This interview is part of the series of research interviews on the education crisis and how we can solve it. If you want to hear the other experts, please see our education thesis.
Vriti Saraf is Founder & CEO of k20, the social learning community for global educators. They offer programs to engage educators, like masterminds, think tanks, incubators, and conferences, and a community of educators from all over the world. Vriti has worked with public, private, and charter schools both locally & internationally, across the k20 spectrum. An alumna of Teach for America & Relay Graduate School, Vriti served as a teacher, dean of instruction, and network director of professional learning at Ascend Public Charter Schools, where she built the network’s first teacher residency program. At the same time, she worked with first year teachers as an adjunct professor at Relay. Most recently, she spent several years building schools around the world with Whittle School & Studios. As Global Director of Professional Learning, she constructed the professional learning and growth infrastructure for educators.
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First, you have to share your ideas and your learnings and your practices with as many people as possible. And the second thing is constantly experiment. And I think if we can all collectively agree to experiment and share, I really do think that the world would evolve much faster.
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[00:00:00] Brandon Stover: Hey, you welcome to evolve the show to help you become a hero and solve the world's greatest challenges. I'm your host, Brandon Stover, founder of Play-Doh university. And I interview social innovators, entrepreneurs, and thinkers about the global problems we face and the solutions they have created to solve them.
Today's challenge education. Our guest today is
founder and CEO of a social learning community for global educators. They offer programs to engage educators And things like masterminds, think tanks, incubators, and conferences, and a community of educators from all over the world. Now Varisia has worked with public private and charter schools, both locally and internationally across the K-12 spectrum.
She's an alumni of the teach for America and relay graduates. And has served as a teacher, Dean of instruction and network director of professional learning at ascend public charter schools, Most recently, she spent several years building schools around.
with whittle school and studios
But today varietal is going to share how we can create a global education system free of silos. Present today by connecting educators across countries.
This interview is part of the series of research interviews on the education crisis and how we can solve it. If you want to hear the other experts, please visit evolve the.world/research/education.
can you start off by telling us what your mission is with K-12?
[00:01:25] Vriti Saraf: K 20. His mission is to dismantle global silos and education and to bring educators together, to move innovative projects in education. Education has been stagnant for about a hundred years and there hasn't been huge amount of change in education. And so what we're hoping to do is empower educators to not only share their brilliance with each other, but also to encourage each other, to, to move towards really interesting new projects that will reinvent the way that we consider learning and teaching.
[00:01:56] Brandon Stover: Now help us understand a little bit. Why do these silos exists?
[00:02:00] Vriti Saraf: Yeah, there's actually a lot of different reasons for it. And I don't think there has been extensive research done on why they exist, but what I've observed anecdotally is that number one is that education as an industry, for whatever reason, doesn't actually proliferate knowledge when there's really great best practices that emerge.
So if you think about like finance or marketing or help, when there's one person who is in one of those fields that discover something really cool, that like can help with proficiency with efficiency or with productivity or with with creating more revenues versus, or whatever the entire industry sort of latches on.
And they basically are able to duplicate those processes pretty quick. But in education for and I have some sort of like hypothesis about why and education when there's a really great best practice that emerges from one educator, it doesn't proliferate, right. It takes about 20 years for something like that to proliferate.
And so I think some of my sort of hypotheses, there are number one, there's a lot at stake, right? So if you're trying something experimental with your students, you've got the lives of 30 kids in your hands, right? And so if, if you spend six months doing something that may not potentially make a great impact in students' lives, depending on what their socio economic status or, or whatever is, it might actually be quite denture detrimental.
So that might be one reason. And then another reason is, you know, most of education is not. And the systems that that are undergirding, these non-profits and these organizations are, are massively broken right there. There's this big misconception that schools don't have enough money in the United States that, you know, state schools or government schools don't have enough money and that's actually not true.
They do have lots of money. They, they get in New York, for example, they're, they're receiving $18,000 per student, right. And that's for, for general students and then for special ed students who receive any more, the problem is that there aren't allocating their funds in the right ways. And the, the structures and the infrastructure that's set up in these schools are, are not being allocated or being set up in the right ways.
And so funds will go into really weird places that like aren't the most. And then also just say two more things about that. Number one, that's one of the reasons why charter schools emerge because charter schools are basically private entities that are funded by by public funds and that are accessible for free to all students.
And so what happens there is that charter schools are able to create infrastructure that's a little bit more like a business. And it uses more efficient ways to actually allocate its funds. And so charter schools, for example, they're in network collaboration is actually far stronger than an in-district collaboration, right?
And so going back to your question about like why we don't proliferate ideas more well, it's these infrastructural things. And then the second thing, which Brandon, you know, I'm very passionate about is The way that funds or the way that systems within a school are democratized. Well, they're, they're not democratized.
That's, that's what I'm trying to say. And and I think that's where, you know, things like web three dowels are going to actually be really impactful.
[00:05:11] Brandon Stover: What we're seeing here is these educators that we often see as heroes, you know, they're the ones that are moving this education for students trying to create better citizens. What we see them is embedded in these complex systems that have all these regulations and ties.
How might these complex systems that the educators are embedded in Rob them of the agency or power that they have in their teaching practice?
[00:05:34] Vriti Saraf: Educators, I think are inherently very creative and they desire to create new experiences and problem solve on a daily basis. And so when educators are presented with a problem, which they are about a thousand times a day and they have to put out fires a thousand times a day, they are constantly coming up with solutions that are that that could create really impactful experiences for students.
But as soon as they think of a solution that doesn't fit the frameworks of a school they have to constrain their their solution. And so that leads to poor outcomes that leads to poor you know, systems and creativity. And the reason those constraints exist is mostly because of government, government regulations.
Right? So schools for example, are beholden to how they perform on test scores or how the school overall is graduating students in order to actually be able to get more funding per student. If a school tries something that's more innovative and doesn't necessarily succeed in its first year, then they are at risk of losing funds and re losing students.
And so, so, so that's highly. And then for example, if you know, certain schools, for example, charter schools, they have all of these sort of you know goals that they need to achieve for state tests. And so what you will find is that charter schools, many, many charter schools will start off with the best of intentions.
Right. And there'll be like, yeah, we're, you know, about project based learning. And we're about inquiry-based learning critical thinking and blah, blah, and they'll start off really great programs. And then state tests will arrive. And if their students don't do well, then the following year they'll spend three months just preparing students for state tests.
Right. So, so I think these, like these regulations around standardized testing and these regulations around like these competitive, like, you know success rates really lead to sort of like handcuffing teachers into doing more creative.
[00:07:34] Brandon Stover: Yeah. What about the silos with education? Just being siloed by itself and not collaborating with say other industries like technology or, you know, other disparate.
[00:07:45] Vriti Saraf: Yeah. I'm glad you asked that. So those are we, we often talk about when we talk about K 20, the two separate silos, one silo is among education itself and among educators who are actually not sharing their practices with each other. And then the other silo is between education as an industry and other industries and education as an industry for whatever reason is the only industry aside for me be healthcare that has been stagnant for awhile and As the world evolves and as technology involved evolves, other industries actually take on that technology and take on the evolution and embed it into their practices and embedded into how this whole industry operates.
Whereas education is the only industry that doesn't do that. And, and the result of that is number one, that educators are often behind on how the world operates and they actually don't integrate those practices into the way that they teach. For example, there's this crazy statistic, a hundred thousand educators last year in 2020 came online for the very first time.
What does that even mean? Right. Randomness, just like, does that mean that they didn't have access to internet? Does that mean that they like didn't, you know, you know how to create a Twitter account, whatever it is, like whatever degree or a level of Lack of awareness of internet. That means is not a good thing, right?
If we're teaching our students, if, or if we want our students to be well-prepared for the next century, if we want them to evolve with the world, they have to be able to learn from educators that are as equipped as they are like this whole, this whole concept of an educator, you know, being in a classroom and then their students teaching them about the latest sort of technological craze, I think is like somewhat organic and natural.
And that's okay. Because like the older generation will obviously learn a little bit slower than the newer ones, but at the same time, like educators should be learning. As much as students are, or just like one step behind, if not, you know, not, not necessarily 10 steps behind. And I don't think that's the fault of educators.
I actually think educators are working really, really hard to be skilled up and to be sort of like evolved with the world. But I think it's actually a circumstantial issue. I think that educators are often not given the right resources towards professional development. Their time is spent on paperwork and things that are just completely unnecessary.
Like many educators are spending hours, submitting lessons, like pages of scripted lesson plans, because that really the best use of their time. And you know, is there a better way to do it? Those questions aren't yet answered, but I think we need to find like a much more efficient way to help educators.
[00:10:39] Brandon Stover: you were mentioning them trying to implement things like project based, learning or inquiry based learning. And they're trying all these innovative approaches, but the way that they're learning is still stuck in a traditional model. And so they're like parental loafer rating that why are teachers, you know, trying to do something innovative and then learning in this traditional.
[00:10:58] Vriti Saraf: So I think educators, because they're so close to students are actually much more inclined to be understanding and quick learning of concepts that will help students. And, and those concepts might include hands-on learning. They might include use of technology, things like.
But then the educators that are teaching the educators, the train, yeah. The trainers they're, they're two steps removed from students. And so they're actually only working with adults and they have this sort of like bias that adults can only learn in traditional ways. And shouldn't be treated in the same ways that we want students to learn.
Right. So for example, we know that students learn best when they're actually doing something and they're actually practicing something, right. Instead of just sort of lecturing at them, for some reason, adults think that adults learn best when you lecture at adults and not necessarily having them do the thing too.
And that applies to all industries. Like if you think about any sort of like a workshop, if you think about conferences, for example, the number of just like talking heads that are just split, literally talking at you, it's kind of ridiculous. Right. And so the example that you and I talked about. A few weeks ago was, you know, I was at this this conference that these, that sort of like focused on and promoted these concepts that were completely about hands-on learning for kids.
One of my favorite pedagogies that I've ever experienced. And yet the entire conference was inside of an auditorium where they were sort of like presenting how to do hands-on learning for kids. And so like that, that sort of like a misalignment in, you know, train the trainer or teach the teacher is, is actually I think pretty detrimental to how teachers are developing.
And, and I think that's actually one of the reasons why teachers are, you know, the education industry is actually not moving as fast as others. And there's also like, not enough, like hands-on sort of like experimentation, right? Like it goes back to the idea. You know, educators are responsible for young lives.
And so doing the experimentation with with students can obviously be like really jarring and, and nerve wracking. And so if they want to try something new, they don't want to waste a kid's whole day. So like what, what is like the balance there is the question, right?
[00:13:20] Brandon Stover: well, this is where K 20 steps in, you know, trying to give better resources for educators, paint a picture for us of what the 20 ecosystem looks like and how it's helping educators to better collaborate.
[00:13:34] Vriti Saraf: the way that we operate is not necessarily to create this like top down like system that is telling people what to do, but it's more about creating experiences and engagements that allow educators to share best practices with each other and, and teach each other through practice. And so We're we're doing a few things.
Number one is that we're creating an ecosystem and environment that will allow educators to learn from each other anytime they want. And so imagine New York city imagine if New York city, every single building vendor Institute you know, booth was dedicated to education and it was open 24 hours and there were always events happening and it was always daylight.
So that's essentially what we're building in an avatar based environment. So like educators can pop in any time they want for free and be able to walk into our innovation center and see what projects other educators are working on. Be able to walk into a career center and find some supplemental income if they want be able to walk into our cafe or lounge and be able to work with other educators that are there, maybe meet with them and set up meetings there.
And then we're also partnering with a few professional learning organizations and hopefully expanding to every professional learning organization and every school where they'll have space in this city and there'll be able to you know provide those resources for educators whenever they need to.
And so that's our first sort of concept, which is, you know, this virtually immersive environment where educators can pop in any time. And one of the reasons why that like brings me such great joy is because of what happened last year, right? During COVID, there were all of these educators that were scrambling to get remote learning in order, and to get best practices down, but there was no central place where they could actually connect with each other in a way that was dynamic.
There were Facebook groups, there were Twitter chats, things like that, but those weren't really that helpful in helping each other sort of like create resources or support each other in best practice. In the United States 54% of students actually didn't receive any type of remote learning materials until may of 2020.
So, so, so yeah, so there was this, you know, there was a lot of inefficiency there. So imagine if like, something like that happens again, or if there's a new set of standards that gets rolled out, or if there are new regulations that get rolled out, imagine if educator could just pop into our city and basically say like, Hey, what are the resources that are available that, you know, can help me with this new hurdle or, you know, they can organize among themselves and be able to meet in the city whenever they want and be able to create groups that that could support each other.
So that's sort of like the first and sort of like large concept that we're, we're doing, and we're gonna go live with an MVP in a few months. And we're actually building. Our next iteration after the MVP, we're the MVPs on web two, but the next iteration is actually on even beyond web three. So we're actually building the entire city on chain and we're laying a crypto economy on top of that, so that educators can actually have a marketplace where they, you know, if they want to you know, offer themselves up as consultants or find supplemental income, things like that.
And then they can also earn credentials on our chain as well. So they'll have this sort of like, you know, thriving full on ecosystem that they can grow in learning and progressing.
[00:16:57] Brandon Stover: for our listeners that are not familiar with the term of metaverse and how that works, how are you applying education to it and explain how that links with the metaverse.
[00:17:08] Vriti Saraf: Yeah. I'm so deep into the world and I'm so like deep into the wormhole that like, I just, you know, it's part of my daily language now. So the concept of the metaverse is is interesting. There's a little bit of, I think, conflation of the metaverse and just like an air VR platform or the internet, and that's not actually what the Metta versus so imagine the, the real world everything that you can do in the real world, every human can access the real world.
You can do anything that you want in the real world. There are a lot of different vendors in the real world, all that kind of stuff. Imagine that, but virtual, right? So that's the metaphor. So matter versus is a virtual world of the real world. Now. A lot of people think about the metaverse as Arabic.
And the reason for that is because a virtual version of the real world is going to involve avatars and, and alternate realities and and virtual realities and all that kind of stuff. And so AR VR is actually a tool that can be used to experience the, the metaverse right. And when we think about like, you know, instances or environments in the metaverse that are allow you to engage in different ways and have different experiences.
So for example, what we call the 20 edgy verse is what our environment is. That's an instance in the metaverse, right? That's a place in the metaverse that will be used for educators. You can think about Fortnite as a place in the metaverse you can think about, you know, Robox or Minecraft as a place in the metaverse you can even think about Metta the Facebook company as a place in the metaverse.
Right. So, so there are a lot of different sort of instances that come alive in the metaverse, but the matter versus sort of like the larger country. And the thing with the metaverse is one of the undergirding principles is that it's decentralized and it's accessible by a hundred percent of people on the planet.
Now, there is no technology out there in the world that will allow a hundred percent people of the planet to be able to access the metaverse at the same time. Right. The billions of people, including like the wifi access and the, the tech access, all that kind of stuff, it just doesn't exist yet.
And so, like the metaverse, isn't like a thing yet, you know, it's coming, but parts of the metaverse are. So for example, the cage 20 edge rivers is a part of the nomad verse and that will be live in a few months.
[00:19:14] Brandon Stover: To help our listeners understand, you know, what some of the benefits.
are. Let's go back to your first iteration of and the city of learning and why this was a more human centered, better approach to the conference than the other virtual conferences that have been happening.
[00:19:30] Vriti Saraf: So we actually prototyped this avatar based environment back in January and the purpose of it was to have a choose your own adventure conference. It was basically trying to manifest the sort of rant I went on in the beginning of this podcast, where I was sort of talking about how educators are expected to learn in ways that aren't actually parallel with how they're expected to teach.
And so I thought, you know, why not create an environment where educators could could learn the way that we would want students to learn, which is basically. Being able to choose between a variety of activities, being able to decide when you want to do what and being able to sort of create experiences that were that were parallel to what you were consuming.
So like producing things as you were consuming them. And so the, the city of learning was our prototype and we had an eight hour conference, which we thought was too long until people refuse to leave 10 hours in and we had to literally kick them out. And we had a variety of things for them to do.
We had a Conference room where they could check out talks. We had classrooms where they could engage in workshops. We had a cafe in a lounge where they could network with people if they wanted. And we had a playground also where they could play games with other people. And then we also had vendors in our Piazza where they could learn about new ed tech products.
And this was sort of like a mini very, very mini version of what we thought. You know, the edge servers could look like. And it was a great hit, you know, a lot of people really loved it. Some people said it was the best, you know, virtual experience they've ever had. And it was also the very beginning of the metaverse experiences.
It was before anyone was talking about the metaverse. And so we, we feel pretty proud that we, we got that conference in and that folks who were really engaged.
[00:21:16] Brandon Stover: Yeah, I think in the line of thinking like your next iteration of moving towards this, like 24 hours, being able to access that any time you then innovated and went to Twitter spaces and had a running conference and went several days, going on all the time, explain to our listeners how this was set up and how it continuously brought educators.
[00:21:38] Vriti Saraf: One of the best pieces of advice I've gotten from one of our advisors is everything that you do in your first or second year. Maybe even up to five years of your startup, consider it not as a successor of failure, but as an experiment. And if you consider it as an experiment where you can do is think about like, what are the lessons that you've learned, what are, what are the sort of ROI is what are the KPIs, like all that kind of stuff that will actually help you move towards your grander vision. And so that's how we thought about the city of learning. And that's also how we thought about the Twitter spaces conference.
And the reason we did the Twitter spaces, conferences, because number one, we wanted educators to experiment with new technology just constantly. And so the avatar based technology was one of them, but Twitter actually had come out with an audio based platform and we were beta users. And so we wanted to expose educators to something new that they hadn't experienced before. And we also wanted to create conversations around innovation education, which was In the context of COVID in the context of remote learning was a fairly new thing to do.
One of the things that we wanted to do, one of the ethos of everything that we do is we want our spaces available and accessible to everybody around the world. And so the reason we did the Twitter spaces conference was one, because we knew that Twitter was accessible pretty much anywhere, anyone who had a cell phone and then two we wanted every single time zone on the planet to be able to access the conference.
And so we held it for 36 hours straight and we had a new room every hour. And the concept was pretty intriguing and pretty interesting. So we got you know, wonderful speakers like south Khan the founder of Khan academy and. Dale Daugherty, who is the founder of the maker movement and Tony Wagner.
He's a author and researcher and Dan Carroll, the founder of clever and a bunch of other folks, the founders of EdSurge were also speakers. And so, so these folks saw great value in you know, reaching out to the educator audience and our educators were really. Engaged, they were, there were super engaged in the audio based experience.
And we had a ton of people show up. We had, I think about over 5,000 people throughout the experience come, come through from all over the world. And even though the conference was marketed and planned over two weeks we, we found, you know, that educators were like really hungry for that type of sort of engagement and conversation.
Actually funny thing is after that conference, there were several hosts that reached out that were on the Twitter space conference.
And they were like, Hey, this was an awesome experience. And I want to continue engaging educators about innovation. So like, you know, I plan to do a regular room. On a, on an audio based platform. And so, so many of those folks reached out to me and I was just like, it doesn't make sense for each one of them to separately promote themselves.
So why don't we actually promote each other? So we created, we created an ecosystem of podcasts. And so now we actually, we actually just published our first episodes last week. And so we actually have 10 podcasts on there. And each of the podcasts are, or episodes rather that live under the podcast called hashtag cage when he innovates.
And they're, they're all on different topics. Like we've got folks doing blockchain and education. We've got folks talking about the metaverse and education consciousness and education stem stories, you know, makerspaces, stuff like that. And so, yeah, so it, it was the Twitter space conference was not only cool in the moment, but it actually resulted in something that like, I think it was going to be a pretty, you know long-term project.
[00:25:09] Brandon Stover: Yeah, no, that's awesome. I'm definitely going to, you have to subscribe to that and check it out. This ethos of experimentation and getting like educators in the habit of experimenting, you guys are doing a think tank with gathered town in order to do some of these virtual worlds. And I'm curious a how that's going, but B how is this helping to really give agency to the educators for them in researching innovative practices?
[00:25:35] Vriti Saraf: Yeah, I'm really glad you mentioned that because I started to name how K-12 educators is moving innovation. And so I named one of those things, which is the edgy verse. The second thing is the programming that we do. And so the programming is basically we, we try to create inventive and, and interesting ways for educators to basically explore new ideas that we think are going to be really impactful, not only for their students right now, but for the future and for where education and where the world is headed.
And so the think tank is one of our concepts, which is a informal action research fellows. That basically allows educators to experiment with a new idea that they can work with students on and be able to do the entire thing as a build and a public project. And if you're not familiar with building public the concept is when you're exploring a project, starting a new company or launching anything, instead of revealing everything, the results of all of your months or years of work at the end where people can benefit from the product.
Bill's in public is all about revealing your process and engaging people in all the lessons learned. So from day one, you talk about your hypotheses. The, the things that you've tried that have worked in that haven't worked the the results of smaller projects within the larger project. And throughout the journey, basically being really transparent about what you're doing and the purpose of that is twofold.
One, it encourages the community to also experiment alongside with you so that if you're trying something, maybe they'll be encouraged to try something too. And then to as you're learning from your mistakes and your successes, and you're being transparent about that, the community around you can also learn from your mistakes and successes.
So that at the end, the product is not only yours, but actually there's many versions of the project product because many other people have been trying it with you.
So with these think tanks, everything that we produce is open. And everything that our fellows do is actually being documented from day one through Twitter, through blog posts, through podcasts, things like that.
And so this particular thing tank about virtual world building is really about having educators experiment with the metaverse. It's about having educators build a space and expertise in the matters. And so we, we partnered with gathered town who have been just incredible partners and incredible their, their product is an incredible tool if you haven't checked it out.
And they have sponsored and partnered with us on this think tank. And we have seven educators that are building virtual spaces for education in gathered town. And the purpose of it is that they're building these almost like we actually just posted on Twitter yesterday about some of the ideas that they were.
And someone replied with this sounds exactly like the magic school bus, like Mr. Fresnel style. And I was like, that's exactly what it is. Right? So like one of our fellows is building a space that's human anatomy oriented. And so like, you can basically take your avatar into a human body and go like layers deep into organs and into arteries and things like that.
Like what a great learning
[00:28:46] Brandon Stover: Yeah. So
[00:28:47] Vriti Saraf: going to be, and he's building it totally open source, totally free. So that once he finishes building it, any educator on the planet can actually use it to, to help with you know, whether it's in class instruction or homework or whatever they want to do.
So the virtual think tank is, is meant to basically proliferate practices towards incorporation of the metaverse into educator.
[00:29:07] Brandon Stover: Yeah, we were talking about earlier, when we were talking about the problems that, you know, these best practices, aren't always shared with one another education has a hard time of doing that. How are you thinking about research for education going from.
[00:29:19] Vriti Saraf: I think generally the way that research is often done in education is that it's often top-down and it's often at the graduate school level. I think that also contributes to why like education practices don't proliferate as quickly because if the, the research is coming from top-down.
So for example, if there's like really stellar research on project based learning that is coming in from a graduate school level, like a K-12 teacher isn't necessarily going to trust that right away. Right. Because it's not coming from one of their peers, it's not practice oriented. It's not like, you know, example oriented.
It's more about like, sort of theoretical, right. And for a K-12 teacher to have to implement that in a practical way is actually quite difficult. And so the way that we're thinking about research. Let's have it be produced by educators and let's actually attach really clear examples and resources so that educators can dive right in and with efficacy.
Right. Even though our projects are short-term projects and, you know, efficacy is really based on longitudinal studies. At least we can provide some initial indicators of how a project might actually fair or how a new practice might actually be impactful in the classroom. And then educators can take that further by, you know, obviously conducting it or continuing to sort of implement it in their classroom for years to come.
So, so that's how we think about research. It's it's informal. We can't claim for it to be sort of like published no formal research just because that's not our expertise, nor is that our goal, but it is sort of informal action-based research.
[00:30:44] Brandon Stover: Yeah, I think this is one of the ways that, you know, education can learn from some of the other fields like tech. That's been doing, built in public for quite a while. And allowing other, you know, entrepreneurs to come see what this person is building. Okay, this didn't work for them. I should try that.
Maybe you should try this instead and how the whole ecosystem grows because of that. It's a practice that I think for educators will be fantastic so that yes, they can see. Practices that are working really well. The ones that aren't and implement things for themselves that may be good for their students.
[00:31:14] Vriti Saraf: Yeah, 100%. And the concept of rapid prototyping is really what has like accelerated the tech community, right? And tech community is really the the driver of a lot of other industries. And so like we should bring rapid prototyping into education and that's kind of what we're trying to do with the.
[00:31:32] Brandon Stover: Well, let's talk a little bit about your background as an educator. You've had, you know, 11 years of experience being an educator, but in some of the other interviews that I listened to preparing for this, you mentioned that before teachers of America, you would quit anything that was really, really hard.
So what is an example of something that maybe you quit? That was hard?
[00:31:51] Vriti Saraf: Oh my God. I forgot that. I told the world that yeah, I, so, so before teach for America, I I didn't have the, the most consistency in how I engaged in projects, just because I I grew up in a very protective environment where my family Just wanted me to be really happy all the time.
And I think in, in their minds, like happiness meant not struggling. And so for example, I, you know, I took classic Indian dance called kathak until I was like 16. And many times throughout my experience there, like I just, like, I didn't like it. I, I didn't enjoy it. And I also found it to be like just not fun.
And I wasn't asked to quit when I didn't enjoy it, but I was asked to quit when it got too hard when it was just like starting to be too much time for me, or it was, you know, the, the moves were starting to get more difficult. And then at that point I was just like, I can't do this anymore. And there was no qualms in quitting. But teach for America. I think really changed my perspective on that. And like, I I've become a different person and I've become a very resilient and very sort of like driven person to actually take on more difficult things and do things that are actually going to push me as a human because I found the value of sticking with things and being really, really consistent with things and making sure that I like give it my all.
And now it's, you know, if you meet me, you'll see that I am the opposite of that. And I am the, the, the type of person that like will not give up on a thing Even if it has massive implications on, on my side.
[00:33:27] Brandon Stover: Well, what was it about teachers for America or, you know, being an educator that really changed this for you?
[00:33:31] Vriti Saraf: Teach for America was a really difficult experience because the way that the program operated when I was in it that they provided a lot of support pre before you actually like went into the classroom, but then when you got into the classroom there's really no good way to prepare for being in the classroom,
[00:33:55] Brandon Stover: Hmm,
[00:33:55] Vriti Saraf: aside from being in the classroom.
[00:33:57] Brandon Stover: Yeah.
[00:33:58] Vriti Saraf: Right. And so, so, so with teach for America, the entire basis of the program is that you. You know, kind of go in with very little training and you sort of learn on the fly in your year one. I think there's better training now, but when I was a TFA member, that's what the situation was. And so when I got into that first year of teaching, you know, it was really, really hard.
And it was, you know, sleepless nights and, you know working at all hours and making sure that our students were successful. And on top of that, there was a lot of emotional stress because when you went into the classroom, you know, you had to you had to figure out how to manage the kids so that they could feel safe, but also you know, be quote compliant to like the things that you wanted them to do.
And it was and I, and I quote those things because I don't necessarily agree with those things anymore, but that's sort of like, you know, the, the room that I was in, you know, 12 years ago and It was really difficult. And so the thing that changed for me was that, you know, I not only grew massively as a human and as an educator, but I had relationships with each of the students and the parents that I was responsible for.
And so I couldn't let them down. Right. And I could not leave that. The classroom with a clear conscience, I was just like, I have to do my best to make sure that, you know, everything works out here and, and our kids actually received the best education. And so I couldn't quite, I was just like, I have to stick with us.
And that taught me so much resilience. It taught me just like an incredible amount of of self confidence too. And, and making sure that like, you know, I, I can solve problems actually, if there's an obstacle, it is solvable, you know, everything that you experienced that is a problem or that, you know, you think can't be surmounted.
It can, you know, I, I truly do believe that I think every problem is surmountable. And so it was just a matter of like freaking out.
[00:35:48] Brandon Stover: Yeah. I bring these up because I think the skills are something that every founder needs. And so you were starting to build this skillset and in 2020, something compelled you to Kuwait your career as an educator or a formal educator rather, and become a founder. What was happening then, or why was this problem so compelling that you decided you needed to do something.
[00:36:11] Vriti Saraf: I spent three and a half years pre pandemic traveling around the world building schools. And I was visiting all of these grade school models that were doing really innovative things. And some of them were actually overlapping. Like a lot of them were focusing on critical thinking skills, 21st century skills, STGs problem-based learning, stuff like that.
And some of them were doing like completely unique things. And every time I went to a new school in a different country, they would have some semblance of something that I'd experienced in Alaska. So I'd say like, Hey, you know, did you pick this up from X and Y school? Or do you know about X and Y school?
And they'd be like, no, we have no idea that this other, like, you know, school is doing the same thing we are. And to me, I was just like, that's crazy because if you both had been collaborating on the exact same mission and vision, you could have gotten twice as far as you are now. And you could have used half as many resources.
And so that kept happening. Every time I went to a new school, or even if I went into a new teacher's classroom in my own organization, I would find that people were actually coming to the same conclusions and creating similar practices, but without the support of each other. And so what I realized was there's this like massive deficit knowledge sharing.
Right? And so during the pandemic you know, I found actually it was a benefit that we had all moved to a virtual space. Because what that allowed me to do was think about the different ways that we could actually connect educators all over the world, without them having to actually visit each other physically, I had the great opportunity to visit all these schools, but not nearly anybody would have that opportunity, especially schools that are still, you know, trying to figure out how to allocate their funding.
And so what I realized was that, you know, there's a better way that educators can connect with each other. And there has to be a way that educators should connect with each other. And so that's what compelled me. I was sort of driven by this this realization that I had traveling around the world, but then like the, the fact that we had moved completely into a virtual space had allowed me to realize that like, well, now we actually have an opportunity to bring educators to each other without spending the money to, to physically travel.
[00:38:28] Brandon Stover: as you started your journey as a founder, you embarked in some virtual fellowships to kind of get things going. What's something that you learned in one of those fellowships that maybe you wouldn't have been able to do in the beginning of your journey. Had you not been a part of that?
[00:38:44] Vriti Saraf: in the last year and a half, I have created more relationships, close relationships and friendships than I ever had in my entire lifetime. And the reason for that is because I was able to engage in online learning in online fellowships and online sort of accelerator programs.
I'll name two things. One is like these relationships that have created, like, even meeting folks like you like I, I know that if we met in real life, we'd have like an instant connection and there wouldn't be any sort of. Catching up to do because we already know each other.
Right. That's that's and I've actually experienced that. I've actually run into people in real life that I've met or had a deep relationship with for months online. And it's just an extension, right? It's not like we're meeting each other and we have to restart. It's actually just an extension. You just pick up where you left off and then that's it.
That's a big deal. Right? Never before in our lifetimes, I've really experienced that. And then the second thing is I was part of the on-deck no-code fellowship and that fellowship taught me about no code tools and no code tools are basically tools that you can leverage to move projects forward very quickly, prototype very quickly without understanding code.
And so, so that was a big deal.
[00:40:00] Brandon Stover: Speaking to the relation aspect that I noticed when I first met you is you are very good at listening to what others are doing or what thing, projects that they're working on and figuring out ways that you can help them. I'm curious, is this something that comes natural or is this a skill that you have learned and built over time?
[00:40:18] Vriti Saraf: Well, thank you for that compliment. I greatly appreciate that. It's I'm not sure. I don't know how honestly, to answer that question, but I do I will say that it brings me great joy to connect people. I think that in education, especially. We are all striving towards one goal, which is to accelerate and enhance the way that our students learn and to basically create a better generation of learners and, and to, you know, a better generation just generally, right?
Like no one in education goes into education, whether it's ed tech or traditional ed to be famous or to, to make a ton of money or whatever it is. Right. And so in my mind, you know, if I can help other educators or other people that are in that tech to, to move and progress their own mission forward, then I will do that.
And so that's really the sort of underlying philosophy of K 22. Right? So dismantling global silos really applies to our relationships with each other and the projects that we pursue. so my sort of like emo in life is really like, make sure that I'm like providing as many connections and resources to people that are doing really good work and to supporting them in moving.
[00:41:30] Brandon Stover: Now, when you were thinking through originally of how to start connecting these educators together in a online format, how did you work through that decision process that eventually led you to? Okay. Our first solution is going to be a conference.
[00:41:45] Vriti Saraf: Yeah, that's a really great question and a very tumultuous journey. So the conference actually was more of a problem that I was trying to solve, which was, I had attended a pretty massive ad tech conference in September of 2020 and the entire conference, which was attended by like 10,000 people.
Was people talking at you for like four days? And just at that time, I had discovered all these like avatar based platforms. And I was just like, why is it that these like massive organizations that have a ton of money behind them, aren't like investing in better technology that actually. Participants to have more immersive experiences.
And I asked that question over and over again to a lot of conference organizers and they didn't have a good answer for me. And so my only like solution to that was like, well, I got to stop asking questions and just like, do something about it and show them what it could be. And at that point, I hadn't even started thinking about the reverse.
I hadn't started thinking about the company. Really. I was just like, I want to create a better conferencing experience or a learning experience for educators. And so that's how the city of learning came about. But as the city of learning was being developed, I realized that this is actually a really cool space for educators to meet generally.
And so we started thinking about like the city of learning as a persistent space and as a space that educators could come to any time, but the journey to the sea, to the final version of the edge rivers, which is both the web to MVP as well as the web three actually emerged in the last six weeks.
So we actually were going to launch a LinkedIn type platform for educators, just a place where educators could connect with each other in like a, you know, web to linear kind of way. And we were going to launch and a few days before a launch, I like couldn't do it. I was just like, there is, there's no way that it would support my own philosophies of innovation education to bring an outdated platform to educators. And so I actually nixed the entire thing and I was just like, we have to create a persistent space for education even before, like, that's the first thing that we're going to do.
We're not going to like supplement with something that isn't actually going to bring tremendous value to educators. And so we went from, you know, prototype city of learning, immersive environments, phase two, wanting to build something that was a little bit more like linear, like LinkedIn or Facebook to going back to the immersive environment.
And so that's what we're doing now. And then on top of that, you know, I, as you know, I'm very deep into web three and I'm into metaverse. And so I realized, yes, we want to build this like MVP on the web too, because we want to prototype space and make sure people understand what we mean by that. But at the same time, like we need to prepare education for what three, we need to make sure that educators actually understand like what, where technology is headed.
And so we're at the same time building the entire environment on web three on, on chain. So that educators can experience that firsthand and learn as they teach.
[00:44:51] Brandon Stover: What do you think is in store for education in terms of web three? Like why should the education institutions now big paying attention to it?
[00:44:59] Vriti Saraf: Oh, man, Brandon, that is such a huge question. Can we do a whole, another episode on that? So there's so many things, right? Like I I'll give you some like high level things. Oh my gosh. Where do I dig into my like basket of like my breathing's? Okay. Number one is credentials, right? Right now credentials live with the institution that you are a part of and in order to get your diplomas or your certificates or whatever it is, you have to call it, that institution pay the 25 bucks to the bursar or whatever, and then they will mail you a copy or like a digital copyright.
Now, the problem with that is that none of your credentials are actually linked to each other. And so like, institutes are really separating this experience of your sort of like career portfolio or your professional. And so what web three can do is you can actually have your potentials live on chain, which means that if you earn a credential or a certificate or a diploma or whatever it is in high school, you can access it any time.
You will have complete ownership of it and you can choose what you do with it. And then when you earn another credential in college or several other credential, you can put it on the same chain. So it actually lives in one portfolio that you can have for the rest of your life. So when you're 85 and you are in another credential, you will still have a record of all the credentials that you had and you can have complete ownership of it.
So that's one use case, right?
[00:46:27] Brandon Stover: before we go to that one, I'm excited about the credentials, because I think we can start to break down in a more detailed view because we have the blockchain technology of all the different learning. We have that aren't just, you know, credentialed or in actual education institutions, but maybe some of this informal learning that we have going on and we can kind of give it a credential and a record of some of the things that we've learned that we can show people like employers or others
[00:46:53] Vriti Saraf: yes, a hundred percent. And you can actually add a more dynamism to your portfolio by also adding your passions and your interests into it. Yesterday I was talking with Dow where we're ideating around badges as NFTs that basically show how you engage in social. So imagine if you purchase an NFT and that NFT actually contributed to a project that allowed educators to pursue something with SDGs.
And then the result of that was you actually having this, like badge as an NFT that showed that you contributed to a project maybe it was your time. Maybe it was your skillset. Maybe it was your talent. Maybe it was your money, whatever it was. And that can be added to your, your, your chain as well, your portfolio as well, so that your interests are actually weighed in into how you are you know perceived, right?
[00:47:44] Brandon Stover: Yeah. Okay. So now example, number two of
[00:47:47] Vriti Saraf: Okay. Example, these are all sort of from the top of my head, by the way, so that I'm sure that I'm going to be missing a lot. So another one is Dows. I am so obsessed with doubt. So Dallas are decentralized autonomous organizations, and they basically allow you to create a community with a treasury, essentially.
Like that's the most basic way to think about it. But if you apply that to more complex concepts, like imagine a school being a Dao where the, the funds that are, you know, created or, you know contributed to that school, the students, the teachers, and the parents actually get to vote on how those funds are allocated.
And the great thing about that is not only will the allocations be, given to things that, you know, the stakeholders actually care. But also if there are mistakes made or if there's like issues, the stakeholders are responsible. So now there isn't this like, you know, finger pointing that so often happens in education, right?
So it's just like, you know, we, we decided where these funds would go and we are going to reap the consequences of that. So that's a big deal. Dow's can also be you know, smaller sort of communities or, you know, projects that educators can create that actually you know, proliferate movements. So for example we're actually going, starting a Dow we're, we're starting a Dow for innovative educators.
And the, the treasury that we create is actually going to be able to fund innovative projects that are going to be voted on by the community. So like, imagine the power of like educators who are receiving funds, actually being able to. To, pursue really innovative projects that aren't beholden by strings or by regulations or, or by their schools or whatever it is.
And they can actually do really cool things that like move the needle. Right. So, so dowels, I think are the sort of like second thing in, in integration with like schools and things like that.
Incentive systems, tokenized incentive systems are another one where imagine if you know, when students were doing projects their, their peers actually voted on awarding them token.
Maybe it didn't have real value in the real world, maybe did. I don't know, but they basically allowed them to hold sort of like a stake based on their work. Right. Based on not popularity, not on, you know, like their backgrounds, not on, you know, how much people you know, thought they deserved it, but like more about the actual work that they're doing more about like the actual product that students were producing.
Same thing with educators. Like, imagine if, you know, they're all these sort of like some schools will have systems where educators as well, they'll earn more based on like how much they're achieving or whatever. And so like, imagine if that was actually on chain and it was a crypto oriented that that would allow educators to, to be more incentivized to do better work, things like that.
[00:50:31] Brandon Stover: One thing on the, that you just mentioned about the incentive one I get worried a little bit about that one because currently the current education system, we have grades and tests and whatnot. And so there's very much a student focusing on the external motivation of getting a good grade what I hope is we can move towards students, having a more intrinsic motivation where we're, you know, matching what they're learning with their passions, their interests.
And so I get worried that we're trading tokens and those sorts of things on the blockchain for grades. And I'm curious what your thoughts are about
[00:51:05] Vriti Saraf: Yeah,
And that's a, it's a massive concern and it's definitely something we want to veer away from. Standardized tests, standardized tests, and just grades in general are. problem, just because it doesn't paint a comprehensive picture of what a student can learn or know. And so I think there isn't a solution to it yet.
Right. But I think that it will take some experimentation on behalf of educators to figure out what the right systems are. The external motivation of tokens is obviously problematic. And so when I say incentivized systems, to be totally honest, I don't a hundred percent know how that's going to manifest in a way that's actually productive.
But I do know that it is something that could potentially lead to fantastic outcomes. Like, for example, I'll give you one, if I think about it right now, like one example of this could be, imagine if in high school, if an, if a student needs to earn a credit towards bio. Instead of them necessarily like taking a full-on biology class, if they can produce a project where they pitch for credit and they can actually earn that credential or earn that bio credit by doing a project that proves that they understand the concepts.
Like that can be the token. Right. So it's not necessarily, like, if you think about incentivized tokens, like don't necessarily think about it as a one-to-one, but think about conceptually, I think.
[00:52:37] Brandon Stover: Yeah.
No, that's a, that's an excellent example. What is some advice that you would give to a smart driven educator or a founder who's trying to solve a problem like education and what advice do you think they should ignore?
[00:52:49] Vriti Saraf: I'll tell you the advice I guess the two pieces of advice that I've received that have been most helpful. One is one that I already named, which is considered everything. And the benefit of that is that when you do experiments, you don't think about whether you succeeded or failed.
So it actually puts less emotional weight on the thing that you're doing, and that allows you to move on faster. And then it also allows you to collect data and think about it truly as an experimenter and be able to actually like respond to that data in the next iteration. So that's that's the first piece.
And then the second piece you know, this is sort of coming from me as a woman of color who, isn't, wasn't in the tech world, you know, as an educator. If you believe in your idea and if you believe in the vision or the mission that you're moving towards, just like keep at it and don't worry about what anybody else is sort of like projecting. Considered yourself to be deserving, right.
No matter what, and sort of like continue moving as a confident person in the mission and the vision and, you know, things will work out.
[00:53:51] Brandon Stover: before I get to my last question, is there a call to action that you would like to leave our listeners with?
[00:53:56] Vriti Saraf: if you were interested in metaverse things and web three, we actually just launched a newsletter that is specifically made for educators. And the idea is that we really want to help educators learn concepts of web three. Not only generally, but also contextualize specifically for education.
And so what our, what our newsletter does is it has two sections. One is a learn section and the other is a doomed section. And the learn section will basically give you really good curated articles and videos and podcasts that will help you learn about concepts like NFTs and Dows and blockchain and cryptocurrency and all that kind of stuff.
And then it'll also give you resources that actually connect those things to education. Like what does blockchain mean for education? How are NFTs is being used in education? What type of credentials are being created on top of NFTs, which organizations are doing it, stuff like that. And then the juice section, it'll just give you some really great like action items that will allow you to sort of immerse yourself into the world that the metaverse and the web three worlds, and like very low risk and low stakes way.
So if you want to sign up for that you can go to my Twitter account either at K 20 educators or at free Seraph, and you can sign up for the new. And once you're signed up for the newsletter, you actually will also get access to our edge servers when it's ready.
[00:55:15] Brandon Stover: My final question is how can we push the world to evolve?
[00:55:19] Vriti Saraf: Brandon again, a massive question, but great question. I think it's twofold and sorry that it's sort of exactly what our mission is, but a one is you have to share, you have to share your ideas and your learnings and your practices with as many people as possible. That's one of the reasons I love connecting people, because I think it's really important that when you discover something new, when you discover a new learning or new lesson, a new whatever, you got to share it with other people, because the more you share it, the more other people will be able to build on top of it and continue evolving.
It was the first thing. And the second thing is constantly experiment, right? Constantly experiment with, you know, anything, you know, whether it's like, you know, a recipe in the kitchen or if it's like, you know, a new technology or whatever it is. And I think if we can all collectively agree to experiment and share, I really do think that the world would evolve much faster.
[00:56:20] Brandon Stover: Well, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom today. I'm super excited to see what happens with K 20 and a Thank you for coming on the show.
[00:56:27] Vriti Saraf: Thank you for having me
[00:56:29] Brandon Stover: Thank you for listening to the evolve. Podcasts links to everything we discussed today are available in the show. Notes. Transcripts are also available in the show notes and everything can be viewed on our website at evolve. The doc world that's evolve the.world.
My one ask for you is to share this episode with others. If you know someone who is interested in social impact, social entrepreneurship, or just making a difference in the world, please share this episode. The challenges in our world need all of those who can contribute to existing solutions or create entirely new ones. so please share the show with those kind intelligent people who are just like you until next time my friend keep evolving.