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IOWA CITY — The first director of the Iowa EdTech Collaborative already is working to tackle some big goals after taking the reins at the organization this summer.
Mark Butland plans to “find ways to create shared sandboxes” as he fosters an “entrepreneur ecosystem” for educational technology.
That involves working with major employers such as ACT or Pearson to “get outside of those silos and share ideas,” like at a weekend event for educational technology start-ups last month.
The Iowa EdTech Collaborative is a group of businesses, economic development groups and other organizations focused on growing the education technology industry in Iowa.
The Iowa City Area Development Group received funding to hire a full-time director, among other projects, through a $393,184 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The group announced in May that Butland would fill that role.
Butland came to the organization from Kirkwood Community College, where he had been the dean of the Iowa City campus since 2019. Before that, he spent more than two decades teaching at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas, another hotbed for educational technology.
He’s not focused on turning Iowa City into the preeminent education technology capital in the country, though.
“I don’t think it’s realistic to think we’re going to, in five or 10 years, take on Austin or take on the Bay Area or New York City,” Butland said.
Instead, his goal is simple.
“I simply want more jobs, higher paying jobs, more companies and then more companies with successful outcomes,” Butland said.
Already, Iowa’s educational technology sector includes 28 companies that employ 3,126 people, according to a 2018 TEConomy Partners report commissioned by the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Butland is working with the IEDA to commission a second report with updated post-pandemic numbers.
He wants to build on Iowa’s current strength in the market — assessments — to better position the region for future growth amid changing trends in education.
“In the post-pandemic era, more and more schools are looking for ways (to assess students) other than bringing people into large auditoriums to take paper and pencil tests,” Butland said. “We want to be responsive to that change.”
More than 1,600 accredited four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. either have test-optional or test-blind admissions processes, according to FairTest, which advocates against the use of standardized tests.
ACT, the largest and longest-tenured Iowa City-based educational technology company, has invested in other product lines to minimize the impact of that trend.
“We remain very committed to our desire to grow our organization, to offer learning solutions as well as tools to help students and institutions navigate through the educational and career planning and workforce planning,” ACT’s chief executive officer Janet Godwin told The Gazette in 2020.
Butland’s “shared sandboxes” that combine assessment, content and visualization technology can help with that.
“It really is about collaboration moving forward,” Butland said.
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