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Teachers and Ed-Tech Developers, Let's Meet

Ryan Kinser

After being wowed recently by a behind-the-scenes visit to aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, I implored teachers to help bridge the growing technology gap between their students and tomorrow's careers. Maybe I underplayed a bigger gap: the one between teachers and the tech world.

There are too many of us who fear technology, who believe sound pedagogy doesn't require it, or who complain we don't have time/energy/resources to implement it properly. For every one of these well-meaning teachers, there is a tech company that hasn't discovered what tools actually improve student learning or what insight teachers might add to their development efforts.

It's time to blur the line between teachers and ed-tech entrepreneurs, as this KQED Mindshift article suggests.

I propose that we meet in the middle. Teachers, let's get our hands dirty and offer our services to ed-tech companies, while publicly sharpening our own skills for students. Let's build relationships and see what innovation results from them.

There are win-wins. Teachers can help developers understand their curriculum needs, social networking wishes, and the objectives technology must help students meet. We can develop content, collect data from students, and provide real feedback on products. We can even outline district hierarchies to steer developers towards the decision makers.

Developers have plenty to offer teachers as well.

Consider these possible gains for teachers:

New skills. As a math teacher in my school remarked, "[Technology] is moving so fast. I hardly get through with a training before it's obsolete." Why wait for districts to train us? I've learned a lot from the private sector this year just by being a willing partner, including some fantastic nuts-and-bolts of computer programming in the Coding for GOOD competition.

Action research in your classroom. There's nothing wrong with signing up your students to be Guinea pigs. Engage them in the process. My students can't wait to interview the founders of coding start-up CodeHS. They were full of chatter after seeing a teacher avatar in StudyRoom. Any conversation between teacher and developer should have student data behind it.

Compensation. "Don't be afraid to get paid," I hear colleagues say more often these days. You are a professional offering an expert opinion, time, and perhaps even a testing ground. It's perfectly reasonable to charge for any services above and beyond your normal responsibilities.

Think about a company with whom you can partner or at least open a dialogue. Incubators like Y Combinator and Imagine K-12 can always use a bank of expert teachers as sounding boards for their start-ups. The latter's Educator Day is an event that brings them together for such a purpose.

Ask for an invitation to the next one. Let's get some conversations going. In my next post, I'll detail some successes that will show you the potential in these relationships.

Ryan Kinser is a Teacherpreneur at the Center for Teaching Quality and teaches English at Walker Middle Magnet School for International Studies in Tampa, Fla.

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