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For Ed Tech to Be Successful, 'It Has to Come From Teachers'

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In a recent article, an Economist reporter wrote that "to succeed, ed tech must be at the service of teaching, not the other way around." 

Perhaps that's why so many educational technology products and websites are created by former and current teachers. The popular CommonLit, which offers free literacy resources for teachers, was created after founder Michelle Brown taught in a district without access to resources to teach her students to read and write. Two former teachers founded BetterLesson, a personalized virtual coaching program for teachers. LearnZillion, a website with common-core-aligned resources created by teachers, was also founded by two former teachers. 

In addition, more and more ed-tech companies are incorporating teacher input before their products even hit the market. 

In a blog post for EdWeek's Market Brief, Dave Meyers, the CEO and co-founder of ed-tech company TeachersConnect, an upcoming resource-sharing website that fosters collaboration among teachers, wrote that educator input is "non-negotiable." Incorporating teacher voice in the early stage of product design has made it so the company's team of teacher advisers feels comfortable speaking up when the product looks like "we don't 'get them,'" he wrote. 

For example, ClassDojo, a classroom app which lets teachers communicate with students and parents and give points to students for various skills, continuously seeks teacher input in its products. Developers visit classrooms to see where ClassDojo could fill a need and have conversations with teachers to hear their wish list and likes and dislikes about the app. 

Stephanie Smith, a former 4th grade teacher in Tennessee who is starting a new role as an instructional technology coach, said she's been involved in offering feedback to ClassDojo since the beginning: "I have a big mouth, and I'm not afraid to use it," she said. 

ClassDojo recently released a toolkit with different apps teachers can use on a daily basis in their classroom, including a place to display classroom directions, a tool to do "think-pair-share" with students, and a random student generator. The company released the apps to the toolkit to about 50 teachers, including Smith, ahead of time. 

Smith liked the noise meter and timer apps in the toolkit, but she told ClassDojo that she wanted to be able to use them simultaneously. "It was a pain to have to go to different webpages and control it all from my phone," she said. "[The toolkit] saves precious seconds."

Another tool, "groupmaker," allows teachers to randomly generate groups of two or four students. That was motivated by talking to teachers and hearing how much they like having students work in small groups, said Amy Kerman, a product lead at ClassDojo. 

But in the pilot phase of the toolkit, the teachers reported that the app was missing something—they wanted the ability to indicate that certain students shouldn't be working together. 

"That was something we wouldn't have thought of on our own," Kerman said, adding that the developers were able to incorporate that feature into the app before its launch.

This approach, she said, is "right in line with how I like to do it—when you don't sit in your office and come up with good ideas on your own, but you actually get out of the office and talk to the people using the products, and use that as a source of inspiration." 

And, for obvious reasons, teachers tend to value having their input be included in what they are asked to implement in the classroom—we've written before about how teacher-made lessons and curriculum have some early indications of success in Louisiana. 

Smith said she is often handed down a new product from the district and thinks "this would make so much more sense if they put this here or this there, but they didn't ask me, so..."

For ed tech to be truly successful, she said, "it has to come from teachers and what the teachers are doing." 

Image by Getty

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