A big problem and good idea make for the start of a never-ending adventure.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
Pairing hands-on device education with software and social network collaboration, EdTech Titans has students enroll in a certification program where they must complete device repairs for their school and are then eligible to buy product from their school bookstores to repair devices. Schools save money on repair costs and students are left with a skill they can use outside of the classroom to generate income. “We are more than just a network,” says Joe Mravca, EdTechTitans’ founder and CEO (pictured, right). “We are a community of like-minded individuals from San Francisco to New York. All participating students access one collaborative network where ideas, support and encouragement are exchanged across classes, campuses, and state lines.” Eleven percent of iPads alone break each year and with 258 million Apple iPad units sold as of first quarter 2015, there is a lot of growing room in this space. Students learn how to repair iPhones, Macbooks, Chromebooks and other devices at their own pace, on their own time, and interest. “The EdTechTitans chose to put the controls at the students’ hands. If students want to learn to deconstruct and repair an iPhone, they deconstruct an iPhone. If students want to deconstruct a drone, they deconstruct a drone. We see this as Woodshed 2.0 in schools with all the coolest tech gadgets.” The program brings valuable trade skills to school campuses and provides education, materials and constant support to every student in the program. “We are comprised of soul and purpose. We want to make an impact,” says Joe.
Joe was born and raised in Sunnyvale, Calif., and is the middle child from a family of five. He attended grade and high school in the Bay Area, majored in philosophy in college, and says, “I feel that I am, at heart, someone always seeking to learn.” He worked among startups and developed a love for their entrepreneurial energy and pace. A self-described engineer by hobby, he has always enjoyed building and DIY culture, and he’s “built computers, hovercrafts, catapults, milk carton boats, potato launchers, etc. all throughout childhood for fun,” he laughs.
What else has informed your current approach?
Joe: I can remember as a third-grader using iMac G3’s on campus and having computer lab. We played Mario Teaches Typing for an hour every Thursday or so and looking back I am shocked with how rapidly we honed our skills. I remember watching my Dad type so fast without looking at his fingers and working my ass off in the those computer labs (orange key hider cover and all) to raise my abilities to his. Having had those iMac G3’s and not been taught about programming, website development, and/or hardware components inside astounds me. We missed an amazing opportunity.
What prompted you—was it an incident, a conversation, an inspiring person— to go ahead and form your company?
Joe: I was in between jobs when approached by the IT Director of Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose. He was determined to save money insuring iPads the school purchased to supply the students and faculty on campus. He could not find a major industry interested in supplying him the tools and education a school needs to get the job done until we met. Educators always have their students at the forefront of their minds and Chris Carey, the IT Director, was no different. He excitingly discussed his vision for repurposing saved funds to further benefit the students and campus. It was during one such discussion that we began developing the student-driven iPad repair team.
At that moment, EdTech Titans was born. Within the year, an official program developed. We educated 10 students in the first year alone on how to complete device repairs. I knew we had accomplished something incredible the day Bellarmine gave a certified Tech Titan senior student 10 broken devices to fix in his spare time before he went off to college.
Since, it has evolved into a hand-off ready curriculum complete with a social learning platform, tools and parts so that any school can participate across the nation.
What’s in the name?
Joe: EdTech Titans represents our mission to prepare the next generations tech titans, or superheroes, through engaging, grade appropriate, educational lesson plans. With our roots in educational technology maintenance, we believe it defines our desire to internalize student repair teams on campuses nationwide that have gone 1-to-1 (we define this as one tablet or laptop device for educational purposes per student) whether that be iPads, Chromebooks, etc. Students, girls and boys alike, can join the course with no technological background and leave fully comprehending how these modern tech marvels are put together and how the internal components are assembled to generate function. Schools and parents can save money on repair costs while accelerating their comprehension of the technology.
What drives your mission forward?
Joe: The engagement level of participating students and the constant collaboration from school administrators. Recently we began partnering with our first grade schools, teaching students in even 4th grade to open these devices and learn about the internal components. The best part, they really do love it. Pictures are worth a thousand words right? So here are some pictures of visits to The Madeleine in Berkeley (see pictures). They are an exceptional grade school applying numerous 21st century learning principles for their students that we are thrilled to partner with. I love that their eyes are glued to the devices!
I am always impressed beyond words with how teachers so selflessly commit themselves to their students’ futures. Their steadfast dedication to improving the world through providing students with advanced curriculum makes me confident in the future. Education is in great hands.
Where do you see this organization same time next year? How about in 2-3 years?
Joe: At the same time next year I see us partnered with dozens of California schools. We have already discussed the initiative with schools out of state however so I may be underestimating the adoption rate. We are, at this time, actively seeking funding and hope to pair with VCs that share our vision.
In 2-3 years I envision a fulfilling and up-to-date tech curriculum, including 1-to-1 device repair, that stays current and rolls out on grade school or high school campuses with the click of a button.
What are your thoughts on education in general these days?
Joe: While the rest of technology advanced, education struggled to keep pace. Major industry evolves so rapidly that we are all often left dumbfounded at just how quickly our most recent purchase now rests on the shelf, obsolete. The lifespan of even the most advanced technologies, if left stagnant, will be comparatively ‘useless’ to the most current iterations every 3-5 years. Just imagine if teaching about technology occurred just as English or Math teachers prepared students in their respective fields. Starting a course on the iPad 1st Gen in 2010 only benefits the students if the course mirrors the advancements made by Apple. Otherwise, our hypothetical student graduates with a degree in a disposable, conversation-piece, type of technology.
Educational reform, to me, is a matter of precise tweaks, not a complete system overhaul. The precise tweaks will come from entrepreneurs entering the educational space. With the right products and services students continue learning common core standards through modern means which simultaneously advance STEM initiatives.
How is your idea a real opportunity for the youth of today?
Joe: By learning about these advanced technologies through grade appropriate lesson plans students gain confidence in the field of engineering. Our focus is on making STEM initiatives tangible. Regarding iPad and iPhone repair education, every single student that completes the lesson plan now possesses a skill that can make them money for the next 10 years. This is the birth of widespread student entrepreneurs. Students that not only understand the form and function of iPad and iPhone hardware but connect their understanding of the technology to an ability to generate business. That business directly correlates to education.
Participants in our program are connected with like-minded students across campus, county, and state lines. Through an online certification platform we encourage social learning. Students give peer-to-peer advice surrounding device repair techniques through the collaborative platform. They can choose to learn from a variety of lesson plans, beyond device repair, which prepare them to reverse engineer and re-assemble modern day technologies (quadcopters, for example) by hand. I dislike the term ‘pay to play’. Learn to play, or, understand to play—make more sense to me. Our program yields fantastic results for educators interested in getting girls into engineering. Boys and girls alike share an interest and engage each other through the online platform to hone in their understanding.
Are you aware of similar efforts? How is your organization unique?
Joe: We know there are plenty of edtech companies looking to improve upon education but are not directly partnered to any of them as of today. We would love to partner with other organizations that see the value in teaching students about hardware.
The vast majority of edtech organizations are preparing students through programming courses and trust me, the actions of these companies will shape the future of the world. We are predominantly focused on hardware, on reverse-engineering, and on assembly. This allows us to educate on topics that span the fields of mechanical, electrical and software engineering.
Do you have problems of scaling? What sort of challenges are there in this area of growth?
Joe: The most difficult aspects of scaling: One, getting the word out two, finding other visionaries.
As for one, as with many small companies one of the biggest issues is that no one has heard of you. While expected (only two years young) we are just now lifting the veil. We wanted to ensure that our process worked before bringing in more schools.
And two, we are on the cusp of an edtech revolution and it can be difficult dealing with the generational gap between some educators and their students. Teachers are getting younger everyday and that means they have a better comprehension of technology. They want to see more advanced programs and gadgets being utilized in the classroom. For the previous generation of educators, what we are doing may seem difficult. But we guarantee that your students are ready. With grade-specific education plans and educational product supplies, we are seeing students as low as fourth grade gain a rapid comprehension of how iPads, iPhones, laptops and gadgets function. Looking back on my own grade school iMac G3 experience I wish teachers would have pushed the boundaries of their comfort zone to prepare me to achieve my full potential.
A quote from Rabindranath Tagore to sum up: “Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.”
Great quote! Anything else you care to add or emphasize concerning education, technology, today’s next generation, productivity, morale, repair, etc.? Or anything else for that matter?
Joe: Technology killed woodshop. No one individual could produce the quantity and quality of product that the machines engineered to could. The result, machines edged out woodworkers. The common thread throughout history — the advancement of technology has a double-sided nature. Work and life become safer and easier for some, while at the same time, more difficult for others. Middle-skill and low-skill jobs disappear every day as a result of advancements made in technology. John Wu, IT Director from Archbishop Riordan High School, says that our team, “breaks ground in a new form of education, teaching students the fundamentals of how modern technologies work to inspire new ones to be built in the future.”
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org