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Dear EdTech Entrepreneurs…

This piece was written as a guest blog post for the technology section of EdVoices, one of my favorite resources for fresh perspectives on education. Thanks for having me EdVoices! Show your love by leaving a comment on EdVoices.com.

Dear EdTech Entrepreneurs,

Bringing education into the 21st Century is no easy feat. It depends on collaboration between the major players in the field of educational innovation and technology, and at this time the collaboration is not where it needs to be. Please take a moment to note that the terms “innovation” and “technology” appear separately because they are not interchangeable. While technology may support educators, innovative education is not solely dependent on technology. In fact, innovative teachers use a balance of tech and non-tech supported teaching and learning. For the purpose of this conversation, I want to shift the focus to the industry of educational technology.

Two major players in the field of EdTech are entrepreneurs and educators. There is a great divide amongst these two parties, and it grows every time an entrepreneur builds a product without teacher input or feedback. Individuals who have not set foot in a classroom for years, are developing solutions for problems which they assume exist for teachers. Many startups build their products and ask for teacher feedback after the fact. I propose that we reverse the cycle. Startups should call upon teachers (or even students, imagine that!) to support the development of products for the classroom. This will move us toward building stronger technologies for learning that are actually practical for the classroom. Not to mention, getting teachers invested in the beginning can help raise awareness about products that are strong. Remember, teachers listen to teachers!

I appreciate the enthusiastic nature of entrepreneurs in our field. We need that kind of proactive energy and “can do” attitude in education right now. I am optimistic that our industry will begin to look more like a partnership over the next few years. While the collaboration is not yet where we need it to be, some organizations are taking steps in the right direction.

  • edSurge now has a teacher edition to their EdTech newsletter!
  • EdUpgrade pairs teachers with technology to elicit feedback from the classroom.
  • Classroom Window gives teachers a voice by inviting them to offer feedback on technology they use, and to recommend and share the tech they love.
  • A few startups are hiring teachers to consult on content development, product development, and teacher outreach.
  • Conferences and edtech events are doing more and more outreach to engage teachers in conversations about tech for the classroom.

Teachers have taken a lot of flack for the state of the educational system. I will be the first one to admit that our standards for teachers is not where it should be, however that does not mean that great teachers don’t exist. We need to invite strong teachers to share their voices and opinions on:

  1. What are the problems that require solving?
  2. Which solutions are effective?
  3. Which solutions are ineffective?

In the productive spirit of entrepreneurs, I now want to tackle the question, “So, what can be done to solve this problem?”

5 Ways EdTechies Can Help:

  1. If you haven’t been in a classroom this year, you probably shouldn’t be building a product for the classroom – already started? Make a change and visit a classroom this month.
  2. Put teachers and students at the core of your product development and  invite their input from the very beginning.
  3. Show, Not Tell: Visit schools and show teachers and students how to use your technology, rather than sending out an email telling them how simple it is to use. Remember, simple for you may not mean simple for them.
  4. Ask yourself, “Am I speaking teacher or am I speaking business?” Of course it is okay to speak both, but you need to make sure that you are able to relate to your audience.
  5. Make sure your product is simple and ultimately takes time off of a teacher’s day rather than adds to it. While there is a hilarious rumor that teachers get out of work at 3:30PM, the truth is that many teachers take home hours of work.

Recognizing the divide between entrepreneurs and educators is the first step toward building a bridge. The second step is to study edtech projects that have been successful in engaging teachers and to identify what has led to their success. Click here to take a look at a technology that is bringing learning into the 21st Century by paying close attention to what makes teachers comfortable. Think about how this product can be used as a model for emerging technology for learning.

Your Fan and Teacher-Friend,

Marisa

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