Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Does EdTech Know How To Support Innovative Teachers?

Edtech entrepreneurs are all passionate about improving education for children, but are they passionate about collaborating with others - also passionate about improving education - to actually identify what each party can bring to the table to make that improvement happen?  Do they know what good teaching looks like, and do they understand what good teachers are trying to do?

Last month, I attended EduCon, a hyper-progressive education conference where teachers from around North America (Hi, Canada!) discussed supporting the development of empathy skills in content-area classrooms, breaking down “bell schedules” to give kids more freedom to explore and create, designing learning spaces to increase student ownership and belonging, how to increase teacher collaboration and make it more meaningful, and many other transformative topics in education.  Every workshop, session, and informal conversation I participated in at this conference flew in the face of the #edtech idea that technology can replace the teacher, and that kids can and should get universally-consistent, individually-adaptive, direct-from-the-screen training in specific skills.  The teachers attending EduCon with me want to push their students forward and raise the level of discourse within their classrooms from simple content regurgitation to global problem-solving, sustainable community-building, and knowledge creation.

Too many new “innovative” education technologies are - instead of supporting teachers in raising the level of discourse - repackaging old teaching methods into online forms that do indeed bypass old lecture-driven teachers.  But those aren’t the teachers who are going to be at the front lines of looking for new technologies to support their students’ learning.  Entrepreneurs who want to really break open education and improve outcomes for kids are going to be entrepreneurs who understand how to support ground-breaking pedagogy.

As an edtech entrepreneur, you can give yourself the quick test after the jump to see how far along you are in understanding innovative pedagogy and "21st Century Skills" :



  • Can you articulate what the organizers of EduCon meant when they said “technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around”?
  • Do you understand the difference between “formative assessment” and “summative assessment,” and how the use of the former is an indicator of a student-centered classroom?
  • Can you envision a classroom in which children are collaborating to identify patterns and create new knowledge, rather than researching and regurgitating existing knowledge?
  • Does your vision of technology in the classroom include supporting collaboration between children in the same class, in different classes, in different countries, and at different ages?

The need for a deep understanding of major breakthroughs in teaching/learning structures and practices is why some of the best education technologies I’ve seen come directly from teachers. ClipFolio was the winning app at Seattle StartupWeekend EDU in October 2012, and was the brainchild of brilliant teacher Mike Klein from High Tech High in San Diego.  ClipFolio supports teachers in capturing live student data via pictures, sound clips, and others, and in communicating to students what that data shows about the state of their understanding.  GoalBook is a web-based system that supports students and teachers in tracking progress on students’ goals – whether teacher-driven such as through an IEP program or individually-set goals by students.  (Quiz question #5: Do you know what an IEP is, and why supporting teachers in tracking IEP goals is so utterly useful?)  GoalBook’s academic advisors are a stellar team of special education experts who deeply understand the needs of special education teachers and of supporting students in increasing their independence through a goals process.

To create a product that will have great impact on a particular market, you have to understand that market deeply.  For a market as highly nuanced, as under astounding growth and change, and as controversial as education, you have to be prepared to take a stand on what you believe are the most effective techniques and structures for all children to learn.  If you create a product that supports digitized versions of traditional, ineffective teaching methods, then you are taking a stand that you believe in those methods.

I'll be attending (and presenting) at SXSWedu next month and - I have to admit - I'm nervous about sessions like "EdTech Entrepreneurs: Are They The Next Superheroes?" and discussions of how "standardization opens up the frontier for innovation."  I'm a member of LinkedIn groups like Ed Tech Start Ups and I see comments like "Teachers always ask for more PD and rarely use what they "learn" in those sessions" and "I agree that educators need to be involved on some level, but that should occur some time AFTER the concept has been formed, allowing them to think OUTSIDE their comfort zone."  I fear the edtech community's apparent desire to enforce consistently-applied technologies, in a throw-back to direct instruction, and I'm rather disgusted by some edtech entrepreneurs' beliefs that teachers don't use their products because they're lazy or just don't understand good teaching.

I know the creativity, innovation, and passion that exist in the edtech community.  I saw it at Startup Weekend EDU, I see it regularly at the Seattle EdTech Meetup and on twitter.  I hope that you will choose to support creative, innovative, passionate education methods, and develop technologies that will support teachers in bringing deeper learning experiences to those children we are so enthusiastic about educating.

Further reading for edtech entrepreneurs who want to deeply understand transformative pedagogy:
Why one teacher gave up "flipped instruction"
Why EdTech Is Not Radical Enough
How Do We Prepare Students for Jobs That Don’t Exist Yet?
InBloom “Key Scenarios” (This is an interesting step towards supporting entrepreneurs in understanding needs in the classroom, but could be expanded to include needs in the 21st Century classroom)
#21stedchat on Twitter

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