Friday, February 14, 2014

#EdTechBridge: A Teacher's Perspective on the Value of Collaboration with EdTech Entrepreneurs

Teachers want to bring innovative and effective technology to their classrooms, and EdTech companies need teachers to evaluate their products from inception to launch. Both parties know it's important to work together to build good tools, but often run into the cultural divide that exists between educators and technologists.  The cultural divide is not intentional on either side, yet it appears to exist and the benefits of connecting educators and developers is clearly mutual.

I often question the root of this issue and as far as I can tell it purely stems from our inclination toward isolation, though, not intentional.  As a teacher, I see how educators are generally absorbed and consumed by their teaching responsibilities.  Likewise, I can only imagine that developers are typically focused on their vision.  However, when this is the case, developers miss out on a valuable partnership with educators that would ultimately result in a more valuable product that better aligns with the intended learning outcomes. There is no reason why this can't change.  

Over the past few years I have become quite involved in social media, particularly twitter.  It took me a while to warm up to social media as a professional tool, so I can see why others may have missed out on this opportunity.  Once bitten by the social media bug, it became widely apparent that this is where all the others who have left hibernation are hanging out.  I have made wonderful connections with developers from companies including BrainPOP (@brainpop), e-line Media (@gamestarmech), Kodable (@kodable), Hopscotch (@hopscotch), MinecraftEDU (@minecraftedu), TechSmith (@techsmithEDU), 1st Playable (@1stplayable), and many more.  This has led to opportunities for Skype sessions with my students (Thanks to Mike Wantanabe from brainpop, and Caitlin Keleher (Storytelling Alice / Looking Glass), field testing of software (QCraft, Looking Glass, Portal 2, Real Robots of Robot High), guest blog post (Brainpop Educators, TechSmith Education), Speaking engagements, and much more.  Getting connected has provided awesome experiences for me and enhanced my professional life immensely.  As I have seen it, this applies to both teachers and entrepreneurs.  On twitter, many have connected, so to discuss bridging this gap purely on twitter is akin to preaching to the choir.  This leads me back to the question... How do we bridge the gap outside of this group who has obviously chosen (or stumbled upon) this opportunity to connect?
I should point out that twitter or other social media channels alone are probably not the be all end all solution.  We can certainly create other opportunities to join forces.  Conferences and unconferences provide a good opportunity for initial connections to be made.  However, this might point to one key element in the divide.  As a teacher, it can be difficult to attend conferences as release time is not always available and travel expenses, not to mention registration fees represent another concern.  This may be an issue for developers on occasion, but it seems as though the culture and job responsibilities are more likely to embrace attendance at conferences.  Furthermore, some conferences seem to attract more teachers, while others more developers.  Granted, developers display their wares at teacher oriented conference, but this is typically their opportunity to promote a final product with the intent of selling it. So, this brings us back to the original question, how do we best foster collaborative relationships during the development phase?

This March, Katya Hott (@katyamuses) and I (@mr_isaacs) will be conducting a working session on this topic at South by Southwest EDU (#SXSWEdu).  The goal of our session is to work with Entrepreneurs and Educators to create a living artifact that can facilitate the collaborative process and build community.  If you are attending SXSWEdu, we hope you will join us.  Whether or not you will be in attendance, please take a moment to complete our survey and join our growing community of people interested in bridging the gap between Educators and Entrepreneurs.  Clearly, everyone involved stands to benefit from these relationships.

I hope you will join us in developing an infrastructure that will make it easy for EdTech Professionals and Educators to connect and collaborate.  Education has so much to gain through collaboration throughout the process of development.