Learning from Teacherpreneurs

In an occasional series, PreK-12 Learning Group staff will offer their observations from industry events. Dave Gladney, Director of Digital Initiatives, shares what he learned from a recent NY EdTech Meetup held at Knewton.

The theme was Real Teachers of Silicon Alley: Teacherpreneurs’- Impact on EdTech, and all of the presenters were former teachers who went on (or are trying to go on) to start their own edtech companies. They gave attendees their perspective on what it’s really like to be an edtech startup as well their insights on the difficulties of innovating for the classroom.

Observations

  • Everything is so high stakes all the time in the classroom it makes it hard for teachers to innovate.
  • Teachers want products to be plug and play so they have more time to innovate.
  • There’s a very, very long feedback loop in education. Sometimes it could take 6-7 years to determine whether or not a product is effective.
  • The glacial pace of change in US education is also holding back innovation. There are a lot of people from outside education trying to come in and cause disruption. For example, they are already seeing and will see an increase in for-profit/charter schools that don’t want to deal with red tape.
  • Many edtech products duplicate the worst parts of teaching—they look like standardized tests.

Most important, the panel recognizes the challenges presented by technological inequality. The presenters pointed out, for instance, that there are way more people who have smart phones than computers in their homes. Developers need to make products that are fully responsive and device-agnostic. No matter how wonderful the products are, the developers are not solving poverty or income disparities.

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