How Edtech Companies Are Getting a Foothold in the Classroom
No matter the product, edtech entrepreneurs share one bottom-line goal: sell their stuff. But how can they begin to build the trust and relationships that are crucial to product development and student success?
An answer to that lies in the partnerships between companies and the schools they sell to. At this year’s Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando, Fla., companies ranging from robotics to assessment tools showed up to share how they plan to bridge this gap. Here are some of the ways edtech companies say they are working with educators to create—and sell—products that succeed in the marketplace and the classroom.
To better prepare educators for a new edtech product, several companies have introduced ambassador programs. Ambassadors, who are often teachers, provide a direct line of connection between an edtech company and a school by supplying educators with opportunities to try out products in the classroom or at events. Ambassadors also serve as product advocates by facilitating professional learning at events throughout the country and around the world.
An example of this is Nearpod’s PioNear program, which recently met in Austin, Texas to learn about the company’s live instruction technology tools. PioNears are educators and edtech leaders who represent Nearpod at conferences, trainings and other events across the country. They provide insights, tips and stories of classroom product implementation to those curious about the company. In return, Nearpod pays PioNears and provides financial support to attend events.
“As a Nearpod PioNear, I've had the opportunity to connect with teachers who are also big fans of this powerful instructional tool,” says Monica Burns, a Nearpod PioNear. “One of the highlights of this year was spending a weekend at a summit for PioNears where we learned about new features and teachers shared strategies for using Nearpod's new virtual reality lessons."
FlipGrid is another edtech company trying out the ambassador approach. Unlike Nearpod, where ambassadors apply for the role, FlipGrid selects educators who are champions of their product in their own K-12 institutions and influential experts in the field. But their service to educators and the company is the same: FlipGrid ambassadors help other educators get to know the tools, and provide useful feedback to the company.
Early this year, following suggestions made by ambassadors, the company developed FlipGrid One to address the need of teachers who could not afford the product. The new tool allows teachers to now use FlipGrid in a classroom without committing to the company’s more expensive full version.
Company CEO Jim Leslie says the feedback his company has received through its ambassador program has been an important factor in FlipGrid’s successes—such as 800 percent year-over-year growth in new teacher accounts, which the company experienced in January.
Free Versions and Trial Subscriptions
A more common way that edtech companies work with schools is by offering test runs or pilot programs that allow a school or educator to try out a product before purchasing it. Bulb, a digital portfolio provider for districts, teachers and students, follows this model by offering teachers a 30-day trial of their product.
During the test period, teachers are able to create their own “bulb” (what the company calls its digital portfolios). This allows teachers experience the tool, try out its features and better understand its potential use in the classroom.
Trial subscriptions aren’t only helpful for teachers who might be unsure about buying a new tool. In bulb’s case, it was helpful for the company, too. In a six month period last year, bulb’s user base increased from less than 20,000 educators to more than 250,000. Ed Gillispie, chief operating officer at bulb, links the company’s growth directly to educators having the opportunity to experience the app with a free trial subscription. In addition, he says the amount of user feedback the company can gain from free versions has helped the company adapt and respond to educators’ needs.
Providing Classrooms with Content to Turn Edtech Into Reality
There’s a lot of excitement these around gadgets like drones, 3D printers and robots. What often goes overlooked, however, is the need to pair innovative hardware with curriculum that teachers can use in the classroom.
One edtech company that saw this demand early-on and has since bundled its product with classroom curriculum is Dremel, which sells in-home and in-school 3D printers. The Dremel Dream package offers STEM curriculum for grades K-12 along with 10 different design challenges like pencil catapults and reusable emergency water filters.
In addition, Dremel has partnered with MyStemKits, which provides instructional curriculum for 3D-printable parts. MyStemKits pairs physical models with curriculum to support learning for a range of content from biology lessons on blood types and DNA to physics lessons on rocketry and ramps. The curriculum includes teacher guides with learning objectives, guiding questions, best practices, student handouts, and assessments.
By providing curriculum and lesson plans with an edtech product, companies like Dremel offer teachers support to better implement the product in the classroom.