Every year investors, EdTech innovators, educators, philanthropic organizations, and other changemakers gather at ASU+GSV to explore the newest products, ideas and research that have the power to change education. This year’s theme “Imagining A New Era In Which All People Have Equal Access To The Future” inspired a great number of panels to reimagine what’s possible.

WGU Labs hosted two panels at ASU+GSV. The first explored WGU’s investment thesis across the WGU ecosystem. The second explored how EdTech can be leveraged to enhance belonging and community among students, which featured three of WGU Labs’ Accelerator founders.

Here’s what Labs had to say.

The WGU Ecosystem Invests In EdTech

To create pathways to opportunity for all, EdTech companies and higher ed institutions must collaborate. WGU has demonstrated this in part by spinning off WGU Labs as a research and development hub designed to invest, build, and evaluate innovative offerings to advance innovation in education. By investing in innovation, the WGU ecosystem not only serves their own students better, but they can have an impact well beyond their own student populations.

In the panel, WGU Labs Executive Director Jason Levin, joined by WGU Provost Marni Baker-Stein and former WGU Labs Fund Managing Partner Todd Bloom, shared their thoughts on challenges that EdTech can support, how startups can effectively pitch university leaders, the importance of impact as a business strategy, and having an equity-centeredapproach.

Here were their key pieces of advice for EdTech startups:

  • Focus on the problem first: You need to deeply understand the problem you’re solving, and then develop a solution that solves it. Don’t start with the tech.
  • Remember: Powerful problems with targeted solutions can change the world.
  • Do your research on who you’re talking to: Ask what problems they’re trying to solve. Frame your pitch to what they need.
  • Don’t pitch air: Get real about how ready you are to scale from that first conversation. You need to start with business requirements.
  • Get the implementation plan right: A mediocre product that is implemented well is better than a great product that is implemented poorly.

How EdTech Can Boost Belonging in a Virtual World

A sense of belonging has long been understood as an important, even fundamental, aspect of student success. Yet, effective interventions to boost belonging is a challenge made more difficult in the modern online education environment. How can we leverage EdTech effectively to help students connect and feel a greater sense of belonging? WGU Labs is committed to demonstrating just how effective EdTech can be for belonging.

In the panel, WGU Labs Executive Director Jason Levin, along with current and former Accelerator clients, Beth Porter, CEO of Riff Analytics, Katy Kappler, CEO of InScribe, and Sara Leoni, CEO of GreenFig, explored how EdTech can boost belonging for students. Research with WGU Labs has shown the impact of EdTech for student belonging, and their discussion yielded field-enhancing insights about student belonging and academic success.

Here are the key takeaways for leveraging EdTech to boost belonging:

  • Understand that belonging is a fundamental human need – it’s not a nice-to-have, it’s foundational to learning.
  • Involve your learning community. It’s critical for education leaders to stand up virtual communities and necessary technology, but then let the learners lead the community.
  • Give students lots of options – don’t assume to know what groups they want or what they need.
  • Trust your students to use the virtual spaces appropriately, you don’t need administrators to micromanage.
  • Katy Kappler’s best practice for EdTech product implementation “Be the thought leader and be prescriptive in best practices with your product. It will make them much more effective in implementing your product correctly and seeing great results.

EdTech has the potential to spur broad innovation in higher ed, especially as higher ed moves toward an interconnected ecosystem structure. By identifying core problems, building innovative solutions, and connecting students across the ecosystem, we can advance a future in which all students have pathways to opportunity.

The Accelerator at WGU Labs leverages the talent of 30-plus education and business professionals to boost your company’s impact and business scale. Interested in learning more? Let’s chat.