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Rafter CEO: The innovation curve hasn’t hit education yet

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Educational apps and interactive textbooks may look flashy, but we still have a long way to go before we can truly leverage tech in the classroom: That was one of the key takeaways from a mobile education panel at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference, where Rafter CEO Mehdi Maghsoodnia complained that most educational applications still feel like mobile apps before the iPhone, adding: “The innovation curve hasn’t hit educational content yet.”

Maghsoodnia was joined onstage by Vineet Madan, SVP of New Ventures and Strategic Services for McGraw-Hill Education, who agreed that there is still lots of room for innovation. “The answer isn’t putting a piece of paper on a screen,” he said. McGraw-Hill Education has partnered with Inkling for some interactive publications, and Madan said that the feedback has been very positive. “It’s certainly gotten a lot of buzz,” he said, adding that these kinds of interactive experiences offer much richer forms of engagement than print ever did.

However, turning a book into an interactive experience is often just the first step, explained Maghsoodnia. His company, which supplies higher ed institutions with a cloud-based software suite to manage their content needs, realized early on that the real challenge can be the the deployment. He illustrated his point with just one experience, during which his team brought a bunch of iPads to a school only to realize that there was no Wifi. In that case, the Rafter folks simply went out and bought a router at Fry’s – but that’s not really scalable. “You need a lot of infrastructure,” said Maghsoodnia.

And then there’s something else education needs to jump onto the innovation bandwagon: openness. “The innovation you see in this space tends to be very similar to the early days of the internet,” said Maghsoodnia, arguing that most companies simply build walled gardens. What’s needed are instead open platforms, where smaller innovators compete with the likes of McGraw-Hill, he said, adding: “If the innovation curve comes to education, and at the end of this process there are still only four or five publishers, then we didn’t innovate very much.”

Check out the rest of our Mobilize 2012 coverage here, and the live stream can be found here.

Watch live streaming video from mobilize2012 at

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