Monday, July 28, 2014

Relationship building is the KEY to #edtech collaboration

Teacher relationship-fatigue extends beyond the classroom

(This post co-written by me and my like-minded buddy Lindsey Own. Most of the writing credit goes to Lindsey :) )

“Relationships” are a hot topic.  Social media is all about streamlining and scaling social and business relationships, social relationships are studied closely for their effects on psychology and health, and “building customer relationships” is a frequently discussed goal of both startups and established businesses.  This certainly applies to the education technology world as well - building relationships between schools and technology providers is critical in driving the disruptions and growth we’re all striving for.

Simultaneously, a thoroughly established “pain point” in education is lack of time for teachers. Gunnar Counselman even recently wrote on EdSurge about how teachers struggle to maintain deep relationships with the very very many students they are tasked with educating.  Although Counselman’s article is ostensibly about teacher-student relationships, much of it applies to teacher-edtech relationships as well. To quote the EdSurge Innovate introduction to his article: “But there's a natural limit to how many bonds teachers can create and maintain.”

Take these two points - (1) customer relationships are critical, and (2) teachers are so overwhelmed with lack of time that even maintaining relationships with their students is challenging.  Based on those two points, the current most common method used by well-meaning technology providers to reach out to new customers makes absolutely no sense.  From where we sit, that method seems to be cold-calls declaring a hot new product “perfect for your classroom!” and requesting beta testing, watching informational videos, or even setting up a coffee date. This is the opposite of relationship-building.

We are two enthusiastic and vocal classroom teachers, who probably expend far more energy than is really sustainable on our pursuits of excellence in driving forward innovation in education.  We hope that this means that, being so visible, we receive far more of these cold-calls than our beleaguered colleagues.  They come in every online format - Twitter, email, LinkedIn, and more - and are relatively constant at about one per week.  Often, they are for products with little relevance to our classrooms, demonstrating the clear shot-gun approach being used in sending out the requests.

As we see it, this method of reaching out to potential customers has some of the following effects:
  • teachers are fatigued by the constant onslaught, resulting in less willingness to try any new technologies
  • teachers are less likely to become an advocate for the product in the future, left with a bad taste from the impersonal introduction
  • receiving few responses, technology developers may continue to sit in the myth that teachers don’t care enough to try new innovations

We are working hard to support stronger, more lasting and meaningful relationships between teachers and developers of those products that are meaningful to their classrooms. Steve co-moderates the #edtechbridge chat with a partner who works at BrainPop, building a great community to develop the authentic relationships that will ultimately provide a larger impact towards creating an understanding / buy-in for new education technology products.  Lindsey co-organizes the Seattle EdTech Meetup with a partner who works at Seattle’s ActivelyLearn.  We both spoke - on separate panels - on exactly this topic at 2014’s SXSWedu. We continuously try to support positive interactions, including trying to explain to shotgunners why their emails were poorly received.

We have a few ideas for how to support building the kinds of relationships that will connect education technology developers with teachers who will become their advocates and even partners.
  • Target recipients of your contacts carefully, and describe why they are the type of teacher you are looking for. Comment on something *specific* about that particular teacher that caught your attention (and not just that it said “teacher” on their LinkedIn profile).
  • Start conversations, rather than jumping straight to the “ask.”
  • Even better, before sending any emails in the first place: immerse yourself in teacher conversations as a fellow learner, and get to know the individual contributors to those conversations. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other sites all have great conversations happening every day. (See the second sentence of this opinion.)
  • When you do ask for feedback, do so in a way that will elicit deeper answers.  (Reading the answers to boring questions is almost as miserable as answering them.)

We believe that innovative technology has the power to genuinely disrupt education for the better, improving learning outcomes for all students.  We are strong advocates within our schools and in the larger edtech community for driving the meaningful use of technology throughout the learning process.  And we are dismayed when our colleagues express fatigue at being hounded by too many options in finding the right technology tools for their classrooms.

We continue to hope and work towards strong, positive, and deep relationships between teachers and education technology developers.  We hope to see more developers thinking critically about how to reach out to teachers in a way that builds relationships rather than generic shotgun emails - again, as Gunnar Counselman said - “for the sake of efficiency, making them cold, transactional and unmotivating.”

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I teach 6th and 7th graders in "health" and "science" classes, but work on empathy, global literacy, systems-thinking, evidence-based decision-making, and other such 21st Center Skills in those classes. I'm also a 7th grade "advisor," which at my school means I am the point-of-contact teacher for 15 7th graders as we work on goal-setting and reflection; social and emotional development, awareness, and skills; community-building activities; and much much more. I tweet @LindseyOwn

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Connecting EdTech creators and teachers : #edtechbridge

Guest Blog Post by Suzy Munroe, aka Teacher Suzy

Reasons I joined the  #edtechbridge twitter chat

Hi, I am Teacher Suzy, a teacher from Ireland now living in San Francisco. I would love to share the reasons why I was attracted to the #edtechbridge twitter chat.

  • I had never joined a Twitter chat before. This one is a great place to start.

  • It is a great way to collaborate with like-minded professionals.

  • It has an exciting mix of professionals interested in solving the disconnect between educators, developers and EdTech tools.

  • My passion is to make connections between EdTech developers and educators.

Teacher turned EdTech entrepreneur

As mentioned above, I have a passion to help solve the disconnect between EdTech creators and teachers. For this reason I recently created TinkerEd . The idea came from my real life experience when I moved to San Francisco and created a teachers meetup group to meet other teachers. Instead of  attracting teachers, my meetup gained the attention of EdTech developers who wanted to share their ideas with teachers and get feedback.

I realised there was a need for a place for these connections to occur.

Embarking on my EdTech journey
I went to Startup Weekend Education in San Francisco and nerve wrackingly pitched my idea to a room filled with EdTech enthusiasts. My idea was to build an online collaborative community where EdTech developers can connect with teachers.  After a fun filled and hard working weekend, TinkerEd was awarded the winner by judges who commented that,
“TinkerEd is trying to solve a real world problem for the entire ecosystem.”
Who can join TinkerEd
EdTech entrepreneurs: EdTech creators join us and get connected to teachers who share their expertise to enhance your product development. We share your specific EdTech projects with our teacher community and find the perfect teachers to meet your needs.
Teachers: Teachers join us  to explore new Technology and help shape EdTech tools of the future. Our teaching community can access a range of paid roles with exciting EdTech companies.

The #edtechbridge chat is a great way to engage with a community who are excited to find new ways to collaborate and take on the challenge to solve the disconnect.
About Teacher Suzy:
Suzy is Elementary teacher from Ireland, where she taught for 5 years. She recently moved to live in San Francisco where she enjoys learning about new EdTech. She also enjoys tutoring, volunteering at Reading Partners and connecting teachers with EdTech companies through her latest adventure, TinkerEd. She is also a huge Startup Weekend Education fan, where TinkerEd won first place in November 2013.  You can connect with @teacher_suzy on Twitter.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

#EdTechBridge chat 7.2.2014 6pm ET: #iste2014 and #notatiste2014 recap

Join us tonight at 6pm ET / 3pm PT/ 11pm GMT via @nurph or twitter using hashtag #edtechbridge.  Looking forward to it!