Education and entrepreneurship don’t always align. However, when they do, the results in the classroom can have a tremendous impact on students. I’ve spoken with hundreds of edtech entrepreneurs, and quite often, there is a disconnect between what the entrepreneur thinks is best for students or teachers versus the reality of a classroom.
In this article, which will be a short series, teachers, superintendents and support staff from public schools around the country share their insights based on the following questions:
- Why some teachers are afraid of technology
- Best advice for entrepreneurs who want to go into education technology
- What catches a teacher’s eye for a prospective product
This article has been edited and condensed for reading purposes.
We begin with commentary and advice from five educators and leaders who work within public schools. Next week, we’ll continue with this series with more information, guidance and best recommendations.
Advice And Guidance From The Field
On Technology Resistance: Dr. Philip W. V. Hickman, Superintendent states, “I believe teachers resist technology because right now it’s an add on. Currently, founders design technology outside of the classroom and we are expected to implement it inside the classroom.
This disconnect can cause an instructional design flaw that is not intuitive for teachers. The rollout, buy-in, and on-boarding process are not smooth.
The way the building team or leader rolls out the technology, the way the teachers are on-boarded, and the lack of teacher support is not consistent with change and implementation theory. The other problem is alignment to the standards. Finally, training can be short, or the company only provides professional development one time.”
All of these factors contribute to a teacher’s resistance to technology.
Best Advice For Entrepreneurs: My best advice is to know my data, and tie your pitch to my school’s specific needs.
Catching An Educator’s Eye: I visualize my students using the technology.
On Technology Resistance: Rich Baxter, 7th-grade educator says, “To use technology effectively, schools need to be places of innovation, and they are not designed to be so. So how can we expect teachers and students to use technology in productive ways? Our prime minister says Ontario classrooms are an environment that is generally hostile to teachers, so why would a teacher want to exacerbate that situation by innovating with technology?”
Best Advice For Entrepreneurs: Entrepreneurs who want to have an impact on student learning in a financially and socially meaningful way should spend resources marketing solutions directly to learners or their parents. We are facing a 69 million global teacher shortage by 2030.
The education space is not where the future is headed, and if we continue to use the term edtech, I think that’s where we are getting stuck.
Switch the term to learntech and market directly to the consumer – especially youth who are not and will not be served by our crisis-ridden education systems (with a few global exceptions) – and now an entirely new market of learners opens up. Global education and global learning to me are not the same things.
Global education is systemic, but global learning is personal, meaningful, and fulfilling, and the hope for our future survival and prosperity. But the [r]evolution must come from within us, with the humbling realization and the responsible acceptance that half the world’s population is carrying with them in their pockets in the form of mobile devices, the solution to all our global crises, and the other half is not.
I have been teaching for 25 years and have been innovating in my classroom for most of that time. My classroom went paperless around 2012 and technology hasn’t changed all that much since then. I espouse a hybrid approach that includes tasks that have both an analog side to their digital side – and this comes back to arts education, which is by nature technical.
Technology helps when students are encouraged to produce the media they also tend to consume. For example, they learn about dance by creating dance. They learn how to draw by drawing. They learn how to write by writing. They learn about video production by producing videos. Technology has to support and help implement those acts of creation, and I think a lot of the technology that was created years ago still isn’t being used properly now.
Catching An Educator’s Eye: I am interested in edtech products that help learners realize their creative visions mainly through arts or entrepreneurship practice, which by nature are technical endeavors, but the technology doesn’t always equate to digital, and there should always be hybrid solutions available to learners. So as entrepreneurs do we invest money and time creating new technology or do we invest by creating awareness of how to use the technology that already exists? I advocate for creating awareness and giving hope so that people know that they can learn – and I don’t think you need education systems to achieve this goal.
On Technology Resistance: Ava, Teacher for TK-2 Special Day Class, tells me, “I believe there are certainly issues surrounding the average age of teachers ticking upwards, lack of informative professional development, and cost — the usual suspects. However, as a fairly technologically literate young teacher, I still found myself opting out of technology in my classroom because of the lack of accessibility. There are amazing programs out there for general education students. Early elementary special ed students? Almost nothing.”
Best Advice For Entrepreneurs: Programs need to have options for accommodations and modifications, just like a regular pencil or paper curriculum. Students with special needs deserve access to the amazing opportunities edtech can provide, but for that to happen, teachers need to be able to adapt programming to best fit the needs of their students.
Catching An Educator’s Eye: Accommodations! Can text be read aloud instead of reading off of a book or computer? Are there embedded manipulatives? Can I customize the rigor? Does the program take into consideration common IEP goals and accommodations? Can the program provide high-interest age-appropriate materials at low skill levels?
On Technology Resistance: Mary Ann, 8th-grade science educator says, “Of all the professional development offered, technology is hardly ever an option because teachers do not need it for re-certification.
Teachers entering the field have a great working knowledge of the technology of their time but can not keep up with changes unless they spend their own time and money, which can be a challenge. Also, the jury is still out for many of us on the balance between screen time and developmental appropriateness. Just as one report comes out to link higher learning to access to technology, we get information about young children experiencing repetitive stress syndrome from keyboarding and eyestrain.
Unless the school has a good oversight management tool, students are often on different tabs and off task unless strictly monitored. Otherwise, teachers prefer using projected information off of their own computer to cut down distractions.
We understand that technology is the future, but there has been research done on the efficacy of online textbooks and reading comprehension. If we are headed for an all-digital world, our kinesiology and mental processing will need time to adjust.
Teachers understand the benefits of multi-modality. Computer text, simulations, audio, and videos are only part of the way children can learn. There is still value to pencil and paper tasks. Also, computer work tends to isolate children and can decrease interaction in the class.
Teachers know that there is still a gap in the have and have-nots in their student body. We also experience network glitches, so we need technical support for computer-based activities.”
Best Advice For Entrepreneurs: Make sure you have done your research on the district, state curriculum and standards so that anything we try already is compatible with what we are doing. Also, your products should have a short learning curve because chances are the teacher will be using his or her personal time and money to learn and implement your materials. Finally, do not give us 100% Internet bases materials – our access varies dramatically.
Catching An Educator’s Eye: Software that is meaningful, helpful, and easy to learn that connects to our curriculum catches my eye. The software should also be easy to manipulate.
On Technology Resistance: Nathalie, 6th-12 grade level educator says, “I think some teachers resist technology because it’s ‘one more thing’ added to their already full plates. Teachers are asked to take on new initiatives, join committees, contribute to a task-force, or help with extra duties every year. Many teachers are tech-savvy and will use the applications or systems that come naturally without great effort to understand (since we do not have much time or energy left).
I know for myself, I need to take five college classes sometime in the next four years to keep my certification. I don’t have a lot of extra time. If I’m going to adopt a new technology application or program, then it better be worth my time and attention and not just technology for technology’s sake.”
Best Advice For Entrepreneurs: I believe in working smarter and not harder. Help me do my job better with less upfront investment. Be clear with exactly how much time it will take to learn something. And, communicate how much extra screen time your product or service will require because more screen time doesn’t necessarily mean better educational outcomes for students.
Many parents are acutely aware of the impact of screen time on developing minds. Additionally, education technology entrepreneurs need to understand that many public and parochial schools are under-resourced.
Many schools may not have enough laptops for teachers to use, or we have laptops that are five years old, and don’t work well. Some public schools, like here in Washington, have large class sizes so classrooms may only have one half-full laptop cart of 15. This provides for two to three students per laptop in a class of 32-40 kids.
Stay tuned next week for more secrets from the field.