As more teachers reinvent their classrooms as blended, personalized learning environments, something else is happening – the nation’s 3.6 million-strong K-12 teaching workforce is becoming a consumer-electronics force capable of shaping new technology trends.
Apps like ClassDojo and Remind have seen rapid adoption because they help address a common challenge for teachers: parent communication and engagement. Software like Newsela translates the day’s news into articles appropriate for a student’s reading level, supporting literacy instruction and enabling kids of all levels to follow along in class. And the price is often right.
Companies like these are creating free or freemium technologies, often designed by former teachers, to address real challenges. Rightfully so, more entrepreneurs are designing tech for teachers because teachers are closest to the needs and behaviors of students, and are best suited to determine whether products that have been proven to work someplace else are also likely to drive success in their own classrooms. As a result, the influence that teachers have on tech products and purchasing is more palpable than ever.
We envision a future where teachers rule and tech firms design products that cater to teacher priorities and preferences. Teachers will, increasingly, influence district priorities – but they also represent the emergence of a vibrant new market in their own right.
Recently, our two organizations conducted a survey of over 4,300 American teachers to better understand their take on the topic.
First, we found that although teachers often report they are strapped for time in their day, they understandably have a strong point of view about what goes on in their classrooms every day and want to be involved.
In our survey, nearly one out of two respondents said that they wanted to play a role in identifying what products to pilot or roll out in their district and 63 percent of teachers reported wanting to be the final authority about tech in their classroom. Yet, only 38 percent said they were involved in technology research and decision making at all.
The status quo, for the most part, marginalizes teachers as ed tech decision makers. But the emergence of new direct-to-teacher models isn’t just giving them more clout – they’re demanding it.
Second, teachers are pros at finding cost-efficient solutions. Forty-eight percent of teachers believe that cost is the number one influence on current ed tech selection, far more than student outcomes (22 percent) or teacher buy-in (9 percent). While districts grapple with tight budgets, teachers are finding their own affordable solutions, ditching expensive textbooks in favor of low-cost or free teaching materials on resource sharing sites like tes.com. With nearly 3 in 4 teachers spending over $100 of their own money on school supplies, most teachers are already invested in identifying resources that serve the needs of students but don’t break the bank.
Third, teachers don’t work in silos. More and more teachers are collaborating and sharing knowledge with their peers. Over 37% of teachers we surveyed learned about new technology from other teachers. And the vast majority want to avoid the extremes they are forced to inhabit now.
Few teachers want either to pick from the thousands of available apps, or be told that they can have only one choice. Rather, teachers want groups of their peers to winnow the choices down to a manageable “menu” of approved options that have a demonstrated impact on the outcomes they’re looking to achieve.
As Arkansas-based former principal Daisy Dyer Duerr explains: “Through my experience as a principal working to integrate technology into rural American schools, I have learned that letting teachers choose from a set of options is key to achieving both outcomes.”
Savvy ed tech companies are betting that teachers will continue to carry more influence. Like many others, they understand that teachers have the best vantage point into student needs. If we give teachers more say and better decision-support tools, we should expect to see more of the most effective ed tech tools rise to the top.
This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.
Rob Grimshaw is CEO of TES Global, which has created a platform that is used by over 8 million teachers globally to share and sell their classroom resources.
Bart Epstein is founding CEO of the Jefferson Education Accelerator, a venture launched by the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education to help connect ed tech companies with best-in-class researchers to better understand the efficacy and impact of their products.