Want to Build a Great Product? Talk to Teachers

Want to Build a Great Product? Talk to Teachers

By Rebecca Butler     Jun 18, 2014

Want to Build a Great Product? Talk to Teachers

As technology nudges (and barrels) its way into schools, it’s easy to argue the importance of putting the right tools in students’ hands. But what exactly makes a tool effective? How do we measure and scale success?

In the still-emerging edtech industry, educators and entrepreneurs alike are trying to answer those questions, often through pilot programs or efficacy trials. But the stress of experimenting with tools can be high for teachers who are already tight on time, and the cost of outreach to schools can be a stretch for young companies strapped for resources.

It’s with this problem in mind that EdSurge launched its Tech for Schools Summits in 2013. Already, EdSurge Summits have brought together two thousand educators and entrepreneurs to test edtech products and offer constructive feedback. Now, we’re taking Summits beyond the conference hall by creating Product Insight reports based on teacher feedback.

We share the feedback that we gather at those Summits in three ways: We share all the feedback with the companies so that they can hear directly from educators. We also put teachers’ comments on the product pages on our site so that everyone can get that feedback. (For instance, see their reviews of LearnBop here).

And now we’re weaving that feedback into other research we do on products and producing our “Product Insight” reports.

To start, we have focused on five popular math products: Conceptua Math, KnowRe, LearnBop, Motion Math, and TenMarks.

One strong trend to emerge is the focus on a “tutoring experience.” LearnBop, KnowRe and TenMarks, for example, strive to pinpoint the precise gaps in student knowledge by using adaptive algorithms. Products like theirs aim to do the detective work necessary for customized curricula, freeing teachers to focus on supporting understanding rather than identifying the problem. It’s a popular choice with teachers. Among 400 educators at recent EdSurge Summits, 81 percent said they’d be willing to pay for LearnBop, and 46 percent said they would use KnowRe in their classroom every day.

But there are other popular strategies that companies are using. Conceptua Math builds products meant to serve as the core curriculum, rather than as targeted intervention. Its product focuses intently on lesson order, and if a student struggles on questions, it’s the teacher who decides what kind of intervention to give – not the computer. When asked how easily the product could be incorporated into their classrooms, 82% of educators said they could “Use it tomorrow.”

Motion Math takes a third approach, aiming to let kids play with or experience a math concept before it is formally introduced. Educators we surveyed responded with enthusiasm to Motion Math’s high-quality graphics and visual learning cues.

“The presentation format is fun for kids and keeps them engaged,” wrote one kindergarten teacher. “Most students don’t realize they are practicing math. They think of the activity as a special game.”

In a sense, these differences in company approach mirror the ongoing pedagogical conversations in which educators are engaged: How do we hold students accountable to standards while fostering their innate curiosity? What is, and should be, the role of the teacher in a 21st century classroom? The answers will never be entirely clear-cut, and what works in one classroom won’t always work in another. But while there may not be one right type of product, any winning approach will include asking better questions, and more of them, to the educators tasked with putting these tools to use.

Looking ahead, we at EdSurge aim to create Insight Reports for many more subsets of edtech products. And we will continue to build our Edtech Index. (Did you know there are more than 900 products listed in our index? That includes more than 100 math products. Check it out!) And let us know what you need to know about the emerging world of edtech products.

Learn more about EdSurge operations, ethics and policies here. Learn more about EdSurge supporters here.

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