BEND IT LIKE A BETA: Beta trials matter tremendously to developers but they're tricky to do well in the edtech arena, at least according to a great team of educator and entrepreneur panelists convened by EdSurge at a SF Meetup. Representing the entrepreneurs were Alan Louie, cofounder of Imagine K12, and Mick Hewitt, cofounder and CEO of MasteryConnect in Utah. High school teachers Jack West (read his post here) and Benjamin Chun offered the educators' perspective. All agreed that edtech is not quite ready for a "bill of rights" surrounding beta testing: instead, "terms of engagement" might be a better way to capture how developers and teachers should approach one another:
- Respect: (Duh!) A great way to start building a relationship is to go out to lunch. Small tokens of appreciation (Jamba Juice or Starbucks cards) also go a long way.
- Be open: Teachers would appreciate hearing more about how the company plans to develop the product (including its business plan or eventual price). If the company doesn't have those plans clearly laid out yet, then share that point. Bottom line: avoid "hidden strings." Don't plan to slap on big price tags without giving teachers a heads up.
- Context context context: Both teachers and developers need to share what they hope to do--and what they expect. For instance, teachers: how frequently can you use the product? With how many kids? What kind of feedback can you realistically provide? Developers: how do you expect the product will be used? How quickly can you answer or resolve problems for a teacher?
- Feet in the field: Companies would welcome a chance to observe teachers using the products. One teacher also spoke up saying she would welcome companies coming in and demonstrating the product in class--but none ever have. Simply showing the teacher how it works 'outside" of the classroom isn't very effective.
- Making your trial size "just right": Companies should think hard about how many teachers they should have in a trial. Too many teachers may result in so much feedback that it would swamp a young company.
- Make it a threesome: Consider inviting a third party to "facilitate" the relationship: great candidates could be independent researchers that can evaluate the effectiveness of the program.
- Where to start? Companies can find interested teachers to participate in trials either by going directly to teachers or through a principal. Charters and private schools have more flexibility than public schools, but don't ignore the public schools because they're a huge part of the market.
Got opinions on betas? The mike's still open.