When you accomplish a project or achieve a new position, you have something new to put on your resume, kind of like a badge.

My personal experiences include both intrinsic drive as well as external motivators. There were times when I considered quitting karate. A complex web of elements blended together to help push me through. They include:

  • Dedication to myself as a martial artist
  • Motivation to earn the next belt
  • Making friends with people in my karate club
  • My love of practicing and performing specific moves and skills
  • The curiosity that my friends had through their pop culture experiences with martial arts movies
  • Expectations and support from my Master and my family
  • How I was feeling at the time, or even that day

At any point in time, each of these motivational elements moved to the forefront or background on my journey to reach my goals in karate. They ebbed and flowed, and changed over time. I cannot isolate a single motivation. Likewise, on a day to day basis, I can say that working out with my Nike Training Club app could be classified as 80% internal and 20% external motivation. Usually. Tomorrow I might be ultra-motivated and classify it as 90/10. I don’t see anything wrong with this combination, or acknowledging that there are both internal and external forces that make up my own motivations. Could it be that badges and rewards do not constitute an all-or-nothing approach, and that viewing them as part of a cause and effect relationship is driving the current debate in inaccurate and polarizing directions?

For you, a badge may be motivating because it helps illuminate the path you are taking to achieve a goal. For me, a badge may mean formal recognition for achieving something. Even within the term, ‘external reward’ there are many personal interpretations and definitions. So what seems to motivate a student is likely a combination of different elements that we are interpreting as a single force of motivation.

My initial reaction to the debate around badges and rewards was to reject their usefulness and argue that internal motivation is the only constructive way to approach learning. However, my brief personal analysis leads me to conclude that internal motivations cannot be generalized, and that in reality, a complex mix of motivating factors helped me to reach my goals. Motivation is not a simple equation.

What’s your gut reaction? How do rewards play out in your daily life?