As a former teacher and edtech sales and marketing consultant, I’ve been on both sides of the table. Teachers want to innovate, but not at too high of a cost. Edtech producers want to help educators, but don’t always know how to help or get out of their offices and into classrooms.
After years of listening to teachers’ technology needs and quibbles, and seeing countless promising edtech solutions fizzle without helping any students or teachers, I’ve noticed some common threads. As I strategize with emerging edtech companies on their launches from the minds of creators into the hands of educators, I keep several truisms in mind.
1. Teachers are busy. Product design is always key, but intuitive design is even more important for teachers, who will not be willing to spend much time learning a complicated new tool. Likely, they have been creating many of their own resources for years, so would prefer to continue with existing practices unless your offer is a clear time saver and improvement. Furthermore, while teachers know they shouldn’t “reinvent the wheel” by creating lesson plans and materials that already exist, the freedom to tailor a lesson and materials is too tempting to give up. If an edtech product wants to be appealing to educators, it should empower teachers with elements of control and individualization for their specific students and teaching styles.
2. No educator works in a bubble. School administrators are pushing requirements on teachers. District administrators are policing school administrators. State school boards are breathing down the necks of district administrators. (You get the point.)
Given this chain of oversight, a teacher can’t always implement a tool into her classroom simply because she likes it. For example, it may have to align to Common Core Standards, provide test prep for an upcoming state test or avoid test prep--if that’s the mandate. In order to succeed in this diverse and sometimes confusing landscape, developers and marketers need to know the lay of the land intimately and understand how their products can seamlessly integrate. Teachers and administrators want explicit explanations of how a new product will work for them and comply with the requirements coming from higher up.
3. Many teachers are resistant to technology in their classrooms--and it’s not only the veterans who have decades of established teaching methods and experience. People are generally resistant to change, so no one is too surprised when experienced teachers wanted to stick to their paper-and-pencil methods.
We expect that the new generation of teachers, who have grown up with technology, will lead the school-tech-integration charge. Less experienced teachers don’t necessarily have teaching systems to which they’re strongly wedded, and generally they’re comfortable with technology and use it in their daily lives. However, in recent years, I’ve seen edtech resistance spread to these newer teachers for different reasons than those of their more seasoned colleagues. Integrating technology into their classes can still feel daunting for a few reasons. First, many worry that their tenuous classroom management will devolve in the new setting of a computer lab or with the excitement of iPads or laptops in their classes. Similarly, they worry that kids will scroll through Instagram instead of actually working on a task online. To avoid these problems, edtech creators are challenged to create a product that’s both educational but also gives students a compelling experience that they won’t want to browse away from.
4. At this point, edtech products have become ubiquitous. Educators are finding the market oversaturated and their choices overwhelming. This model makes it hard for a new product, even a great one, to get noticed. When I talk to teachers and ask them about a given popular product, I used to be surprised when they would tell me they hadn’t heard of it. Now I realize that they are being bombarded with so many free trials and market research studies that they sometimes ignore all edtech resources--essentially throwing away the baby with the bathwater.
I don’t have an answer for how to un-saturate the market, but I do think the best products for teachers and students will rise to the top. Teachers hear about new tools they’re willing to try from recommendations of teachers they know and trust. This means that if you have a high quality product and can get it into the hands of a small group of talkative teachers, you have a chance at success.
5. President Obama is in the process of closing the technology gap, but it’s not closed yet. Many schools still lag behind in access to laptops, tablets and even reliable internet. Edtech is a hard sell to a school without basic connectivity. As educators and edtech creators, it’s crucial that we continue to advocate for the need to bring students and their instruction into the 21st century, to truly prepare them for the world that awaits them.