Technology and Education: Grockit Founder and Chief Product Officer Farb Nivi Shares his Opinion


Interviewed by: Ahmed Siddiqui

Farb Nivi is the founder and chief product officer of Grockit, a San Francisco-based social learning company focused on collaborative learning. His passions are social learning practices, and developing lean, sustainable and scalable technology business practices. He has been an entrepreneur and teacher since he was in his teens. The first company he started is Michigan-based Vision Computer Solutions which he ran from 1995-1998.  He then joined The Princeton Review where he was a teacher, a trainer and wrote curriculum and pedagogy. In 2001, Farb was honored with The Princeton Review’s National Teacher of the Year Award. Just prior to founding Grockit, Farb was a center manager, master teacher and academic director for Kaplan. His favorite teacher was his 8th grade teacher Mr. Rodriguez.


As a partner for our upcoming Startup Weekend Bay Area EDU event, Farb answered some questions about the integration of technology in education:


AS: Do you think that schools are ready to embrace the digital textbook?
FN: I’m not sure, but I do know that students are embracing online learning, which typically involves digital content historically locked up in books. I think students are looking for more fluid attributes in their digital content — the textbook requirement involves specific apps and devices, whereas most students are more accustomed to social learning through social networks, wikis and other browser-based resources.


AS: What are your thoughts on the Apple in Education event? What does iBook Author mean to the world of publishing? What types of innovation do you think will result from this?
FN: Apple has always supported students, so in a lot of respects, the iBook initiative is an extension of the Apple legacy and culture. The iBook Author is very interesting. I love that they’ve opened up the playing field for authors and educators to provide learning experiences. I think the jury is still out on what this means for education and students. I think at some point we will look back and think of e-textbooks as a transitory concept.


AS: How do you see education technology being used to benefit underprivileged schools that do not have access to new technology?
FN: American schools are typically designed to manufacture students that pass tests loosely related to government standards with the goal of achieving near-term funding objectives.  In that respect, I anticipate that technology will continue to be used to distribute rote memory practices, and further undermine the potential for teacher-to-student interactions and student peer learning experiences that actually lead to better comprehension, subject mastery and critical thinking.  Not all schools are like this, and we’re happy to work with those schools on social learning technology applications.  More importantly, much of a student’s success comes from family and community focus on education: There are a number of community-based organizations Grockit works with, like TLab and the Magic Johnson Foundation, that are using social learning technologies to help students master concepts and exceed through important academic milestones like the SAT and ACT, and be successful in higher education.


AS: Where do you think education technology can bring the greatest impact?
FN: I think technology makes the biggest impact in enabling social learning experience through interpersonal communications — face-to-face video, chat, shared digital workspace, etc.  This is why I started Grockit. When studying becomes less about memory and tactical testing skills, and more about engaging in the concepts and learning from people, test scores naturally improve.  Objectives for technology in education shouldn’t be about getting more of our students into our great higher education institutions — that should be a by product of helping people learn from each other to augment independent study and practice.


AS: What are your favorite educational technology startups?  Which ones should we be watching?
FN: As a teacher, Edmodo is a favorite of mine — there’s a great potential for teachers to learn from each other in Edmodo, and I’m all about social learning.  I’m hopeful that teachers will move beyond sharing lesson plans via Edmodo and do more communication of strategies for student engagement, teachers learning from teachers. The guys at Inigral are super smart, and there are always new ideas coming out of Startup Weekend Edu that grab my interest.
I also want to mention the folks at EdSurge and Hack Education. Betsy Corcoran at EdSurge and Audrey Watters at Hack Education are really doing yeoman’s work in chronicling and encouraging all of the vibrant, smart discussions on the subject of EdTech.  I think these folks are helping a broader audience of business and technology entrepreneurs understand that education is transforming quickly, right now.


AS: Where do you want to see Startup Weekend Education going next?
FN: Startup Weekend Edu has already gone global. It’s amazing to me what’s happened since Grockit brought The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Startup Weekend EDU last year. Through additional funding, eager organizers, it’s already beyond anything I imagined.  And, that’s what I’d hoped would happen.  I am currently plotting with other Grockit execs and education-oriented venture capitalists about something new.  I think there’s a way to grow startups beyond the initial phase of seed funding, and accelerate the process of determining market viability and creating growth-stage edtech companies.


Farb and Grockit can be found here: