May 27, 2014
What happens when mixed groups of educators, researchers, entrepreneurs and investors spend an hour talking with each other? Invited by Barbara “Bobbi” Kurshan, EdSurge facilitated such a conversation on May 13 at the Milken Penn GSE competition and conference in Philadelphia.
The groups tackled several key questions together: What are the burning questions for each stakeholder? What are educators’ priorities when it comes to education technology? And what should be included in an “Edtech Bill of Rights”?
Big Takeaways: What Matters to Educators
Give educators a voice in the design process! Educators were loud and clear that they want to be included at every stage of development, from idea formation to final refinement. They also want to see that ideas for educational technology are deeply rooted in research and classroom realities, that edtech solutions need to identify and solve a real need.
Similarly, educators want clarity from companies around the purpose of specific edtech: What is the product replacing? Is it supplementary or an enhancement? What problem is being solved: reducing cost, increasing differentiation, increasing rigor, and/or expanding access?
Educators also emphasized the need to work with researchers to ask ongoing questions about the “why” of incorporating technology in the classroom and to make sure that the tradeoffs made are conscious. For example, what is lost when a classroom becomes more technology-based? What interpersonal skills are lost or gained? What is the overall effect of different kinds of technology on classroom culture?
Several tables of conference goers raised the issue of educators' suspicion of edtech companies, particularly those that are for-profit. In the end, most groups recognized that “making money isn’t a dirty word,” and believed that creating more transparency and openness in conversations among stakeholders could shift the culture of teacher suspicion to make way for more partnerships.
Edtech Priorities for Educators: No Shiny Toys!
In addition to the above issues, educators clearly stated that the purpose of edtech should never be to replace a teacher. Instead, edtech products should:
- Relieve administrative burdens;
- Increase the efficacy of teachers;
- Deepen the relation among students and teachers;
- Embed assessment directly into daily learning experience;
- Amplify the reach of effective teachers;
- Empower students to become creators;
- And ultimately, keep the humanity in education and create more equality of opportunities.
The potential for personalization excited many attendees. Educators want tools that can meet students where they are and move them forward, as well as tools that can individualize curriculum to meet specific student needs and interests. Consensus gathered around the need for ongoing professional development as well.
Educators also detailed technical issues they wanted addressed. If educators needed tech support, they want “someone to pick up the phone on the other end.” The edtech should be easy to use: “No more 200-page manuals!” wrote one group. Ease of integration was also important for most attendees, meaning both integrating tech into classroom learning and integrating tech into a school’s existing infrastructure. Lack of high-speed access continues to be the bane of many educators; if edtech companies can find a way to bring in Wi-Fi, it may be easier for them to secure pilots.
What Should Go Into an “Edtech Bill of Rights”?
Each team finished the session by beginning to draft a list of responsibilities that should be included in an “Edtech Bill of Rights.” Here’s a combined list from all 18 groups:
- The best interests of students must always be first and foremost.
- Tools should fill a REAL need for teaching/learning (not solutions in search of a problem).
- Ask teachers and talk to administrators at every stage of the design process.
- Have open, balanced conversations among all stakeholders.
- The introduction of edtech should include ongoing targeted meaningful staff development that is preferably teacher led.
- Student data must be secure: edtech companies should be open and clear about their use of data and information.
- Education technology should continually be tested in classrooms.
- The larger community should be included in the selection and implementation of edtech.
- If solutions claim to be research-based, they need to be truly research based.
- We need to know more about what works based on real data.
- Access should be reasonable and appropriate for all stakeholders.
- Compensate teachers who are product developers for their works.
- Similarly, compensate educators for providing extensive feedback and help with product development.
- Structure the ways teachers can provide feedback and interact with new tools as forms for professional development.
- Research should include recommendations that address the socio-emotional implications of using technology products.
- Districts should provide thought leadership on their theory of learning to help drive appropriate product development that aligns with district priorities.
- Everything should revolve around the learner.