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Teacher experience should drive edtech design, research says

Researcher explains how a teacher-led process led to certification for edtech tools.

4 min read


Teacher experience should drive edtech design

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Right now, the endless list of tasks on teachers’ plates includes figuring out which software and tools they should use to best support their learners in the classroom. The Office of Educational Technology and communities are working to develop and call for policies that address the major challenges to discovering, selecting and purchasing education technology. The best way to do that? Recognize that teacher experience should drive edtech design. 

I was a teacher before COVID-19, and I struggled to find the right tools to support my kiddos then. Today, everything educators shoulder daily has amplified, and more responsibilities continue to fall on them. In a recent study, 55% of teachers said they are planning to leave the field. Among the many reasons are “heavy regulation of teaching” and, ultimately, removal of teacher agency in the classroom. 

In fact, some teachers have shared with me that their districts are now putting more of the selection onus on their shoulders, adding appropriate software selection to teachers’ ongoing evaluations. Many educators stay in the profession because of the rewarding feeling that comes from seeing their kids successfully learn. When teachers aren’t able to find or use methods that promote that learning and those successes, “teachers can become demoralized and want to leave the classroom.” 

A quest for great edtech design

Teacher experience should drive edtech design
Annie Spratt/Unsplash

I’m now a researcher at Digital Promise, an education nonprofit, where we believe the teacher 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 the major challenges to edtech decision-making. Overall, we heard:

  1. Information about edtech quality is hard to find, limited, and rarely trustworthy, timely or relevant.
  2. Without established common language or indicators to assess edtech quality, it’s impossible to compare one tool with another. 
  3. The priorities of educators and learners are often unheard by edtech vendors; their voices and needs must be amplified to drive the industry. 

Based on these primary 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 significantly, amplify the priorities of classroom educators to the edtech industry. 

Teacher-assisted product certifications

Our research led to product certifications. We are co-designing the certification criteria with educators and assessing edtech applicants to determine whether they’ve met them. Our goal is to ensure educators have access to reliable information about edtech quality at their fingertips.

Since launching the first certification in 2020, we’ve issued more than 100 certifications to edtech tools that met our Research-Based Design and Learner Variability product certification criteria.

Recently, we talked with edtech vendors who have earned the Research-Based Design Product Certification to learn more about the value they have seen from grounding their tool in learning sciences research. Many vendors shared that, without a research basis, it would be hard to gauge what impact a tool could expect to make for learners. And that meant they’d lack a way to  measure its success to drive ongoing improvements.

Teachers making edtech more effective

Another major takeaway was that incorporating research throughout the design allows for a dynamic building process. This further ensures that teacher 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 build certification criteria and assess vendors means the 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, has worked on two separate reports related to this edtech certification process.


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