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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—In the flurry of deal-making and product promotion characterizing the education investment conference known as “Davos by the Desert,”  it would be easy to forget what is largely missing: classrooms, students and teachers.

Except that the small number of teachers in attendance at the ASU/GSV Summit clearly made their views known – and insist they are a force to be reckoned with.

“We are the ones who are actually going to be using these products. I’m a professional educator. I know what I want, you don’t have to tell me,’’ said Tanesha Dixon, a middle school social studies teacher in Washington D.C., speaking on a panel entitled “Teachers Know Best: What Educators Want From Digital Instructional Tools.”

Teachers and technology in the classroom
The ASU/GSV Summit has attracted 250 education entrepreneurs and a small, but vocal, group of teachers. (Photo: Liz Willen)

The three-day conference includes 250 education entrepreneurs, touting new companies and tools with names like Hot Chalk, Brainpop, Brightbytes, Noodle, and Noredink.

Product presentations are taking place simultaneously, alongside panels with names like “My Robot Ate My Homework: The Next Generation of Classroom Innovation.”

Teachers aren’t largely represented, but they have plenty to say about how tech is – and is not – used in their classrooms, as Stacey Childress, Deputy Director of Education at the Bill & Melina Gates Foundation, pointed out.

“Teachers really want great content,” Childress said during a panel discussion Tuesday, where she released a study filled with real feedback from 3,100 teachers. The survey shows the market needs to do a better job helping teachers get access to tools and products, Childress noted.

Teachers responding to the survey said in interviews that only about half of the digital devices their students use are effective. They also felt they didn’t have enough say in what technology comes into their classrooms.

In addition, many said they don’t get enough information about the products and would like to know more. They could identify just over half of the 964 products in the study. Meanwhile, they don’t even use lots of products they have access to.

Teachers want tools that help students communicate better, and they also want more that are aligned to the Common Core. They found the digital materials they have access to are weakest in elementary school language arts, middle school social studies, high school math and all grade levels of science.

The Gates survey follows a survey by digedu that found many teachers feel inadequately trained in school technology. (Disclosure: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is among the various funders of The Hechinger Report.)

All of this means there may be a new emphasis on the needs and opinions of teachers in the technological revolution that clearly will be part of education in the years and months to come.

“We’re quickly realizing that we have to spend much more time talking to teachers,” Linda Zecher, the CEO of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, told Molly Hensley-Clancy of Buzzfeed. The large publisher has been moving increasingly into the ed-tech and digital space, Clancy noted.

“We used to talk to the district IT guys. More and more, it’s teachers — they’re the ones who have to believe that adoption will work in their classrooms,” Zecher said.

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