Is There Actually An Edtech Revolution?

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Great article by Edsurge today. It got me to thinking about this surge in Edtech, which I quite frankly love (as I am an edtech geek and love to find and use new tools). It not only got me thinking about the need for more teachers to be involved in Edtech (the industry definitely needs more teacher advisers) but also whether this Edtech revolution is actually going to last.

There is definitely a surge of Edtech coming out despite education being the “third rail” of the tech industry. With the difficulties determining who is going to pay for these services and how they actually work in the classroom, it can be difficult to determine whether the “next big thing” will actually be around in the next couple of years, just as teachers are beginning to make it a part of their daily teaching. The problem with who is going to pay for the services is often the biggest issue, with Edtech companies trying to reach the grassroots teachers and build momentum from there. While these teachers will use services they find online, actually converting them to paying users is so difficult that companies then try to move to the district level for payment of extended services. However, there is often a disconnect between the grassroots teachers and the administration or district level. At the higher levels, there is often a need for proof of ROI. This is often difficult to prove with online tools that just help the teacher with the day to day workings of their classroom. Case in point, Storybird.com is an amazing site where students can create books and stories that use illustrations by real illustrators. It’s beautiful, easy to use and creates books that students can be proud of and can be engaged in. It’s a great investment for the classroom teacher but could you actually prove that it helps with increasing student writing scores ? (Luckily they originally designed Storybird to be more of a family tool, their funding is multi-layered and not specifically contingent on teachers paying for the service). Districts are more likely to invest in companies and services like Accelerated Reader, which just got more funding from Google valuing it at $1B dollars and can “show” increases in reading scores (though they often kill the love of reading). This leaves the funding of these services to teachers who often sacrifice a portion of their pay to buying supplies and web services to the detriment of their take home pay. But there isn’t enough teacher slush money to pay for the Edtech revolution. Another case in point: Tynker.com. I started using this fantastic tool in the classroom to teach students coding as part of our computer lab time. After we went through the free offerings, I decided to look into how much it would cost for a subscription. Apparently, it would cost $50 per student for the year! After I expressed my in-credulousness, I was told that I could start a fundraising page to help fund students. I am not sure where or how they are getting teachers to pay this for a niche service, but I can’t see it lasting. Teachers don’t have that kind of money and districts are not going to pay money for something that does not align with their testing goals and vision.

Believe me, I want an Edtech revolution very badly. I want innovation and companies solving problems to help me inspire students, engage students and build content that is relevant. I want tech tools in my classroom that help make my job easier. I also believe that we need more teacherpreneurs out there with a real knowledge of the needs of education, whether as the creators of companies or advisers. But I also think we need to be realistic and speak truth to these Edtech companies. We need to ask them, “How are you going to meet the everyday needs but limited money of the teacher in the real classroom with the money power of school districts who want to see a real ROI in scores and achievement?”

Is the solution the non-profit organizations which are starting to pop up, like code.org and xtramath.org? I don’t know. But until that question is answered, I think we are still a long way off from seeing a revolution. A new, unprecedented interest in Edtech maybe, but not a revolution.

OPINION: Where are Educators in the Edtech Revolution?

Why veteran teachers are every bit as “agile” and “lean” as youthful startups

As the edtech world descends on Austin, Texas, for SXSWedu 2014, some teachers have the lingering feeling of being left out of this learning confab. Last year’s conference left a sour taste in some educators’ minds, as they noticed the convention lights shining brightly on entrepreneurs and companies, but only sporadically on daily classroom teachers.

At this year’s conference, for example, the marquee LAUNCHedu competition seeks to discover the next great learning innovation. The eligibility requirements for funding, however, require a significant amount of existing business structure that can be formidable for a current teacher with an inventive idea to meet. Also, out of the 126 impressive business, consulting, and higher education leaders on the SXSWedu Advisory Board, only a fraction of the members can be identified as current K-12 classroom teachers.

This perceived industry focus, whether real or imagined, contrasts to London’s Edtech Incubator, which actively targets teacherpreneurs. This organization’s goal is to allocate capital directly to ideas emerging from on-the-ground educators. Still, it is surprising to see some of its startups headed by former teachers or higher education personnel, rather than current K-12 classroom practitioners.

It’s worth noting that this week’s Fast Company cover story on the most Innovative Companies of 2014 features Charles Best, founder of DonorsChoose.org, who reveals that the success of his company is rooted in a principle “so simple it seems almost radical: Listen to the teachers.”

If it is true that the authentic input of master teachers is absent from much of the edtech revolution, then the question emerges: what are these teacher voices worth? In the $7.9 billion world of educational technology, some classroom educators worry that corporations are gathering input from industry consultants rather than tapping into the veteran experience of the very teachers who will utilize their apps.

One reason for this disconnect is the fact that individual classroom teachers rarely have purchasing power for expensive tech tools. Another possible explanation, however, is an industry bias that views younger teachers as more enthusiastic and tech savvy. Although beginning educators do bring idealism to the classroom, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future estimates that one-third of all new teachers leave after three years, and 46% are gone within five years.

We argue that those teachers who remain, who become master teachers, are actually just as–if not more–agile and “lean.” They have negotiated years of technological change and pedagogical reinvention. Veteran teachers most closely model the edtech entrepreneurs themselves, with their shared startup mentalities. These traits include adapting to a changing environment, often on a minute-by-minute basis, as well as inspiring a team with often-limited budgets.

The data shows that entrepreneurs are typically older than the youthful stereotype. In “Why Great Entrepreneurs Are Older Than You Realize,” Forbes contributor Krisztina Holly notes that,“Against all stereotypes, we found that the typical successful founder was 40 years old, with at least 6-10 years of industry experience. Twice as many successful entrepreneurs are more than 50 as under 25.”

The White House, too, recently announced a $100 million edtech initiative to redesign secondary schools as centers of innovation and career preparation. The question is not just how to marshal the funds and innovations of a digital generation, but how to tap the invaluable wells of experience and insight among master educators.

For our part, as full-time lifelong teachers, we are excited about attending our first SXSWedu. In many ways, however, this is not our first visit to the Austin extravaganza. Each year, we have followed the #SXSWedu backchannel on Twitter, as our Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) have been abuzz with thecorresponding excitement and debate. If it were not for the prohibitive cost, more teachers would no doubt attend as well. We are grateful, therefore, for the generous support from EdTechWomen, which has made this once-in-a-lifetime experience possible for us.

We encourage all of the veteran teachers out there to tweet #EduProud, to share the remarkable and innovative work they are doing in their classes with the larger edtech community. More importantly, we strongly suggest that entrepreneurs and startups follow the same hashtag, because the master teachers of America have great stories to tell. They are ready to partner in the next wave of edtech design and development.