The edtech marketplace is booming, rife with bold ideas and exciting new ventures. The problem, though, is that too many ed-tech vendors and content creators develop their products in a vacuum, bypassing the very people they’re meant to serve: teachers and students. I’ve heard from plenty of educators who - while navigating the glut of classroom tech - have found many themselves less-than-satisfied with so much of what’s available.
In fact, I recently joined a Twitter chat with an amazing group of kindergarten teachers and asked how ed-tech providers can better reach educators like them. Their response? Talk to them, ask them their input and, most importantly, listen. It’s such obvious advice, but unfortunately, it goes unheeded far too often.
As someone who is passionate about the possibilities of technology in education, I wanted to share some of the ways we involved teachers in our product development, with the hope that more and more of my compatriots in the ed-tech space do the same. I also wanted to start a discussion to discover more ways to ensure we’re all delivering tools that teachers, students and parents both need and can use.
- Hire an educator consultant. Whether it is part-time or full-time, it is critical to have an actual teacher or teachers embedded in the team throughout the entire product process. Child development experts and frontline teachers can ensure every piece of content or activity is enriching, developmentally appropriate and, when necessary, standards-aligned. This doesn’t just apply to content creators; for products that are more platform-based, there needs to be someone in the room with first-hand teaching experience or opportunities will surely be missed.
- Not everything is on your time. Patience is important. In the fast-changing technology space, it’s an easy habit to rush, but being first doesn’t mean you’ll create a product with the potential to make a difference. Think your product is in “good enough” shape to release? You may be surprised how many bugs get through the beta stage. And there is no way any ed-tech developer, even with an educator consultant on staff, can account for all the weird quirks and nuances associated with classroom user experience. You should always pilot your product, and in as many diverse classrooms or schools as possible.
- Communication is key. Throughout the pilot, stay in constant communication, checking in and asking questions—not just specific to the product, but how the product is being used (how does it affect educators work flows and processes, do educators feel like they need more training, etc.). From content ideas to layout changes to desired features, the feedback from actual educators using the product in their classrooms will only make it better, stronger and more useful.
- Visit the frontlines. Speaking of classrooms, visits to actual schools give perhaps the most valuable insight of all. Are students engaged? Is the product easy for the teacher to use? What’s working? What’s not? There’s no better way to answer these questions than seeing the product used live and in person.
- Clicks count. The new reality of data collection is singularly the biggest game-changer for education in general, but it’s not just meant for measuring student progress. How educators are interacting with your product should be captured, analyzed, and leveraged to make it better. Keeping close tabs through analytics informs how you should optimize and evolve to reflect the needs of teachers, students and parents.
With the amount of time and money spent on product development, not bringing teachers in early and often means that, at best, you will have to spend additional production time and precious capital on the back end making adjustments. And at worst, you will have to head back to the drawing board altogether. Either way, it’s simply bad business not to include the end user in the design process.