Sometimes the technology narrative isn’t taking into account the specificities of the powerful experience of learning. As Frank Catalano wrote it in 2014, a startup innovation competition at the Florida Education Technology Conference was rightfully dubbed the “goldfish tank” when a Uber raises in a year more than the optimistic figure for all of 2014 Edtech investment ($2bn). Being an edtech entrepreneur is not a bed of roses. Yet, one must look out for new trends, especially when those involve teachers: effective implementation is key but putting them at the heart of the design process is necessary to generate thoughtful adoption. We are at a stage in Edtech where more than figuring out the right technology, what is truly important is figuring out the right implementation.
- Moving Edtech from Consumerism to Creativity to Challenge The Sceptics
The challenge for schools is that they are looking at developing an integrated and compelling user experience when most edtech vendors are focused on developing their own product without taking into account the other products a school might use in their curriculum. We can’t put enough emphasis on the importance of having a good principal as a leader to implement change, at times where too often public policies put hardware before strategy and training.
More and more schools are tailoring the maker culture to Education and trying to bring it into core subjects, as well as tackling the skills gap in their own way. The Hour of Code is an example of a global movement that, albeit being a one-off event in some participant schools, is paving the way towards a new way of seeing education.
Overall, beyond devices, what matters is to design something integrating technology that remains relevant to the most pressing learning outcomes and help children become makers. One may have a look at this interesting video made by students at the Auckland Point England School that has shifted from passive content delivery to children being active participants in a process called “Learn, Create, Share”. However, most schools aren’t there yet: despite the presence of devices through major government roll-out in public education, children are only taught to be consumers: Edtech must enable them to be creators.
2. A “CRM for the Child”: The Birth of the Constant Feedback Loop
There is growing and user-driven interest in feedback apps that allow teachers to communicate with parents more often and more consistently and aim at becoming more than a “behaviour management” tool. Beyond constant feedback, having unbiased, factual informations in one place, help remove the boundary between the classroom and home, move away from the brick-and-mortar model only towards blended learning. It is also a matter of keeping all the information so that anybody who interacts with them can take full advantage of everything the teaching body knows.
It can address cultural problems as in Chile for instance, where the low participation level of parents in their children’s education process is a growing problem: students with higher standardized test scores are also the ones that are best supported by their families outside the classroom: Papinotas aims at transforming the communication between schools and parents by incentivizing parents’ active participation. This movement is also notably illustrated from early-stage startups to well established platforms by StoryPark, a startup that helps increase family involvement in the child’s learning path by renewing the mandatory documentation of kindergarten’s daily activities or ClassDojo.
3. Gamification & the stance on screen time: from hard limits to a focus on content
The hard stances on screen time are softening as policies must evolve if they don’t want to become obsolete. As the American Academy of Pediatrics recently announced, revising their official stance, one must address the quality of screen time more than its mere duration. The AAP recommendations used to state that kids shouldn’t be exposed to screens before age two, and even then, screen time should be strictly limited. It is now shifting its focus away from hard limits towards teaching parents about smart consumption instead. There’s a peak of interest for gamification and huge interest in parts of the world where consumption of video games or the level of spending in one’s child Education is far higher than in Europe.
In the US, the co.lab accelerator has been leveraging the power of social and mobile games to enhance academic, cognitive and social outcomes for PK-12 students for over two years and created significant interest. The companies of the successive cohorts have been mentored by Zynga engineers, product managers, analysts, artists and marketers throughout the 4-months programme.
There’s no shortage of education entrepreneurs willing to partner with game studios to put their pedagogical expertise at work and penetrate the Edtech space. Tracy Strudley from Global Ed, a NZ-based publishing company, was inspired to form a new company, Bud-e Digital, with a game developer after attending an Edtech conference a couple of years ago. Her and Chris Bulman have partnered with his game studio Custard Square to produce an app for early childhood fusing the best literacy practices with gaming techniques.
4. “The Teacher is the Killer App”: Having a Teacher in your Team is the Best Asset
The myth of a siloed sector where technologists and educators don’t talk to each other is growing hackneyed. Most of the Edtech entrepreneurs that we met built on their experience gained in the classroom. If Edtech advocacy is not changing the role of the teacher from the outside but instead embracing and enabling them to be at the heart of that change, then those grassroots movements are instrumental in creating global impact in classrooms. In the case of Enseña Chile for example, two new entrepreneurship-focused programmes are strengthening the Alumni network as it grows: a social entrepreneurship incubator for Enseña Chile, that helps the 10% alumni creating a startup to work through their ideation phase at a very early stage as well as a community of entrepreneurs in Education, CEEDUC, for more mature organisations to strengthen existing synergies
Too few entrepreneurs are familiar with the exact pain points faced in K-12 Education on a daily basis. One must not underestimate the trust-earning stage necessary to build successful product in accordance with real life needs. While product testing is necessary to improve learning outcomes, it must not be too self-serving. Beyond having a teacher in one’s team, we have noticed a global and sustainable rise in events involving teacher’s feedback, from Edsurge’s Tech for Schools summits to Teacher Tanks organised by the SydEdutechGroup or competitions to answer a very niche problem put in place by the Santiago Edtech community. Teachers get to evaluate or inspire tools and give direct feedback to entrepreneurs to optimise their market proposition.