By Henry Kronk February 26, 2018
When Woz U announced its launch last fall, a lot of people had their doubts. While at the time, they had only an app and two online courses, they were promising a lot more. In the New Year, they planned to partner with K-12 learners to foster STEAM subjects, they said they’d be opening brick-and-mortar campuses and partnering with existing schools, they’d soon expand their online offerings, and in 2019, they’d open an accelerator replete with mentors, entrepreneurial instruction, and capital to get some of their more business-minded students up and running.
It seemed like a lot, and when an AZ Central report came out describing how they still hadn’t received a license to teach and had a lot of paperwork left to file, it was easy to believe that Woz U was another classic venture that generates a lot of enthusiasm after their launch and then whiffs on the execution.
But that’s not the story company President Chris Coleman has to tell. “I think a lot of confusion stems from this notion that we’re operating both as an institution and also supporting other schools as well,” he said. “That was a lot of the initial confusion following our launch. People were asking ‘Is this a service company?’ ‘Is it a school?’ And really we’re providing both.” According to Coleman, Woz U has received a good deal of support from Arizona legislators. They’re in good standing with the state.
Coleman says that Woz U has borrowed the model of software as a service (SaaS) and grafted it onto education. What they have to offer is education as a service.
“Our goal with EaaS is to take a lot of the lessons learned in the tech industry with SaaS model over the past 15 years and really try to deliver education support and empower education systems,” he said.
“The EaaS model is intended to allow educators to rely on us as a trusted brand and to provide them with different services, whether it’s content, systems, video-driven instruction, mentoring, career services—whatever gaps that an educational institution might have, we want to provide a solution for them.”
This has several advantages for an institution. For one, it allows instructors to keep up to date.
“In a traditional setting, you’re focused on taking the textbook provided to you that might have been written a decade ago or five years ago. You’re going to work through that text and apply those concepts. In the model that we’re promoting, we want to get to a lot more current and relevant content first and foremost. In 2018, we are still delivering our educational content in such an old fashion way,” Coleman said.
A big trend in the ongoing MOOC-explosion has been a ‘if you build it, they will come’ attitude. Woz U takes the opposite approach.
“Our goal is to be able to reach students where they are at. As an academic institution, our goal is to make things more affordable, more effective, and more available.”
The latest in-house development came this month, when they expanded their course offerings to include a cybersecurity specialization. Like Woz U’s other courses, the cybersecurity program is intended to train a learner to become an employable specialist.
Woz U has also done considerable work in partnering with other institutions. Besides several colleges, they currently work with over 100 Arizona high school students in the hopes of making the tech industry less of a foreign place.
“A lot of high school students are intimidated by (STEAM) subjects and feel unequipped or underprepared to take them on. There’s kind of a polarizing initiative that’s happening. The technology companies that are supporting the tooling that is required—the Googles the Amazons, the Microsofts of the world—they’re investing heavily to make these technologies more accessible. And I don’t think the rest of the world realizes that.”
“New technology still seems scary to a lot of people. We’re taking the concepts that we teach in higher education, breaking them down, and reverse-engineering them to make them a kind of K-career pathway so that, regardless of what grade you’re in, we can put you in front of a program that will start getting you prepared for these types of careers so you’re not only intimated by them, but you feel more prepared and excited about it.”
According to Coleman, the next step for Woz U in the very near future will include rolling out more and more collaboration with universities. They plan to announce their first high-profile Woz U Academy partnership at SXSW.