Last month, the federal Office of Educational Technology published “The EdTech Developer’s Guide: A Primer for Developers, Startups, and Entrepreneurs,” a free guide written by educators, researchers, and developers. The guide is a Rosetta Stone for entrepreneurs looking to succeed in the über competitive and fast-changing educational technology (edtech) marketplace. Plus, it includes nitty-gritty details on how districts make purchasing decisions, updates on data privacy laws, and other information.
More importantly, the guide points to opportunities for engineers to design technology that can have a true impact on teaching and learning. The guide outlines 10 specific opportunities, among them improving educators’ professional development and helping students plan for future education opportunities. The 67-page document underlines the fact that better, more useful products emerge from collaborations with teachers and students.
“Assuming you were not recently a teacher yourself, I suggest that you work hard to get inside the school, inside the classroom, inside the day-to-day lives of the educators you want to help,” writes Steven Hodas, former executive director of Innovate NYC Schools. And, he says, that can mean bringing pizza to the teachers lounge, cleaning up after lunch, and attending school board meetings.
“Until you’ve done these things, it’s arrogant to write code, let alone attempt to sell,” Hodas explains. “Unless you’ve done these things, the likelihood that you are aiming at something big is small.”
As we wrote earlier this year, several technologists and entrepreneurs in the Pittsburgh region have echoed the importance of collaboration among educators and students when designing edtech products. The RemakeLearning Network facilitates these connections by hosting events where educators and tech developers can rub shoulders and swap ideas.
“There are people who are developing technology for a classroom that have never set foot in a classroom,” Courtney Francis, cofounder of the Meetup group EdTech PGH, which connects technologists and educators, told us in January. “Working on the tech side, I’ve seen clearly that there needs to be 360 degrees of support for developing this kind of technology.”
The guide points out issues that developers need to consider long before beta testing. Schools cannot use products that are not accessible to differently abled kids. The guide explains that when developers design with accessibility in mind, they “facilitate school district compliance with civil rights laws” while also making apps more user-friendly. Ensuring that the text on a site is legible to a visually impaired student using a screen reader, for example, helps that student while improving the searchability of the entire site.
The guide identifies 10 ways for edtech developers to close the opportunity gap. Schools with slower internet access, for instance, should be able to use the same apps as schools with cutting-edge technology.
“The best companies are those that engage in conversation with teachers,” writes Vicki Davis, a Georgia teacher and blogger. “Add your moving part to the engine of positive change rather than trying to siphon off valuable resources for a need that doesn’t exist.”
The EdTech guide does not map out an easy route to success for technologists. It is filled with extra steps that take time and might require a change in course. Technologists who pay attention, though, will succeed in resolving persistent problems in education technology.