How EdTech Products Get into the Classroom

Many edtech companies want to know – how do I get my product into the classroom? Competition is high and districts are reluctant to adopt new technology. So, how can edtech hopefuls stand out as game changers?

Mark Racine, the Chief Information Officer at Boston Public School district, said that he hears about edtech products through a variety of sources such as conventions, teachers, and peers. Yet, he still finds it difficult wading through all of the possibilities.

“Right now in the edtech world there is so much out there. When you look at the apps in the iTunes store it’s overwhelming,” said Racine. “It’s hard for teachers to pick out what’s actually going to work for their classroom when there are so many choices. Right now, I look at the edtech world like an endless buffet and you really just don’t know where to start.”

Racine says the district is trying to put together a menu of edtech tools for teachers to give them an idea of what might work for different settings and classrooms.

What kind of edtech products will make the menu will be ones that satisfy technical requirements, legal data security criteria, the academic standards for curricula, and how easily it can integrate into a classroom. He said some schools are already starting to create a list for teachers of products with these standards.

While administration from within the school are looking to organize, some entrepreneurs are looking to build a product too good to avoid. Walter Duncan, a successful edtech entrepreneur and inventor of Quick Key, started out as a teacher and said too many edtech products did not stand the classroom test. He said one of his biggest gripes as an educator  was that every couple of years his bosses would tell the teachers about a magic technology that would fix everything if the teachers just learned how to use it.

“It was rolling downhill from people who weren’t in the classroom everyday. Who didn’t understand that I’m responsible for not only teaching, but managing all these diverse behaviors.  Then on top of that to learn all these complicated tools that were supposed to save the day, a lot of training was required. A lot of time was taken away from me.”

He said poorly designed edtech takes the attention away from what matters most for teachers, and because of this, many teachers are turned off from using edtech. It’s even more of a disaster when the teachers don’t have a say in what tools they use.

“The teachers aren’t the ones that cut the checks to buy the new product, so the vendors are often talking to higher level people in districts and administration who are so removed from the classroom. They’re pushing it down on their teachers to use and I think some teachers feel resentment from that.”

Getting teachers to tell their administrators about great edtech finds is one way to get around this problem. But since the administrators are the primary ones making decisions, the best option is to build products that are great for teachers and appeal to administrators.

Duncan said he and his team built what he needed as a teacher. “This is what I need right now to help my students improve even more,” he said. He also works with a community of active teachers who help make the software better and Duncan and his team listen to them carefully.

Although coming from education and listening to teachers isn’t going to guarantee your product will find its way into classrooms. Duncan said he was lucky when it came to marketing and very early on had a former student post a video on Reddit that went viral.

“I am a fifteen-year educator. I’m just learning how to be an entrepreneur. That video allowed us to get into the public eye in a different way,” said Duncan. “We had 3,000 people sign up to be beta testers of the project. And because we made it to the front page of reddit, many news outlets began to take interest. That was a nice start to our marketing.”

Like many other entrepreneurs, Duncan is a heavy social media user, but he said just telling teachers to get his product is ineffective. He said engaging with teachers about learning is a great way to start up teacher relations and talk about what they need help with.

The two worlds of programming and education sometimes find it hard to communicate about what’s best inside the classroom.  It is up to entrepreneurs to get into the minds of teachers and realize that many see technology as unreliable and time consuming. Ultimately, straddling the line between education and technology is the trick.

So, in summary:

Think like a teacher
Build like an administrator
Market like an entrepreneur
Innovate like a success story

Photo credit: Texas A&M University

Michelle Harven

Michelle Harven

Michelle is a current graduate student at Emerson College and an intern at Boston's public radio station. She enjoys exploring the world of educational technology and writing about the ever-changing sector and its potential.