Producing Technology That Works for Educators

Managing Editor

Scottsdale, Ariz.

The topic of the panel was “Return on Education” (a play on return-on-investment) but at least part of the discussion dwelled more directly on bringing a return on technology for educators and schools.

The session at the ASU/GSV Education Innovation Summit on Tuesday was moderated by Deborah Quazzo, co-founder and managing partner of GSV Advisors.

Quazzo guided the panelists through a variety of topics, from debates about whether for-profit companies deserved more government and philanthropic support to how “return on education”—how the benefits of investments in education can be quantified, in terms of student achievement, access to education, and other payoffs—can be measured.

But the panelists also talked about why investments in technology haven’t produced the same benefits for education as have occurred in other fields, such as medicine. Stacey Childress, a deputy director at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said comparisons between education and the medical field (which were heard a lot at the conference) are relevant—though not always in the way those making those analogies intend. (Disclosure: the Gates foundation funds portions of Education Week’s coverage about the K-12 marketplace and new approaches to schooling.)

In the medical field, technology providers are typically highly attuned to the needs of doctors and hospitals, a level of understanding that is often lacking among tech developers seeking to work in K-12, Childress said.

In the medical field, tech providers “don’t go off on their own and bang around and invent” products without understanding the users’ needs, she said. “They work really closely with medical professionals….that’s one thing we can get a lot better at in the education industry.”

Too many ed-tech developers don’t pay enough attention to what research says about what’s likely to work in the classroom, Childress said. And they don’t have an understanding of whether tech products can be adapted to meet the needs of a classroom teachers’ “work flow.”

What’s more, when ed-tech products fail, some developers are inclined to blame teachers for not using new tools effectively, said Childress.

The complaint is often that “the teacher didn’t use it right,” observed Childress, who then asked, “Isn’t that [disconnect] kind of on the creator?”

While myriad company officials have touted technology’s potential to bring innovation and improvement to schools, Childress wasn’t alone in raising her concern about the developer-to-school disconnect. The need for ed-tech developers to improve their understanding of teachers’ needs, and how schools and districts actually function, was brought up by numerous speakers, who said that divide can undermine technology’s potential in K-12.

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