What Teachers Think: Feedback on Edtech Tools from Coast to Coast

What Teachers Think: Feedback on Edtech Tools from Coast to Coast

Educator gives feedback to BrightLoop founder Molly Levitt at EdSurge's Seattle Summit. / EdSurge

In 2014, EdSurge planned, hosted, and orchestrated six Summits, from Baltimore to Seattle, St. Louis to Los Angeles, to Nashville and back home to Silicon Valley. Along the way, educators gave thousands of suggestions to hundreds of edtech companies about their products.

Pivotal Educator Feedback

“Bringing feedback from the teachers to the people building the product makes a world of difference,” explains Scott Freschet of ActivelyLearn, which attended all six of EdSurge’s 2014 Summits. “Doing edtech right is really about building relationships with educators and becoming long-term partners, and summits are an incredible speed-dating experience.”

Those dates often inform product development. “I think often, teachers don’t know how much companies value their feedback,” Jacob Klein, CEO of MotionMath, tells EdSurge. “It’s indispensable.” Klein explains that MotionMath has used educator feedback from EdSurge Summits to directly inform product changes. “After talking to a teacher about how they were expanding game use in their classroom through follow-up questions to students, we’re incorporating that into lesson plans that we’re writing around our games.”

“Both quick, casual conversations of feedback on user interface and more particular nitty-gritty questions from teachers who we talk to a month later” have led to strategy changes at Zeal, according to Academic and Student Engagement Lead Katelin Williams. “After hearing teacher concerns from the LA, Seattle and Silicon Valley feedback, we’re now pivoting to really focus on assessment.”

Educators agree about the central importance of teacher feedback in product development. “These [products] are geared towards teachers,” explains Tim Jones, who teaches fourth grade at Brentwood Academy in East Palo Alto, California. “And smart companies will appreciate that the only way to be successful is to really talk to the teacher audience.”

So, what feedback have teachers consistently given to companies? Here are a few tips for education entrepreneurs.

Easy Implementation

Many educators praised products with intuitive, quick implementation processes--and offered constructive criticism to those that were more time-intensive. “Teachers don’t want to spend a lot of time signing up their classroom, so that needs to be easy,” says Jones.

For many teachers, easy differentiation was also key. Suzanne Jackson, technology librarian at Oakville High School in Mehlville, Missouri, wrote about Otus: “‘Bonus features include ability to differentiate, make collaboration groups, and easily customize all the features. You can tell a teacher had a hand in designing this!”

Fostering Student Creativity

Educators also stressed the value of enabling students to be creative, rather than assigning rote tasks. Lisa DeLapo, the district technology coach at Lafayette School District in Lafayette, California, found what she was looking for at the Silicon Valley Summit in the online course creator, Versal. “When they showed me how students could use it, that was mind-blowing,” she explains. “It isn’t a skill-and-drill app, but more about a student being creative in their process of thinking and explaining things.”

Many educators saw an opportunity for more student creativity through games. “It would be neat if brain breaks and intervention games/video were automatically part of the learning process,” wrote Jill Erlandson, a second grade teacher at Liberty Elementary in Baltimore. “This might make students look forward to homework.” As Jake Elmore, a teacher’s aide at Principia College in Los Angeles, wrote about math role-playing game Prodigy, “Students spend so much time playing video games--why not have them play one that will truly benefit them!”

Don’t Skimp on Design

While educators did value utility in the classroom, they also extolled tools that would be a pleasure to use based on looks and feel--both for themselves and for their students. “It is visually engaging as well as motivating, so that while the concepts may be hard for some students, they will stay engaged in the game which will make learning the concepts easier,” wrote Dawn Yost, a teacher in Baltimore City Public Schools, about Cyber STEM Academy.

Especially for teachers of younger students, an appealing interface was pivotal. “The ease of use and the graphic designs are incredible,” wrote Glory Wilson, who teaches kindergarten at Stevens Elementary School in Seattle, about BrainPOP. “It is exciting and it reaches all levels of learning. Impressive.”

Give Feedback to Teachers

Many educators wanted understandable, consistent feedback on student performance from the tools they reviewed. “Its biggest strength is the ability to do interactive quizzing within the lesson,” wrote Jackson about communication platform Pear Deck. “It appeared to be a quick way to check for understanding and, since it is tech-based, not as burdensome as exit slips and other paper-based methods.”

For many, the importance of feedback was especially important for tools that students could use independently, like literacy tools. As April Busch, who teaches English at Friday Harbor High School in Friday Harbor, Washington wrote about Curriculet, “[It] provides ability to interact with student questions and comments on text, [and] allows me to see metacognitive, self-reflective process while students are reading.”

Customizable Options

Other educators looked for easy access to tool customization. Elizabeth McNeilly, who teaches English at Franklin High School in Baltimore, loved this aspect of Curriculet. “I can see what students don’t understand, so we can discuss it more in depth in class--and we can also include questions to prepare them for their ‘embedded assessments’ or projects,” she explained in her feedback.

Educators found customization especially appealing when combined with Common Core State Standard preparation. “ Edulastic provides valuable new curriculum in sync with Common Core, helping teachers get up to speed with the new requirements,” wrote Sheri Obr, a teacher at Liberty Elementary School in Riverside, California. “It also helps customize lessons for individual students in a way that is difficult to do otherwise.”

For more teacher feedback, check out reviews on our EdSurge Edtech Index. And for specific feedback on your product, apply for our 2015 Summits!

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