The idea of the meetup was to connect start-ups who are looking to create or refine their own education apps, games, etc. with researchers in the field. The conversation discussed the disconnect between educational research and the people who are working to create a product, as well as why using proven methodologies while developing a product can make all the difference. This makes sense, as the typical start-up does not necessarily have an internal understanding in educational pedagogues, developmental stages, and statistical data on what can create a successful learning experience for a user.
As one of the few teachers at the session, and possibly one of the only elementary classroom teachers in the trenches of directly teaching younger students, I was happy that this conversation had been initiated. Over the years, there have been many meaningless educational games, tools and apps out on the market. Let's face it - education is a big business and to be able to get your foot in the financial door can be be very lucrative. According to the US Department of Education, ed business generated $30 billion in domestic sales for product and services suppliers in 2011. It is also expected to grow over the long term, as U.S. student enrollments are projected to hit 58 million in 2021 compared to 55 million in 2010.
The first thing a teacher will evaluate or want to know when introducing a technology tool in the classroom is, what educational value will be gained from using this tool? Where is the evidence that this tool will assist in raising developmental understanding or achievement of my student? With the new Common Core and Next Gen Standards, there is a significant push to integrate and use technology more consistently in the classroom, so the critical lens on educational products is even more important these days.
What I realized during the discussion was the third link- the educator. It became apparent how little many people in the room knew of what life is like in the actual classroom for an educator and what learning looks like for a student. They are the third factor, and having one on the panel would have assisted in the conversation even more. I have been an elementary teacher for 11 years. Not once have I ever been approached by an educational researcher or company that was seeking information for use in a product, and cannot say that I know any other educator who has. Why is this? Educators by nature like to help. By reaching out to educators, a researcher or potential product could gain practical information to assist in the development of their product.
Another point was brought up that teachers now live in an age of rapid assessment. No longer is it acceptable to wait a month to find out whether a student is achieving expectations. Individualized intervention and instruction is also what every teacher tries to strive for in the classroom. Expectation to bring a child up to grade level (or to their respective next level) as soon as possible is high. Correctly using data collected on a child is mandatory. With today's technology, these goals are more doable. Understanding what this looks like could be of great value to businesses when creating their product.
The other point that was brought up was the lack of professional development and training, which unfortunately is common in many districts across the United States. Lack of time in the day, money, and general understanding of what good training can be is often the norm. Companies should take this into consideration when creating a product, as well as something to offer a school. Give them quality training for free, with follow up. Don't just do the 1.5 hour intro after school when teachers are burned out and leave it at that. Think, how can you support the teacher to successfully implement your product?
I enjoyed Gayl Allen's comment that many things are literally thrown at teachers and keeping up with everything that a teacher is tasked with is a constant challenge on a daily basis. This is absolutely true. I also liked her closing point that businesses should consider what they can "give" to an educator or school, not just "take" from them. Vendors constantly come to districts with the attitude of 'buy my awesome product,' often with ineffective follow up or training, if at all. It is, to say the least, annoying. If companies created a more partnership-like atmosphere, this would help, as the benefits help both parties. Share data and results you discover when working with a school. Follow up during the first year in a manner that makes a teacher's life easier, not harder.
And the reason Ms. Allen understands this? She was an educator for over a decade. If you have not been a direct educator, it is very difficult to understand the nature of our profession. If you do not have a former educator in your company, consider having one. Do not view educators as just another number for sales. Value educators for the experiential knowledge and insights they possess from being in the field that others don't have or can understand. Utilize the hard work researchers put into their studies. By establishing connections between researcher, start-up and educator, everyone wins.