Thursday, February 5, 2015

3 Things for #EdTech Startups to Think About

Last Saturday I attended Forward Thinking: Learning How to Achieve in the EdTech Space at General Assembly Los Angeles. The session, led by Vivy Chao, was great because of its collaborative structure. Vivy treated the session as a casual dialogue, even introducing it as an edtech coffee chat.

It is obvious that Vivy is a remarkable educator; she allowed the attendees to actually participate and drive the conversation. Small group activities and discussion produced a rich, shared experience. Multiple stakeholders, founders, teachers, and parents, learned from each other through collaboration and communication. We, the attendees, experienced different perspectives and viewpoints to take back to our various ventures and careers. From the interactions and thoughts of the group, I came away with three edtech takeaways.
1) Disconnect between entrepreneurs, engineers, and teachers: Great engineers make great software. Great entrepreneurs make great companies. Great teachers make great impact in the classroom. Here’s the rub - Engineers and entrepreneurs are not usually teachers, and teachers are not usually engineers or entrepreneurs. They are all each extremely important in their own domains, but do they get a chance to interact, to talk, to learn from each other? As Vivy said in the chat, “Do you edtech developers and startups know the daily life of a teacher, of a student?”

How can we get teachers, technologists, and entrepreneurs to work together? An amazing product, a real game-changer, will benefit from the amazing synergy of all stakeholders. All should work together in order to make a product that is a game-changer in the classroom. This will make real change.

2) Equality: I’ll go there because I think we have to. There are big time inequalities when it comes to technology access in schools. Whether it be infrastructure, devices, or curriculum, “teachers of low income students tend to report more obstacles to using educational technology effectively than their peers in more affluent schools (link).”

Who are edtech companies designing their products for? Are developers designing products to be used solely by those with easy access? Is edtech reinforcing vicious cycles that lead to the serious problems of digital divide and digital inequality? Can we creatively think of technologies that are accessible and relative to all students?

3) Pedagogy: No quantity of iPad purchases, cute flashcard apps, or behaviorist approaches to classroom management will truly transform classroom. This is my biggest pet peeve. It’s great your product is visually appealing. Some would argue (not me) that its fantastic kids can gain badges or score points. Bravo that you made an addictive product. Here’s the big question? Is it actually an innovative and disruptive way to increase student learning AND engagement?

Education publishers and mainstream edtech startups generally see technology as a way to make the status quo (lectures, standardized testing, behavorism) more efficient. They are focused on incrementally improving the instructional educational paradigm which leaves a vast number of students disengaged and disconnected from actual learning (i.e. sharing lectures on video, doesn’t necessarily make school more engaging). What is the educational theory behind your edtech project? What are the pedagogical foundations of your edtech technology? This matters.

Much thanks to the great people and companies I learned from @needcollegehelp, @YangCamp, @MOEO,

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