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Leadership Insights

Why Educators’ Voices are Essential to EdTech Innovation

By Jennifer Gunn October 9, 2018

SmartBoards, iPads, Google Classroom, and 3D printers — these are just some of the tools found in classrooms today. Gone are the days of clunky overhead projectors, transparencies, heavy textbooks, and loose-leaf notebooks. “Edtech,” short for educational technology, is a booming industry with seemingly endless new apps and products hitting the market each year, promising to enhance learning and improve teaching.

While edtech designers and classroom educators may sometimes be one and the same — or at least collaborators — much of the time designers and educators are not all that connected. Educators often bemoan the abundance of apps and products that do little to solve problems in the classroom. Schools order new products that sometimes end up sitting in storage, unused because they don’t really suit the specific needs of that learning community. Edtech companies must make it a priority to integrate educators and students into the ideation and design process to ensure that the learning tools of the future truly meet the needs of their users.

Become an Edtech Advisor

Educators can get connected and share their honest thoughts with edtech designers, creators, and other users. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) launched its Edtech Advisor platform in June of 2018. “ISTE Edtech Advisor, available free to all ISTE members, will allow educators to confidently find and share information about the tech tools they use, discover new tools and apps, and access reviews, ratings, and input from a trusted community of tech-savvy educators,” ISTE says. This platform makes it possible to thoroughly research educational technology tools before purchasing them for students. “Educators count on peer feedback when selecting edtech tools, but it can be difficult to secure reliable recommendations. Edtech Advisor, powered by LearnPlatform, with a database of over 5,000 tools, allows ISTE members to access detailed reviews and feedback from peers.”

An inclusive design process

Innovation can come from anywhere. While tech developers may discover an exciting new way to learn or teach, educators need a voice in the design process. “I have not met an Edtech person who hasn’t asked for feedback,” says Brian Aspinall, author of Code Breaker: Increase Creativity, Remix Assessment, and Develop a Class of Coder Ninjas! “Tech companies that do not listen, do not last and those who are successful know this. In a world that changes overnight, the only strategy guaranteed to fail is for someone to not listen to those changes, especially in education.”

Kahoot, an interactive game tool that has amassed a whopping 1.6 billion players since its launch, makes learning competitive and exciting. Students across the world recognize the sound of that catchy Kahoot music, and eagerly whip out their devices to get in the game. Teachers and students can create a game for any subject and in any language. It can be tailored to fit different learning objectives and is used worldwide.

“Leaving educators out of the [design] process runs the risk of developing edtech products that lack empathy, are unintuitive, overly complicated, or worse, simply can’t be validated,” says Daniella Latham, U.S. Marketing Manager of Kahoot. “It runs the risk of creating a product as a ‘solution’ when the problem or challenge is not really understood. Teachers can’t afford to waste time trying to force a product to work in their classroom, nor do they want to spend time undertaking technical troubleshooting. The logic is clear. Edtech design must be in touch with its users, responsive to their needs, and flexible in its design.

Technology shifts classroom boundaries

Technology itself has moved the boundaries once surrounding in-school learning. “Tech design can influence and change classroom practices,” says Latham. “For example, the use of mobile devices in a classroom means students don’t necessarily need to be sitting at a desk, as is the traditional classroom setup. Robotics and coding programs mean students have the ability to learn in different ways, or can actively learn by doing. Project-based learning or game-based learning software and apps facilitate interaction and discussion, rather than just having the teacher’s voice heard in the room, as was the traditional model.”

Concordia University-Portland’s MEd in Educational Technology Leadership features a course called “Research in Educational Technology,” which is designed to prepare candidates to implement and support educators as they select current research-based best practices in educational technology. MEd candidates are able to incorporate those strategies into their own practice. Now that’s progressive. The market is moving so fast that school leaders must learn to become truly savvy about the tech needs of teachers and students and where to invest.

Technology’s existence alone drives change; the past 20 years of rapid tech expansion demonstrates that. So, in a world where tech developers, designers, learners, educators, and thinkers come together to surface needs, generate ideas, and design solutions, the potential impact of learning technology could be truly extensive and positive.

Jennifer L.M. Gunn spent 10 years in newspaper and magazine publishing before moving to public education. She is a curriculum designer, a teaching coach, and high school educator in New York City. She is also co-founder of the annual EDxEDNYC Education Conference for teacher-led innovation and regularly presents at conferences on the topics of adolescent literacy, leadership, and education innovation.

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