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Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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Startup Nation – Playing it Safe??

Had a very sad conversation yesterday with some people who are in the high tech and investments industries. I expressed my disappointment at the lack of technical-able people who want to join a startup. The reply was “apparently all startups that are meant to happen are to be started by technical founders”. And then “startups should always be about technology”.

This is a way reflects the traditional perception of VC investments in Israel.

As someone who comes from the marketing and business into the high tech world, and who has consulted quite a few technical founders of startups about their marketing and business strategies, I find this a sad conclusion.

A good startup team should have a great balance between the technical and marketing perceptions. A good startup idea will often come out of a great understanding of a market, its needs or problems and the way to reach back with a solution. Right there, in between understanding the problem and supplying the market with a solution – right there comes the technical answer to the problem.

I am not saying it’s impossible for technical people to see or understand the market. As it is not unthinkable that a marketing person will learn how to code or come up with a technical idea without any technical background. What I am saying is that each is best at their own specialty, and I don’t believe that “I’m best at everything” is a real thing. This is where ego replaces clear reasonable thinking. These are the replaceable CEOs.

What can be done to attract more technology people, software engineers and computer science graduates to entrepreneurship? It’s a big question. It seems like of all place, here in the Startup Nation, the concept is that programmers can get a great paying job so easily – that there’s no incentive in the world that would convince them to jump on some brand new startup wagon. Why take a risk when you can easily just enjoy life?

My guess is the economic situation in Israel today contributes to this state of mind. But then I am thinking about my parents. Both clearly with entrepreneurial traits. Only when they started their career it was all about job security. Not about hope or big plans or daring. I would think that as a country we’ve grown up and proved that taking those risks is often worth it. Didn’t we?

But above all, is it at all possible to convey to non-entrepreneurs that superb feeling you get when you are creating your own thing?? When you are making a dream come true? When creating a dent in the world we live in?

Now, if you still prefer to go back to safety, and never think you’re an entrepreneur, I urge you to dedicate a few minutes to watching this fantastic TEDx talk by a fellow entrepreneur, Cameron Herold, about raising kids to be entrepreneurs. Spoiler and disclosure: I never got an allowance.

Education Re-Form: Small Steps

Recently an Israeli fresh teacher, who wanted to give teaching a try after a hi-tech career, published his experiences on a blog. Some of his posts where quite shocking. A few months into teaching at a middle school and this new teacher has decided to give up his teaching career altogether. A university professor who tried to teach math at a middle school also gave it up after a few months. Both complained about the lack of discipline or any interest in learning by the students. They also complained about the indifference of school management.

Observers of the education system in Israel are often expressing concern that Israel could be loosing its competitive stand in the global innovation market if the education here continues to deteriorate at this rate.

Factors mentioned in most reports relate to low salaries of teachers, too few teaching hours in the classroom, too many students per class, not enough computers, not enough classrooms.

No one complained that there are too few books… In fact, no report talked about the intensive production of new school books at all. Books are produced by masses and a school year looks in most cases like a race to complete text books and work books.

I am still looking for a single report that would actually relate to contents, curriculum, relevance, methods. To, well, the system. But all reports assume that this is the system, the system is untouchable and the only thing we can do is upgrade various factors of the system.

Click to Play vidoe on Youtube
Click to Play video on Youtube

I think it’s as if we took a 100 year old car and replaced its gear with a new automatic gear, and its engine with a new engine, or in rare cases, when there’s budget, with a totally new hybrid engine… but would it make it a new car?? Would this car run?

No.
The change has to be total.

The whole system has to be different: Teachers should become learning enablers, guides, assistants. Kids should be encouraged to ask, question, discover and choose. Tests and grades should be abolished. Assessments could be accepted if their purpose is to guide the learners and help them, as a feedback system and evaluation of personal development and growth, and not as a ranking system . Some topics should be taught in classes that are formed on the basis of interest, and not on the basis of age. New subjects should be introduced as basic required knowledge. Those are not regular text book subjects but rather things like information farming, interpersonal skills on and off line, inventive thinking, entrepreneurship skills, self teaching skills. The learning environments should change. No more rows of students facing a teacher, but rather groups of students, working together, creating teams, learning the values of social learning, with the help of a teacher guiding through.

Technology alone can not and will not save our education system. Not in Israel nor any where in the world. It hasn’t done it before…

We should all recognize the fact that technology cannot be treated as a collection of tools anymore. It’s an environment. TV is here to stay. Mobile phones are spreading. The Internet is growing. Kids today cannot imagine a world with no web. Same as my generation cannot imagine living without telephones. Or my parents’ generation that cannot remember a time with no cinema.

So what’s next?

Even a total change has to begin with small steps. I’d start with creating more choices.

Look at this scene several times. It’s Michelle Pfeiffer in “Dangerous Minds”, a movie from 1995, where she plays an ex-marine who becomes a high school teacher. In this scene she talks about choices. The choice to learn or not to learn. The choice to go to school or not. She claims that students who are in the classroom actually made a choice to be there. And yes, we sometimes choose what seems to be least damaging – not necessarily the best – option. “It may not be a choice you like, but it is a choice”, she says. I tend to agree. Sending my kids to school is a choice I make. I might be doing it only because I don’t like the other options – but it is still a choice.

Even though education until the age of 15 is mandatory in Israel, people are still permitted to home-school. Very few do. I chose to send my kids to school. When my daughter was disappointed with high school I told her that she is not obligated by law any more to go to school. If she rather complete her final exams out of school she is free to do so. But it was her choice to stay at school, excusing it with the social life, that is as important as contents, if not more.

So next action item is to create more options. To encourage diversity of schools and methods of teaching and learning. To take little steps out of the box titled “education system” and look for alternatives to methods which don’t work any more. The other corner stone to these new steps is to acknowledge and remember that what is a good system and can work for one person, won’t necessarily work for the other.

It’s time to realize this system can’t continue to send fresh teachers into scary classes of kids who aren’t willing to learn, and think this is the god given unchangeable education system. It is not only changeable, it has to change.

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The United State of Now

The “140 characters – The state of now” – a globally wondering conference by Jeff Pulver arrived in Tel-Aviv this week, and I was proud to be there, even if I couldn’t attend the full day.

As I was wandering about, saying a personal face to face hello to my work colleagues, people who I meet daily online, but only get to meet offline in such events, I thought about this thing that connects us all to this event. Teachers and students, marketing specialist and technology geeks of various sorts, journalists, writers and bloggers, artists and musicians – all were there to socially network about social networking.

Social networking, since status updates and twitter – had become indeed a “state of now” thing. The sense of immediate reach is intoxicating.

But here is the thing: the dimension of now is not really there. Now turns from “in a minute” to “a minute ago” faster then we can blink. We cling to our social networks in the constant pursuit of the illusive state of now.

Journalism is probably one of the first trades to be equally threatened and excited by this new development of the NOW. Old school journalism defined the reporter as a human channel through which the news flow from the happening to the readers, listeners or viewers. In this modern “state of now” we are all reporters.

We are creators of news, transmitters of news and consumers of news. We are also editors – having to choose from the enormous amounts of channels at our disposal. We don’t have to watch the news at 8 o’clock when they are aired in order to remain up to date. We get to watch the news sources hours earlier when someone posts a link or reveals a discussion on our networks. We get to choose when we want to consume our news, what topics really interest us, how much time to dedicate to each piece of information – and Oh! We get to talk back to the news, and not just make faces to the news anchor behind the screen.

Are we infantilizing? “We are like a very young child demanding to get our satisfaction NOW! Right NOW!”, Said Yoav Tsuker from TV channel 1. “If I need help in homework – I need it NOW!”, said Michael Matias, 13 years old, “Yesterday’s news won’t help me”.

And so the attempt to capture the moment continues.

Two ideas at the cost of one

March broke of with a set of terrible storms. Winds, rain and very cold for this area. It went down to 9c degrees. I didn’t feel like going out at all. But on Monday having pre registered to attend the ISOC and GamesIS convention I have decided to ignore the storm and just do it.

And a good thing I did. Heard some interesting talks. Met interesting people. Some were contacts I have been meaning to meet for a chat for a very long time. So finally we had the chance to do it.

I met a colleague who asked me why I came. I said I like these events because they usually get the wheels going. It’s always a push, no matter where you are. He was surprised. In his view this was too much an official venue. You need some letting go, some nonsense atmosphere, don’t you?

Well, apparently, I don’t. Not that I mind doing the unofficial events too, but I was really happy when at the end of the day I knew I had a new idea for a startup, and I also knew what is the next step on my current startup idea.

Of course, this has some good sides and some bad sides. I almost dared to think that perhaps I should avoid such inspiring events so that I don’t get distracted and can keep on my track, my current startup idea. Why did I have to get this diversion now? I was almost sorry.

But then, having a new idea is exciting. So you can’t stay “sorry” for very long.

So, now what?

Never take a candy from a stranger!

Isn’t this the first lesson a parent gives his kids? I was reminded of it earlier, as I watched the Frontline show “Growing Up Online“, thanks to a post by Steve Hagardon.

If someone had asked me, I’d have to admit that I more easily identify with teens on the story than with the parents we’ve seen. I sometimes feel torn between the parental obligation and the general tendency to get involved and have my say, and the very strong knowledge that you can’t go on controlling your offspring’s lives. You must allow them to find their own way, operate their wits, develop their street wisdom. And my oldest isn’t even 14.

In my view, one of the most important facts this story revealed was, that teenagers are net-savvy not only technically. They know not to take a candy off a stranger. Some teens there say: “well, if a new network friend suddenly asks me where I live – I’m going to shut him off. What business is it of a stranger to know where I live?”.

Cyber safety is one of the main obstacles standing on the way of technology, mainly web, to education. Both parents and teachers are concerned about child safety on the internet. But researches quoted on that story claim that kids today are a lot net-smarter and won’t fall that easily. Unless they want to. That’s a different story.

The other fear delaying technology in education is of the net-savvyness of the students as opposed to their teachers and parents. While I watched the interviews with the teachers on the Frontline show I realized a whole generation (or two) of teachers may find themselves outdated if they don’t adjust to the new world, and fast. Let me stress that this is not an age thing. Teachers who want to teach will learn to use every tool that allows them to better communicate with their students. Some teachers want to teach but cannot grasp technology. They can be the best teachers in history, but without the means to communicate with their students, they won’t achieve the same title in the future.

In the meantime, the evolution in education is supplying us with technology VS. technology with solution like plagiarism.org and the turnitin.com. Some teachers simply ask their students to go back to pen and paper “technology” with their projects. And Sparknotes? Well, on the bright side, students can now be exposed to a lot more literature, if they can finish off Romeo and Juliet in an hour or two.

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