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Teacher, Influencer, Developer

Texthelp's Jason Carroll explains how teachers are using their classroom experiences to develop edtech tools

Diversity has become a more common topic, especially at work. It is looked at not only in terms of race and gender but also in terms of background. Everyone has different experiences throughout their career, which is why diverse backgrounds are so valuable. For edtech companies, working with former teachers, who can share their classroom experiences, is a must.

Think about it. Companies cannot successfully build a product for their audience without that audience’s insight or input. They need to know how their audience works and how the product would benefit them.

Without this knowledge, the product could fall flat or face problems with adoption. This is no different in the edtech space. And there is no one better to help develop a product for an educator than a former teacher.

The Value of a Teacher’s Insight
So why do we want teachers to be a part of the edtech development process? Teachers spend years training in theory and in the physical classroom as well. Because of this, teachers are extremely aware of how curriculum, teaching methods, and social–emotional factors affect students. They know what works for each student. They know how they learn, how they express their knowledge, and what tools work best for their learning styles and needs.

They have seen up close what the classroom is like, both virtual and in-person. They know how edtech can benefit them, other teachers, administrators, and staff. They know how technology can improve the classroom experience for students. And they know how to expand a teacher’s skills in the classroom.

With this experience and knowledge, teachers can influence the edtech development process to create successful tools and technologies.

How EdTech Companies Can Utilize Teacher Knowledge 
At Texthelp, my team and I rely heavily on the knowledge and experience of teachers. In fact, 16% of my U.S. colleagues are former teachers and school administrators. They have on average 16 years of experience, and their roles span across departments, from sales to training and product management.

Having this diverse talent allows us to figuratively walk in a teacher’s shoes. It’s been very helpful to our organization, as we’ve been able to paint a full picture on how technologies can:

• Address the specific needs of today’s students, teachers, and administrators

• Help students, teachers, and administrators

• Impact classroom workflow

• Improve the parent/guardian-to-teacher relationship

Our teacher and administrator workforce has also created an atmosphere of continuous improvement. We are constantly thinking, “What would a teacher do?” or “How would a teacher respond to this?” And the good news is that we don’t need to go far to find the answer. With over 150 combined years of experience in the classroom, our team is able to give real-world feedback. This often replaces the need for focus groups or outside research. It also stops bugs and problems from occurring before a product or update goes live.

From Idea to Implementation
When it comes to product development, former teachers are involved from the first idea to launch. They’ve been invaluable when it comes to improving current products and creating new ideas.

For example, our VP of sales is a former teacher who recently came up with an idea called Tool Matcher. Because of his classroom experience, he understands that every student is different and needs different accommodations. With Tool Matcher, students can now identify the tools that match with their special accommodation needs. It also allows teachers and assistive technology specialists to match our products’ features to a student’s IEP or 504 plan.

Our writing product, WriQ®, is another example of how teachers have been instrumental in product development. With this tool, we wanted to be able to create better writers and reduce teacher workload. This meant that we needed to create a standard for writing assessment across grade levels. But in order to do so, we needed large-scale data points from teachers and educators.

One of our advisors, a long-time professor, created most of the research we used to track student writing fluency within the product. In fact, almost all of the developed features within this product came from teacher input. Teachers helped us to create rubrics and track writing bursts (the amount of time a student writes before pausing). And now as a result, WriQ’s dashboard can track writing data and assessments. It also gives teachers standardized student feedback and grading.

Why Companies Need Diverse Perspectives  
The other day, one of our product managers was talking about his experience in the classroom and as an administrator. He believes that he wouldn’t have been nearly as successful in his role without this time in the classroom. His understanding has helped in product development, demonstrations, and being able to connect with teachers on a personal level. But it isn’t just our product management team where classroom experience has been useful. It’s across our sales and training departments too. Education is, after all, a very specific, niche field. The trials, complexities, and celebrations that come with working in education are often not obvious to those who haven’t worked in the sector. Being able to “speak” educator to educator is key in building trust and relationships.

A member of our training team said that their time teaching helped them understand the needs of teachers.

It also showed them how best to create materials that can help students. For example, understanding the needs of English language learners (ELLs) and special education students allows them to be more aware in their approach.

Each day, we work to provide equality in education to the best of our abilities. That means including teachers in edtech development. After all, they are the ones who best understand what is needed. We believe that our diverse workforce has been a major benefit, and we will always involve teachers in our edtech development.

Jason Carroll is the chief product officer at Texthelp, a technology company focused on helping all people learn, understand, and communicate through the use of digital education and accessibility tools. His focus is on helping to make smart, easy-to-use products that help diverse learners of all ages succeed, and he speaks internationally on these topics each year.

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