Being “connected” gets tossed around a lot these days, usually referring to educators connecting to other educators through social media. But “connection” isn’t just about educator-to-educator development. Another imperative connection must be built: connecting educators to those who build education technology.
Edtech startups are hungry for feedback from educators. Even teacherpreneurs, with experience in a classroom need to feedback, as each teacher’s experience is unique. Teachers are hungry to know what’s working and what’s out there. Connections must be made between these two groups. Here are a few places for both educators and edtech entrepreneurs to begin connecting.
It can be as easy as sharing product development with teachers. For most teachers, product development is a bit of a mystery. Learning about this development process expands an educator’s thinking beyond simply understanding how a particular tool made it into the hands of educators—it can change teacher practice.
A lean methodology for developing solutions can work in a classroom just as well as it works in edtech companies: A teacher can decide to implement a new strategy, determine how to measure its success, implement, and then analyze the results by looking at formative assessments and/or student work. Then a teacher determines what worked, what didn’t, tweak, and then try the refined practice again. These entrepreneurial skills can make educators more effective. Entrepreneurs can start connecting and sharing how they do what they do.
If entrepreneurs do this more often, educators can provide more specific feedback to improve the product development process. For example, when piloting an entrepreneur can choose to be transparent, take the time to share the steps that led them to that point and what they’re hoping to do next.
Students and edtech startups should also connect. Entrepreneurs should ask students what they think. Student surveys can be useful in gathering broad feedback, but there’s something incredibly valuable about face-to-face conversations with students. They will give honest feedback (sometimes too honest!).
When educators find tools they love, they should shout it to the rooftops! With so many edtech tools emerging on the market, it is difficult for young startups with great solutions to rise above the noise. Teachers should share with other educators and edtech companies which products make them more effective.
How can they do this? When participating in Twitter chats or PD sessions, educators love to share tools that help with the issue under discussion. They can also present a tool at a school or district meeting or in a newsletter--teachers love short “tool of the week” demos. Educators can also write reviews (shameless plug here for interested educators to write Edsurge reviews). If an educator loves a product and contacts the entrepreneur, this exchange will likely lead to rich conversations. Most companies listen attentively to their teachers and administrators because they want their products to be more effective.
Entrepreneurs should also build tools into every aspect of their products to collect feedback on what’s working and what’s not. Educators are more likely to connect if the process is simple and immediately available when they experience the issue (and sometimes when they experience their delight!). Similarly, entrepreneurs should make it incredibly easy for educators to contact them on almost every page of their site. Companies should make it clear they want to hear from their users in any way possible
Entrepreneurs should also have systems in place for noting when their products are mentioned in social media. If a teacher recommends a tool on Twitter, for example, make sure that someone responds appreciatively and potentially engages that teacher in more meaningful ways.
Connections online can also help investors too. As more investors enter the edtech market, many don’t always know what the best products are, and some unfortunately aren’t even concerned with what helps students. There are notable exceptions, of course, particularly the stalwarts - like New Schools Venture Fund, ReThink Education, Kapor Capital, New Markets Venture Partners, Learn Capital, to name a few - who have been funding education innovation long before the recent market excitement. However, when investors ignore feedback from kids and educators some product development is funded that doesn’t solve real problems. Educator voices can support exceptional products drawing the attention of other educators who could benefit.
In the end, the focus should always be on students and learning. The more connected the edtech ecosystem is the more likely we’ll collectively create products and programs that help our schools and students. Increasingly there are more forums for educators to interact with one another, and there are communities of edtech entrepreneurs connecting as well. Now, all of these communities need to begin connecting to each other. When that happens, imagine the roof raising that will happen!