Ed-tech is one of the hottest areas of innovation in Silicon Valley (and beyond). And yet many teachers report that, for all the brand new products and tools that are claiming to reshape the American classroom, most are ineffective and go unused.
What’s going on? Well, in part the problem lies in the fact that venture capitalists who fund early-stage ed-tech startups tend to know relatively little about education and are more concerned with buzzwords like big data, social, disruptive, and cloud. But the excitement you can generate on TechCrunch or along Sand Hill Road is irrelevant if your product doesn’t efficiently and effectively improve student learning.
An even bigger problem is that teachers are rarely considered when education technology is designed. Ed-tech entrepreneurs and coders build things they would want to use themselves, but rarely consider the obstacles and pain points that teachers routinely face in their jobs. Often, teachers aren’t even thought of as part of the equation.
This issue was made clear in an article published in The Kansas City Star, “Kansas City area’s digital-age schools hail an education revolution”. In an exciting development for a Kansas City school district, an elementary school was getting a makeover for the digital age. They revamped classrooms, brought high speed internet to students, and gave them spaces to collaborate. This was an excellent move and by no means something to be diminished, but …
The makeover of a school is only the first step.
Where tech falls short
The article focused a lot on the space that had been created but not much on the impact it would have on the teachers or students. (Space is mentioned 14 times, while teacher is mentioned only 6 times in the article, usually next to words like “must change” or “fear”.)
Even the people at the school seemed to understand they didn’t have all the answers even with their new high-tech space. When asked, “What are students going to do here,” the principal seemed perplexed: “Tough question, it turned out. She pondered it. Finally, the essential answer was: ‘Who knows’?”
I know who knows. It’s the teachers. They are the ones left in these new technologically-equipped modular spaces, still responsible for educating their students. With every new education fad or over-hyped tool, it’s teachers who have figured out how to take the best of it to keep students learning.
Tech is nothing without great teachers
At Magoosh, we don’t think computers can replace teachers. We don’t think that our courses or our software will replace a great teacher or tutor. And we don’t think robots in the classroom are the future. Technology is a tool. And in the education sphere, it should be used as a tool to help good teachers become even better.
Our products are designed to maximize student learning in ways that save teachers and students time. We want to provide high schools, tutors, and teachers with technologies that help them make better decisions and make better recommendations to their students. We want to make prep more efficient, more effective, and more fun.
We don’t agree with this sort of sentiment from the article: “There’s no trying to hide and ride it out. Digital capabilities are changing how students learn. Teachers have to change with it.”
Yes, times are changing and that means teachers need to adapt to students with devices that connect them to the largest repository of human knowledge in history. But more importantly, ed-tech companies are the ones that need to start adapting to what it means to learn and educate students by thinking like teachers when they design products. Their goal should be to make the teacher’s job easier — not more complex.
We want to do our part in making that happen. Instead of changing the educational space and walking away, Magoosh wants to change the space and stick around the classroom to help teachers make the transition. After all, the point of all this change isn’t to see how many bells and whistles we can cram into a classroom — it’s to help teachers teach and students learn.
Peter Poer also contributed to this post.