Although teachers don’t go into education for the massive profits, there are quite a lot of businesses and entrepreneurs that do. And edtech, in particular, is very big business. In 2014, education venture and equity financing increased 55% to $1.87 billion from the previous year (according to CB Insights). Financing within the edtech industry has nearly quintupled from a base of $385 million in 2009.
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) published an infographic last year detailing the impact of edtech on education and underscored why teachers should participate in edtech initiatives:
The numbers are staggering. As school districts struggle to find funds in budgets to keep up with the demand for edtech in classrooms, and as teachers struggle to separate the good edtech from the fly-by-night apps and implement them seamlessly into classroom lessons, it’s clear that we are all grasping at comprehending an industry that will only continue to explode exponentially in the coming years. Add to all of this the fact that edtech companies are under fire for their handling (or mishandling, as the case may be) of student data, including infringing on student privacy, and it becomes crystal clear why the government felt the need to intervene with a document meant to offer guidance and standards.
Enter a brand new document from U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology (@officeofedtech): Ed Tech Developer’s Guide: A primer for software developers, startups, and entrepreneurs .
“The Office of Educational Technology created this guide to assist you in gaining specialized knowledge about the education ecosystem that experienced developers have taken years to learn. Crowd-sourced from knowledgeable educators, developers, and researchers who were willing to share what they have learned, this guide is designed to help you apply technology in smart ways to solve persistent problems in education. It is our hope that this guide will answer key questions and highlight critical needs as you explore opportunities to develop digital tools and apps for learning.
Creating apps and tools for education is different from other fields. A variety of federal, state, and local policies may shape the features you choose to include, and you will need to address some unique questions along the way. The aim of this guide is to help you navigate these complexities.
The guide provides basic information about districts, schools, teachers, and students. In addition, it will help you consider questions affecting design and logistics: Do teachers have the training to use your app in the right way? How do privacy and accessibilty laws intersect with the features you want to include? Who makes the decision to purchase your tool, and how long does purchasing take? Can your app be equally effective at school and home? What features are most important to parents? Developers and entrepreneurs who choose to apply their talents to build tools for learning have the ability to help transform education in America and exponentially increase opportunities for all students. I hope this guide will help you do that.” — Richard Culatta
Will this document offer the guidance startups, developers and entrepreneurs need? We hope so. But this document is also crucial for educators and parents who should not only read it front-to-back, but use it to make informed decisions about implementing edtech in their classrooms and at home.
Reimagining Learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStreet
The Problem with “Education” Applications
According to a recent Citrix study, the reliance on digital teaching and learning methods is at an all-time high, with 94% of teachers stating that students should be able to access all the information, data, and learning resources they need from any location or device (“Student Mobile Workspaces – Infographic,” Citrix). Despite attempts by both big companies and well-meaning, bootstrapping entrepreneurs alike, to create these types of inclusive digital applications, over half of teachers are frustrated by limitations. Although these applications often represent excellence in technology, organization, and content, they are created by managers and technophiles that have no experience in the classroom. This has forced many teachers to “piecemeal” their technology integration which can disrupt the educational flow and frustrate both educators and students.
In addition to creating an environment of haphazard and confusing educational app usage, many edtech companies have made it clear that, with billions of dollars being thrown at the industry, their primary goal is to make a profit (not to improve the quality of education or the learning experience). This has led to ethical concerns about how businesses are using the wealth of data that their educational apps are collecting. A recent study done by the Fordham University School of Law (Privacy and Cloud Computing in Public Schools) showed that only 7% of educational technology companies are specifically prohibited by school districts to resell student education data.
The lack of standards and oversight with edtech and student data has resulted in major backlash from teachers and parents who believe companies and startups have a responsibility to create substantive, useful education technology and be held accountable for data privacy breaches.
Indeed, the question of whether the soaring valuations of edtech companies is actually benefits students is being pondered by even mainstream media outlets — Education tech funding soars — but is it working in the classroom?
Teacherpreneurs to the Rescue
The lack of educational insight and questionable business ethics has spurred the creation of “teacherpreneurs” and “design thinkers” who have taken matters into their own hands to create the technology they need in classrooms. These teachers create applications, programs, and other educational technology that truly integrate technology and teaching for the benefit of the whole classroom. Educators such as the ones at the Ashoka Changemaker schools and the Mount Vernon Presbyterian School in Atlanta, Georgia are encouraged to use their classroom as a testing ground for new programs and applications that can spark deeper understanding (Matt Karlsen, “Educators Innovating Learning from the Inside Out,” Edutopia). And still, other teachers are going outside of the classroom to develop educational applications that are designed from the teacher’s perspective.
Brad Wilson, a fourth grade teacher in Michigan, is just one of thousands of “teacherpreneurs” who saw problems in edtech and created his own solutions. His writing application WriteAbout, allows students to actively engage with picture prompts for more creative writing and easier authentic assessment.
“While hesitant about doing things commercially, I was intrigued by the entrepreneurial spirit on this side of the education world. I felt I could impact classrooms around the country (or even the world) by offering something unique of value, giving away a ton and putting my crusade for student engagement first. And so the ideas began to mold and build based on all these influences, my classroom experiences, and my strong desire to fill that missing void in the app store. I can literally remember the moment my students had walked out the door for recess one day last spring when I definitively thought ‘I need to build this app.'” (Brad Wilson, “There Wasn’t an App For That,” 21Innovate)
Tom Vanderark at Getting Smart recently published a post outlining how and why edtech is crucial for learning today (50 Ways EdTech Benefits Teachers and Students). Teacherpreneurs understand that, while edtech solutions are far from perfect, the benefits far outweigh the negatives — embracing and committing to change is no longer an option.
The Educational Technology Developer’s Guide: Not Just For Developers
As more and more teachers recognize the need for more authentic, relevant educational technology options, they are developing applications themselves, much like Wilson did. With the help of online PLNs, in-class beta-testing, and input from parents and students, they are creating resources that fill the needs of real-world classrooms and educating themselves to keep up with the edtech trends. Still, there are major considerations when creating an app that might be used in an education setting – ones that reflect the needs of both a business and an educational venture, which is why the Ed Tech Developer’s Guide was created.
Even so, the Guide is a fantastic document for parents and non-developer teachers as well. Through it’s carefully-researched sections regarding teaching opportunities, concepts, and trends, it is the perfect litmus paper for the current state of education in America. Some of the most interesting sections that teachers and parents might particularly embrace include:
- Choosing the Best Opportunity: In the Ed Tech Developer’s Guide, the writer’s discuss critical considerations before ever brainstorming an educational app. It highlights how educational technology should function as a part of an overall curriculum, how it can and should help bridge gaps in achievement and opportunity, and how the technology should be taught to teachers.
- The Design Process-From Idea to Implementation: Here, the guide writers focus on incubating and developing an educational technology idea. One of the most interesting elements is the emphasis on getting feedback from teachers, parents, administrators, and students when developing an app. This is a huge difference from many startups that often design and develop their products without incorporating real-world educator feedback or without testing the app in real classrooms. This feedback is crucial in the design/development process, yet underutilized or under-appreciated.
- Important Trends in the Education Landscape: This section, while geared towards non-education developers, is a clearly defined list of influential concepts on current education theory. It presents concepts like blended learning, project-based learning, and national standards that should be considered heavily before creating any new ed tech. It is also a great section for parents and new teachers who want to get a better understanding of current research-based educational practices.
Where Will the Guide Take Us?
The Ed Tech Developer’s Guide marks a significant shift of the Department of Education to directly instruct technology developers so that they create resources that are useful. For the first time ever, corporate developers will have a standard and baseline of knowledge that should lead to more applicable resources for teachers across the country. That is, if they use it.
As far as teachers and parents go, though this document is not necessarily intended for them, it just might be the beginning of a new era of transparency and engagement when it comes to creating education technology. Instead of just being consumers of ed tech, this document could mean the beginning of an age where all learning stakeholders (including students) have an active role in creating learning materials to be more effective and engaging in the classroom (after all, teachers and students know the classroom better than anyone else).
Either way, it’s the kind of guide you’ll want to read from cover to cover. Who knows? It might inspire you to finally share that fantastic app idea you’ve been thinking about that will help students embrace learning and become 21st century innovators! Download the full EdTech Developer’s Guide HERE.
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