Sunday, October 30, 2016

GHC16 / Building a Better Classroom: Lessons from Ed-Tech

One of the panels I attended at this week's Grace Hopper Celebration featured women from various companies engaging in ed tech, whether as their sole purpose or as a smaller part of their mission. Panellists included Prachie Banthia (moderator, Google), Lauren Janas (Microsoft), Stephanie Killian (Knewton), Jen Liu (Quizlet), and Sha-Mayn Teh (Teachers Pay Teachers).

iPad

The panel began with a discussion of the challenges in getting classrooms to adapt ed tech. Unsurprisingly, cost and difficulties in rolling it out topped the list. Then each panellist discussed what problems specifically they are trying to solve:
  • Learning can be static, tedious, and boring. Quizlet makes it more fun. Most users are middle and high schools using it for language learning, math science, etc. Some adults use it too, for things like med school and even bartending. Today, their focus is on K-12.
  • Knewton focuses on the problem in ed of 'one size not fitting all.' Standard models of education treat everyone the same (curriculum, pace).
  •  Some teachers were really focused on using tech in the classroom, e.g. to scale learning to class sizes of 45. Google Apps tries to support and reach the majority of teachers that aren't currently doing this.
  •  MS Office Mix supports developing materials for flipped classrooms. You can record yourself talking over a PowerPoint presentation, include quizzes, and distribute to students. The software provides analytics to improve lessons and see how well students are learning.
  • Teachers Pay Teacher helps teachers search for the right resources quickly.
Another one of the challenges faced by creators of ed tech is surviving the peak time of back-to-school. Advance planning is required to figure out how to scale the load capacity based on projected numbers of students. Launching any time after August 1 is really like launching the following year on August 1, because you've missed the critical window for adoption. The holiday season is the down-time, and that's where fixes and be made.

So how do these panellists view adoption of ed tech? They say tech in schools is fragmented, and so it is difficult to target a particular platform. It is very important for a company to earn the trust of teachers and administrators. Teachers are reluctant to test things on students. Too much setup time will make adoption harder: class time is precious. You have to make the barrier to entry as low as possible. And, of course, there are many issues around school networks / wifi. 

When it comes to the fear that ed tech might be trying to replace teachers, the panellists say this isn't the case; they want to empower teachers. Some call themselves teacher-preneurs and they all have such passion, and find creative ways to use technology to make their point with students.

A controversial question: are larger companies like Google and Microsoft more likely to succeed than the smaller companies, thanks to their resources? Having a lot of spare resources does give bigger companies a leg up. Smaller companies with education as a core product need to find a revenue model, which is challenging. Enterprise partnerships can help. All agree that it is good having the larger companies there, but also the smaller disrupters. Large companies have scale, and people already know how to use their products. Even still, monetization is hard for everyone (even Google struggles with this still). Smaller companies have the advantage when it comes to the ability to disrupt: Google can't take a pedagogical stance (65 million users whose trust can be lost), but smaller companies can.

2 comments:

Garth said...

I think the question on the top of the list should be "Does it improve learning and is it better than the present methods of teaching?" I am the school IT guy so I setup and maintain the ed tech K-12. After doing and promoting ed tech for 20 years I am still not convinced it provides a significant improvement. Improvement to me implies better retention, higher interest in learning and, as much as I hate to say it, high test scores.

Gail Carmichael said...

Garth: For me, the answer to your question is that is depends on whether we are talking about the tech itself (IMO, the answer would be no) or an entire "package" of tech + updated pedagogy (then the answer might be yes). From discussions with teachers, it seems that the pedagogy part is rarely included (e.g. no training), so ften only those with the time to spare to learn that side are able to use the tech effectively.

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