Imagine you’re building a house for a young family. You might think you know what’s best for them. You go straight out and build a house with an open concept design so that Mom and Dad will be able to watch the kids at all times. But when the family moves in, they tell you an open concept makes it too difficult for the kids to concentrate on homework while Dad is cooking or Mom is watching TV.
They don’t like what you’ve built, and now you have a house with no one to live in it.
In reality, people have these conversations before they build, during the design process—so why don’t we have these conversations with educators before we build education products?
Part of the answer is that obtaining educator feedback can be tough. Educators are strapped for time and incentivizing feedback can lead to ethical dilemmas. These factors make it challenging to get educators to review a prototype, let alone review the initial phase of the design process.
Many companies (including ours), are solving this problem by creating educator feedback programs. We’ve assembled an advisory panel of go-to educators who are comfortable telling us what they love (or hate) about a product at any step of the design process.
We’ve built a relationship with our advisory panel that avoids the conflicts of interest a organization like ours might face, but for companies that sell directly to schools and educators, setting up a program like this can be much more challenging.
“It’s tricky territory,” said Nadia Williams, Digital Learning Coordinator for Cobb County School District in Georgia and advisory board member. “On one hand, you have the question of ethics, and on the other hand you have countless situations where educators aren’t compensated. But the realm of education shouldn’t be different from other fields. Educators should be provided compensation for our influence and expertise, as long as it doesn’t create a questionable foundation for the education of our children.”
How should I structure my program?
Everything depends on the kind of product you’re building. For example, if your product is more hands on, you may want to host a handful of in-person sessions throughout the year. However, if your product is primarily digital, weekly virtual chats might make more sense.
The most important thing is to respect educators’ precious time. Try to include them at planned, crucial moments instead of trying to fit them into day-to-day decision-making.
What makes educators want to join the product development process?
“Companies need to ask themselves what they are asking this person to do and whether they are compensating them in a fair way,” said Dr. Leigh A. Hall, professor at the University of Wyoming and advisory board member.
While a stipend is a great place to start, there are multiple ways your team can compensate educators for the time they spend reviewing your product. Summer workshops and internship programs can act as a way to repay your educators with new skills and networking connections.
Does your feedback process feel like a marketing or sales ploy?
“There is a fine line between having natural conversations about a product you love, and becoming a pseudo-salesperson for an edtech company,” said Williams.
Your partnerships with educators should not be a sales push. These relationships get sticky when it seems like companies are influencing teacher advisory board members to buy from them. Feedback sessions should encourage participants to debate the good and the bad in a potential product and to do so honestly.
What if my company isn’t ready to create an internal review process?
If your team determines that an internal process for educator feedback isn’t possible, there are other resources you can turn to. For example, the University of Virginia recently supported the launch of a new online hub where educators are paid for sharing their experiences with edtech products. Additionally, you can partner with companies that have their own educator advisory boards. These companies, like ProjectEd, have worked through these details and have the structure in place to collaborate with educators in an effective and ethical way.
Hoping to get more insights from educators at all levels of instruction? SXSW EDU will host a range of educator-led sessions. Continue the conversation on vendor-educator partnerships with us during our panel. And of course, if your team is stuck on how to implement an educator feedback program, connect with us here to get expert perspectives.