What’s an Education Innovation Cluster and How Do We Get One?

Last Thursday evening, the March rendition of the Baltimore EdTech meetup was fortunate to have Katrina Stevens speak on the subject of education innovation clusters (#edclusters). Katrina is a former Deputy Director of the US Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology and an expert on education, education innovation, and how technology and ecosystems or clusters apply to the same. In her two year stint at the USDOE, she became immersed in the nascent but growing concept of education innovation clusters, #edclusters. Katrina and the team led by former Director Joseph South were instrumental in furthering the work begun by Digital Promise alongside a robust body of adjacent work.

education innovation cluster

According to Digital Promise, education innovation clusters are “local communities of practice that bring together educators, entrepreneurs, funders, researchers, and other community stakeholders to design, implement, iterate on, and disseminate breakthrough learning practices and tools.” In simpler terms, clusters represent the places, people, processes, and pedagogies where innovative teaching, learning, and leading can more easily occur.

Why Education Innovation Clusters?

As the renowned economist, researcher, author, advisor, speaker and teacher, HBS professor Michael Porter, imparts, “clusters disproportionately foster productivity, innovation, and entrepreneurial activity in their regions.” In other words, the ecosystem density and quality of domains are critical.

“All of us are smarter than any of us.”
— Steven Hodas, cofounder, iZoneNYC

Who’s involved and what are their roles?

Per the below image, education innovation clusters only succeed when there are clear roles shouldered by dedicated people with long term expectation and a system of metrics to laud the short term wins.

education innovation cluster

Where are the more robust, mature education innovation clusters?

education innovation cluster

The education innovation cluster movement is in its early days in the United States and the returns on the same are thin but hold promise. There is increasing evidence around themes including personalized learning, data driven instruction, etc. What is clear is that equity, efficacy, and excellence are at the forefront of all cluster work and there is much learning and iteration to take place in the future. The future for Baltimore if not all prospective clusters is to find a full-time dedicated person or two who can do the work of connecting stakeholders and facilitating design and implementation. Stay tuned for the evolution of cluster activity in Greater Baltimore.

baltimore edtech

Baltimore EdTech, as brought to you by TU Incubator and TU Center for GIS

All in all, the March rendition of the Baltimore EdTech Meetup was very positive and included entrepreneurs, educators, incubator leaders and managers, USDOE officials, and all persons focused on positively impacting education. Please attend upcoming Baltimore EdTech meetups, which will take on the topics of distribution, digital marketing, and personalized learning and will include guest speakers from within and around the region. As an opportunistic rapper reminds us,

“Look if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted, in one moment would you capture it — or just let it slip?” — Eminem, Lose Yourself

This post was originally published on Medium.

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Director | Entrepreneurship
Frank Bonsal is Towson University's director of entrepreneurship. For 25+ years, Frank has served as teacher, coach, mentor and investor of people, teams, and companies. He also mentors or advises at various East Coast accelerators and incubators and keeps turning over stones, as some of them have a lucky stripe. Frank's posts focus on EdTech, business development, and entrepreneurship.