Teachers, the Education Technology Industry Needs Your Help

In March, EdSurge published an article about their experience at the SXSW conference in Texas. Educational technology (edtech) entrepreneurs came from far and wide to discuss the latest in edtech, but if you check the advisory board, only a handful identify themselves as K-12 educators. The SXSW competition for new companies, LAUNCHedu, was geared toward “visionaries” in education. However, to qualify, applicants must have an existing company in the education market. How many teachers do you know have enough time to launch a company?

Now, enter the billions of dollars being pumped into edtech. As the sector continues to swell, we have a growing disconnect in education technology: too many techies, not enough teachers.

Only recently has the high level of sophisticated engineering been applied to the education sector. And engineers—god love them—are a pragmatic bunch. They are working to get from point A to point B as efficiently as possible, and they’re the best at it. However, teaching is a highly emotional undertaking, so while the product that engineers designed may work flawlessly, it may not be the user experience that teachers are looking for. The classroom is not a vacuum.

To compound the situation, teachers aren’t usually the ones doing the large scale buying. They’re not the ones choosing. They’re not the ones making the final call. Recently, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation published a report called Teachers Know Best. Surveying more than 3 thousand teachers, the foundation came to a statistically-backed conclusion that teachers must have a voice in education. Their most notable discovery was that when teachers were given the opportunity to select their digital classroom tools, they reported them as much more effective. When teachers are the ones choosing, they are finding the tools are more effective than the ones they aren’t choosing.

For any undertaking to go well, the key is communication. The Gates Foundation made a good move to make this information available, but it’s just information. Maybe edtech companies can use it to pivot their product, or maybe it will fuel a new feature for an existing tool, but what this report should really be is a wakeup call to the entire industry.

We must incorporate teachers into the development of edtech, and not just as beta testers. Ask them what they need. Find out what functionality works for them. Because what seems ideal on the developer’s end can make no sense on the user end.  And while user experience isn’t a priority unique to education technology, education is unique in that a teacher’s first priority is educating the students in his/her classroom, not ensuring that the next edtech startup is getting it right.

Our solution at Gradeable is to build a team around teachers. That way, we have the voice of classroom warriors at each turn. But that’s still not enough. We are constantly asking for feedback, looking for ways to make a teacher’s job less painful. We’ve still got a long way to go, and we need teachers. Our company was created for the sole reason to better education, and we’re not alone. So teachers, on behalf of everyone in edtech, we need your help.

We are constantly improving our product to suit the needs to teachers. Find out more at www.gradeable.com.

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