Teacher experience should guide education technology design, research suggests

(Image credit: leanforward_photos/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Currently, the endless list of tasks on teachers’ plates includes determining what software and tools they should use to best support their learners in the classroom. the Office of Educational Technology and communities work to develop and advocate for policies that address the major challenges of discovering, selecting and purchasing educational technologies. The best way to do this? Recognize that the experience of teachers should guide the design of education technologies.

I was a teacher before COVID-19, and I struggled to find the right tools to support my kids back then. Today, everything that educators take on on a daily basis has grown and more and more responsibility falls on them. In a recent study, 55% of teachers said they planned to leave field. Among the many reasons are the “heavy regulation of teaching” and ultimately the removal of teacher agency from the classroom.

IIn fact, some teachers told me that their districts now do more screening, adding the selection of appropriate software to ongoing teacher evaluations. Many educators stay in the profession because of the rewarding feeling that comes from watching their children learn successfully. When teachers are unable to find or use methods that support this learning and success, “teachers can become demoralized and want to leave the classroom”.

A quest for excellent edtech design

Teacher experience should guide education technology design
Annie Spratt/Unsplash

I’m now a researcher at Digital Promise, an education nonprofit where we believe the teacher’s experience should drive edtech design. After supporting districts with edtech pilots for years, we wanted to focus on a longer term solution to support edtech decision making.

In 2019, we spoke with educators, school and district leaders, and nonprofit partners to understand key challenges in edtech decision-making. Overall, we heard:

  1. Information about the quality of edtech is hard to find, limited, and rarely reliable, timely, or relevant.
  2. Without a common language or established indicators to assess the quality of information technology, it is impossible to compare one tool to another.
  3. The priorities of educators and learners are often not heard by edtech providers; their voices and needs must be amplified to move the industry forward.

Based on these core challenges, we sought to create a solution to increase the speed and reliability available around edtech quality, establish clear and valuable criteria for edtech quality assessment, and most importantly, amplify priorities classroom educators for the edtech industry.

Teacher-Assisted Product Certifications

Our research led to product certificates. We co-design certification criteria with educators and assess edtech candidates to determine if they have met them. Our goal is to ensure that educators have access to reliable information about the quality of edtech at their fingertips.

Since the launch of the first certification in 2020, we have issued nearly 1,060 certificates to edtech tools that met our research-based design and learner variability product certification criteria.

Recently, we spoke with edtech vendors who have achieved research-based design product certification to learn more about the value they’ve seen by grounding their tool in learning science research. Many vendors shared that without a research base, it would be difficult to assess the impact a tool might have on learners. And that meant they lacked a way to measure its success to drive continuous improvement.

Teachers make edtech more effective

Another important takeaway was that integrating research throughout the design allows for a dynamic construction process. This further ensures that the teacher’s voice can support the edtech team’s learning about what works in the classroom and how to improve a tool.

Ideally, this collaboration with educators to establish certification criteria and evaluate vendors means that product certifications can be a time-saving filter that teachers can use to find high-quality products.

Sierra Noakes, a former teacher and now a researcher at Digital Promise, worked on of them separate reports related to this edtech certification process.

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