How to Fail at EdTech? Leave Teachers Out

Education technology will never replace teachers. To the contrary, education technology, done right, has the promise of making teachers even more powerful and more essential in the learning process.

Any new learning tool that neglects the teacher’s role by focusing exclusively on the student experience risks failure. If you don’t pay attention to this, teachers can and will break your wonderful new tools. Not intentionally, not maliciously – it will be more subtle than that.

If a teacher is not yet fluent in how to use your new technology in the classroom, possibly because there wasn’t proper training or enough time to prepare, there will be a natural tendency to fall back on tried-and-true teaching methods. And in doing so, teachers will begin to sow the seeds of uncertainty about your edtech and your new methodology in the minds of the students.

Good product design is not enough

Having sound principles about the design of your product isn’t enough. Everyone involved in making that product needs to understand and embrace those principles, or the product risks being flawed.

Similarly, once the product is released in the classroom, you need a way to seamlessly traverse the virtual world of the new education technology and the real world of daily practice with teacher interaction. If the principles are not properly understood and supported by teachers, your implementation risks being flawed, and students will suffer.

Ultimately, the introduction of any new technology in the classroom that fails for teachers will also fail for students.

In an early essay titled “What Are We Scaling When We Scale Education?,” Learn Capital founder Rob Hutter made the case that balancing all the elements in the classroom is a “tricky set of equations, even with the fusillade of modern technology and platforms to lean on. And the best education entrepreneurs are the ones that are the most innovative about this precise combinatoric.”

The Filmbook® team prioritized innovation in the creation of its platform. And in classrooms across the country where teachers could absorb and adapt quickly to the Filmbook methodology, we achieved outstanding results for students and the employers that hired them.

But in other classrooms, we witnessed firsthand that we were failing to be innovative about the precise combination of elements that would support every teacher in every classroom so that we could get the best outcome for every student. Hutter crystallizes this problem in his assertion that “instructor training is a form of the education scale problem.”

Training and support for every teacher

Once the cracks in the foundation of our education technology implementation began to reveal themselves, we set to work on a series of rapid responses. The most important of these was training.

We began developing a series of teacher training tools and an online community where teachers could share their techniques and communicate directly with the Filmbook curriculum team for advice. And most importantly, we developed a comprehensive set of structured practice exercises in each Filmbook class. This helped teachers keep students focused on specific weekly learning objectives and practical requirements goals they would need to graduate.

This started to help a growing number of teachers adapt and transform their classrooms into highly effective learning environments. And that’s where we are today.

Structured cosmetology practice exercises shown on Filmbook iPhone app

The lesson? Ensure, from the start, that your edtech is designed not just for students, but also for their teachers.  Never forget: Teachers control how, when, and where students will use your technology, and therefore they may be your most important and most critical audience.

—Neal Tillotson, Filmbook CEO


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