5 Questions You Should Ask Concerning EdTech, But May Not Be

A few weeks ago, I attended a great session led by Katrina Stevens (US Office of Edtech) and Chike Aguh (Advisory Board Company) called, “Building an Edtech Bill of Rights“. In this session, Katrina and Chike masterfully facilitated a necessary discussion on purposeful innovation amongst teachers, EdTech leaders, researchers, entrepreneurs and students…with a focus on teacher/student voice.

During the session, we were challenged to listen to teachers about current educational problems and come up with some “technology based” way of solving them…in a limited amount of time. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been on many sides of edtech but this was new territory for me as I have never been asked…

“What’s your biggest problem and how can we fix it?”

Of all of the sessions that I have been to over the years, this one seems to have struck a nerve because it certainly informed a few thoughts that had been brewing concerning the evaluation of the necessity of tech. I want to know about the discussions and research that went into ideating and creating the product. Who does it serve, how does it solve and why? How does your product compare with others which have similar functions? I also want to know if your infrastructure supports product improvement and your plan of growth accordingly.

In other words…where is your market research and how are you using it? As educators, we believe wholeheartedly in the power of feedback and if I am using your tool in my classroom, you most certainly should be listening to feedback from users and adjusting accordingly when necessary and possible.

Not every tech specialist/teacher will ask these questions but when we consider the number of products on the market and how many make their way into classrooms, someone should be digging deeper.

At a minimal level, we should be considering at least 5 questions BEFORE the tech is thrown into the training rotation.

1. What simple problem does this application solve?

This is a question about purpose. If I can’t use the tool and understand why I need to use it…how can I possibly communicate this to teachers? With that said, people see tools from different perspectives and someone may find some use that I have not…like augmented reality. However, during the planning/pre-funding phase…that developer had to answer this question and should certainly be able to communicate their “why” to you.

2. If the application was made specifically for education, how much educator feedback was considered and was that feedback from a diverse space?

I read an article in Edsurge about the Silicon Valley Education Association and that they have a program for edtech developers to get their product in Silicon Valley schools for testing. To be clear, if this is the ONLY place that your product has been tested and the only place where you are getting feedback, I am going to question this thinking. In addition, how can a product address a need in education if educators are not informing that need? 

3. Does the privacy and terms of service align with my students, myself and our district?

I have to credit Bill Fitzgerald and Audrey Watters with teaching me everything that I know about privacy, terms of service and the language of them. I read their work religiously. This came in handy as I sat in a room looking at potential products for a future venture and as shocking as it was for the men on the other side of the table to be asked about their TOS and privacy…it was necessary as it unlocked a slew of issues that they did not even know that they had. It’s not just about the age of student that can use it. That’s critical, of course. It’s also about ownership of product, life of your service if the product goes away and privacy of all stakeholders. 

4. What type of data is collected and how is that data used?

This should be a “no-brainer” to ask. Data = dollars. Believe that. This is especially important if your parents have signed district documents limiting the use of their child’s data. In addition, if you or your teachers are uploading lessons, how will those lessons be used? Who owns them? If uploading my lessons means that I no longer own them, I should not be uploading them. This information should be located somewhere in the terms of service and if it isn’t…ask.

5. If we are creating and storing within the platform, can our work be exported to use elsewhere?

Visibly, if the platform includes a “download” feature, do it. Upload it to your external hard drive as you never know when that small step will come in handy. Not every product has an “export” feature and for me…that is a deal breaker. If there is no visible export function, ask about it. Again…see the section in TOS about…”If our product is sold…” 

Not every product that we use in schools was made for education but every tech creator should have no problem answering a few questions that are not immediately visible. Gone are the days that we can be oblivious to what happens on the other side of tech. Innovation is a shared responsibility and we must be a part of those discussions as our goals should always be to impact student learning…with effective technology.

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