Teachers show up at large, industry-driven conferences feeling more than a little like middle school students at their first dance. They want to be there so badly but they are completely confused as to how they fit in and what role they should adopt.
SXSWedu may be a distant memory, but the fallout is definitely something the edtech community needs to unpack. Even before the Twitter-sphere blew up at Bill Gates for not including enough teacher voice in his keynote address, it was felt among some teachers that this conference was not concerned with them aside from a few incredibly powerful Maker opportunities, project-based learning presentations, and tote bags.
The question I keep asking myself is: why are we surprised?
The disconnect between teachers and the industry is not a theme that was started in Austin and it won't be one that dies in Austin. The disappointment and confusion that teachers frequently feel in the aftermath of these industry conferences is both justified but not really the fault of the way these mega-conferences are structured or run.
It's not that teachers aren’t represented at the conferences. The number of teachers in attendance at SXSWedu was fine. They also have opportunities to create panels and speak up during panels--and do.
But the industry leaders who ultimately throw down the dollars to run these conferences are interested in reaching buyers for their products. And when most teachers are left out of purchasing and curricular decision-making, they don’t know where they fit into all the excitement and hoopla that the edtech space is emitting.
So being of value for implementation but simultaneously having no buying power, teachers find themselves in a weird situation where they get lip-service at events but end up only playing bit roles.
Startups--in contrast to established players--realize how important teachers are to the success of their products. Many companies believe that getting enough teachers to buy in has implications for venture funding. And there’s always the thrill of generating a grassroots buzz that could make it go viral.
There’s a difference, however, between buying into a product and actually buying it.
Some of the most popular apps among teachers--ClassDojo, Educreations, and Socrative--enjoy success not just because they were built by teachers for teachers, or well designed to address specific pain points. But most importantly, they are free. That means teachers themselves can pull the trigger and bring these tools into their classrooms for daily implementation.
It’s only a matter of time before these venture-backed companies will start looking for ways to generate revenue, most likely through freemium structures. And not all teachers will be able to foot the bill. Some of these companies may die on the vine under the weight of long RFP purchasing cycles and limited cash flow to continue supporting their popular products.
So not only is the lack of purchasing power for teachers a problem in itself, but may affect the survival of edtech companies that build great products.
The industry will continue to highlight the important roles that teachers play. And these mega conferences will offer them more platforms to speak from. But unless they can actually have more decision making power over what to buy, all the promises about how technology will change the classroom will fly above their heads.
It’s time to put the money where the mouths are.