Got a coding app for kids? A parent-teacher communication tool? It could be the next classroom hit — or it could join the dozens of other duds that teachers don’t use. Edtech products come and go…which ones will be the stand-outs?
Believe it or not, a 2015 study found that 65 percent of student licenses for digital learning products go unused, with just 5 percent of education technology products meeting the goals set by product companies or school districts.
What happens when edtech purchases go untapped? Their creators miss out on valuable feedback, but the real losers are school districts and students. Unused products squander schools’ budgets while students miss out on serious tech-enhanced learning experiences.
What Do Teachers Want in an Edtech product?
Don’t build an edtech product destined to gather digital dust. Put yourself in the shoes of a teacher by asking a trio of common questions about your product:
1. Is this product useful to me and my students?
It’s tempting to design something that a younger you would have loved to use in school. But if teachers don’t find your product helpful, it isn’t going to see classroom use.Take a user-centered design strategy. Start by examining the needs, wants, and limitations of teachers and students. Don’t just do it from a distance, either. Talk to them in person and observe classes — that’s when you can witness challenges firsthand, ask questions, and discover whether your solution will find friends.Just look at Quill. The LearnLaunch Accelerator portfolio company made a point to introduce its web-based literacy tools and activities to teachers early in the process. “Within four months of launching, we were able to participate in a pilot test as part of the Literacy Courseware Challenge,” Quill’s founder, Peter Gault, said. “During this pilot, teachers made it clear that 10 minutes was the sweet spot for the time length of a single learning activity. This insight became a key aspect of our product and our future success.”
2. Has this product worked in other classrooms?
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but not every edtech product is piloted before being rolled out to the mass market. Red tape regularly kills classroom pilots, so consider partnering with an accelerator from the get-go.Edtech accelerators like Imagine K12 and Jefferson Education Accelerator offer guidance and, in most cases, investment, but they also serve as test beds for promising edtech products. The result? Shorter development cycles and validated products.
For example, Nitesh Goel, founder and CEO of the online collaboration tool Padlet, credits Imagine K12 for helping him validate his product and get it into classrooms. “They have connections with schools; they understand the U.S. education system and the industry,” he told EdSurge.
If you don’t have access to an accelerator, you’ll need to partner with an interested school district. Teachers want to see how the solution actually works. For their part, principals and administrators want to know that your tool will improve learning across schools.
Whichever route you choose, set benchmarks for your pilot. A recent study found that school officials and tech developers rarely set standards for judging the success of trial runs, and they often don’t have an effective process to obtain student and teacher feedback.
3. Is this product easy to implement?
If your product doesn’t fit into classrooms, teachers aren’t going to give it a go. “Edtech tools are easier to incorporate when we can see right away how they fit in with our curriculum or standards,” Stephanie Cullaj, an elementary educator in New York City, recently shared with Getting Smart. “If a tool is organized to fit with my curriculum, I am much more likely to incorporate it into my teaching.”
Beyond getting buy-in from teachers, think about how your product will work within schools. Not all tools plug into the same interfaces, and most classrooms weren’t built with modern technology in mind. It’s possible for some schools to adapt, but financial or technical limitations can make change a struggle.
Implementation means looking at the full picture. Adopted edtech products typically have a few things in common: They save schools money, don’t require face-to-face training, and are free or inexpensive for schools and teachers to use.
Still wondering whether your edtech product can cut it with teachers? Brush up on your knowledge about technology trends in the K-12 market. Edtech is constantly evolving. Understanding teachers’ changing needs is the only way to build something they truly want to use.
Do you have an edtech product you think would be a great benefit to educators? Comment below!