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Columbia Journalism School has awarded me a Spencer Education Journalism Fellowship for the 2017–2018 academic year. I can’t even begin to articulate how truly thrilled and humbled I am for this opportunity.

It’s not going to change much here on Hack Education. The fellowship will help me pursue the work I already undertake here. It will change my home base as I will be relocating from Los Angeles to New York City for all or part of the school year.

The project that I proposed involves studying the networks of education technology investors and how they are shaping education policies (as well as our imagination about what the future of education might look like). I already pay quite close attention to how venture capital flows into ed-tech, and during my fellowship I’ll expand this research in a couple of ways. First, the selection of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, with her 108-page financial disclosure form, serves as a reminder that venture capital (particularly “Silicon Valley” venture capital) is really just one of the players here. Private equity and hedge funds are particularly important too (although much less boastful than their VC counterparts), as are the socio-political relationships among the various investors and entrepreneurs and philanthropists.

During my fellowship, I’ll be investigating and tracing out these networks in order to identify some of the more powerful groups – education technology’s equivalent to the “Paypal Mafia,” if you will – and the ideas and policies that they are pushing. “Personalization” is an obvious one.

I posted a rough draft of my fellowship proposal on a new subdomain where I’ll be posting some of my research and analysis along the way: network.hackeducation.com. But most of my stories will, as usual, appear here on Hack Education.

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Audrey Watters


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