The value of student and teacher input in EdTech
**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**
A guest post by Garrett Zimmer
OK so I’ve been wanting to ask this question lately. Who do we lean on for input and advice when we have to teach or create something? Maybe advice isn’t the right word, perhaps I’d rather use perspective.
What stakeholders are we looking to for their perspective when designing a project, a lesson, a company, or technology? As teachers, leaders, or even team members do we put stake in the perspective of everyone, or are we dismissive of some perspectives simply because they don’t hold a specific degree or level of experience. I’ve had my share of high growth leadership experiences and I’ve found some of the best results and insights seeded from the most unlikely sources.
Let me briefly share my example. During the very beginning of my 1st career in Sales and Marketing I sat in a strange and unique position. I believed I was gifted, charismatic, intelligent, and I even outsold most of my co-workers with years of sales experience. My youth gave me little credibility, in spite of the fact that I’d been professionally selling since the age of 7. See I grew up in a very religious organization where going door to door selling bible philosophy for hours each week was the norm. I experienced rejection, learned and honed abilities in ice-breaking and relating to people’s needs, but my unique perspective and experience went unrecognized, till a few years in when my talents were noticed by a great manager.
See it’s very easy to seek out someone’s views if they come with a degree, or 50 years of experience, and quite honestly I think those views should hold much more weight. But are we just as apt to dismiss the views of someone else a little lighter in experience?
Let’s take a step into the EdTech and general Startup landscape though. Market research and understanding your market is so important for startups and getting it wrong can have devastating impact. I’ve seen and heard of countless companies fail a launch or cost themselves so much by putting out a product that just failed to meet the needs of their intended target market. I’ve also seen many companies launch a product and spend their marketing dollars targeting one segment, and a year later shift their marketing to a whole different audience because it turns out that the product is actually perfect for the later.
It’s easy to take a top level approach when designing a piece of software, a tool, or a business product and say Who’s Buying this, let me appeal to them. Who’s backing this, or investing in it, let me appeal to them. However, are we forgetting about who is using this? I remember my good friend Shawn Q, a clinical informatics specialist, told me a story of the E-Health Management system that went over budget by something like 500% because it just didn’t work for the ground floor nurses who were supposed to be using it. This is directly resulting from not keeping the end user in the loop and conversation.
EdTech and the Education market though is so much more complex. Education is so directly tied to every level of our lives that the stakeholders are vast and varied. Governments, Administrators, Lobbyists, Employers, Post Secondary Institutions Teachers, Parents and Students are all Key Stakeholder groups with a public and personal interest. Of course with so many voices in the discussion, efficiency dictates that emphasis be placed on those who pay the bills. The Administrators, the Governments, and the Institutions. I advocate for that voice as a strong part of the equation in the hopes that that voice resonates the needs of the rest. But even further I support the importance of actually connecting with each stakeholder group, to make sure nothing is missing.
Some Educational tech companies seem reluctant to drive their business with Teachers and Students in mind, and instead pay homage to their own vision of what is good and right and effective. In everything from connectivity to compatibility and even down to price modeling, some still fail to match their offering to meet the needs of the people using it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not disparaging. There are many that build Advisory Groups and speak with Teachers, and Administrators and the Thought Leaders with years and years of experience. And I do the same in my development. But how many are going to the students, to the brand new fresh out of college teachers to see what their perspective is?
What a thought Garrett, you’re CRAZY! Ask an uneducated student to give insight on a project that they can’t even begin to understand the complexity of designing, much less the complexity of the market. Wait! Ask a teacher who just stepped out of college and doesn’t understand what it’s really like in the classroom yet? CRAZY! All you would get is kids that want every game ever made loaded into the software, and teachers who want the price to be free. I say “so what!” Yes you’re going to get some of that, but you will also get a wealth of information that adds amazing value for that group. And perhaps that’s the value add, that really makes your product stand out and help millions of students and teachers.
I’m a Kid Friendly YouTube Content Creator and I can tell you 100% that there are some really amazing and intelligent kids out there who know what they want. My interactions around my own EdTech startup company with Teachers and thought leaders, both inexperienced and experienced, have yielded such amazing insights into what they need and want. By working closely with a diverse group of end users, designing for them, my product has become theirs as much as ours. I strongly believe that by keeping all the stakeholders in the conversation, our product will solve real teacher and student concerns.
So if you’re a Teacher, an Administrator, or even an EdTech Startup yourself and are not regularly in the trenches to talk with the day to day soldiers, you’re likely missing valuable information that could make you more successful. To reword a Famous President’s mantra: “And so, my fellow leaders – ask not what you can do for students and teachers, ask what they can do for you.”
Garrett Zimmer is an experienced entrepreneur, speaker, and leader with a background in business and a passion for educational leadership. Garrett has been awarded a Parliamentary Citation from the Government of Canada and various honors for his work with educational boards and councils across Ontario Canada. He continues to advocate and work for the future of students everywhere in the educational sector. Garrett has spent the past 10 years as an entrepreneur and runs a popular Kid Friendly Youtube Entertainment Channel called PBJellyGames.
If you’d like to learn more about Garrett or MineGage, follow him on twitter: @PBJellyGames or visit the Minegage website www.minegage.com.