education technology innovation

Why aren’t more teachers involved in educational technology innovations?

My professional interest as an educator is in technology and gamification, so with high expectations I attended the Teacher Tank 2015 last  week, a teachmeet  pitched to educators who “love to use innovative tools in the classroom” but get “frustrated by the lack of focus on learning of today’s EdTech products”.

We were given pitches for four early stage products aimed at teachers and schools. For me they were of varying educational value and two of them were arguably creating products to sit in an already overcrowded marketplace. The detail of the proposed products is not important. What was significant is that all four were initiated by people outside education.

My question is why are educators so very rarely the people pitching these edtech solutions? Why do tech people believe they can drive the educational innovation while educators and people on the academic and discipline side of the equation don’t think this way? I can’t remember when I last heard a story of a startup project initiated by an educator who found technical partners.

In the field of innovation in games and game-inspired spaces, the area I am most interested in, I see this pattern repeated over and over. And I have to continually ask why are educators not the instigators and founders of many of the products being sold into education?

I see people with many and varied corporate, enterprise and financial backgrounds launching and leading projects with a goal to selling to schools, children or (the new workaround) straight to parents. Many of these products are systems based and I am not sure they are answering a real need in education or have taken much advice from educators before getting some way down the track.

Sometimes I despair that the dominant thinking is that everyone went to school and now everyone has a child at school and is therefore an expert on schooling. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard in the past month a startup spokesperson, or marketing team manger for a product, use their own children as the example of why this or that educational solution is vital to education.

In April the prestigious ASU + GSV Summit, marketed as “The Must-Attend Event for Education Technology Investors” demonstrated that education is the new black for technology innovation. With serious large funders in the USA like Intel and Global Silicon Valley Capital (GSV) investing in new educational technology accelerators. Michael Moe Chairman and CEO of GSV Capital gave an excellent keynote  (well worth spending the time on) but if you scan the conference sessions and look at the players who are vested in driving educational innovation there are too few with education in their background. For me, that is the problem.

It’s not that people looking into education who are not educators could not define new or better solutions. But more respect should be paid to professional educators and what they could bring to the design if they were engaged early in the project. You wouldn’t create a program to reform banking processes without first bringing in the expert in financial planning to give advice. But when it comes to education we are relegated to being the end users, play testers or focus groups and are not seen as experts to be consulted.

The pattern looks something like this: ex banking consultants decide on a product idea and bring on a tech design team; when the product has some shape, form and funding they invite feedback from educators.

So that feedback is as users not as subject matter experts or partners. And too often the feedback is treated as optional for the developers to act on. Often the designers and developers are so far down a track, or invested, that they are unwilling to wind back features because of this expert feedback.

Which bring me to ask, why are fewer than expected educators the instigators of these new solutions? Where is the space that a teacher with a great idea for a new educational product or solution can go to find partners to realise the technical and architectural design?

One group missing from the pitches last week (it was a last minute cancellation) was Generation Entrepreneur , created by a group of year 11 students from Baulkham Hills High School. We need to see more of this kind of positive action in edtech.

Generation Entrepreneur was designed as a reaction to how poorly the students felt entrepreneur education was handled in the curriculum. In one year they have attracted lots of in-kind support from the startup sector. These truly are insiders in the educational process and they have big goals to reform the system. Significantly, they were prepared to knock down doors to be noticed.

Maybe we educators need to take a leaf out of the Generation Entrepreneur book, be much more audacious and stop waiting to be offered a place at the innovation table.


BronHeadDr Bronwyn Stuckey, is a Specialist in Gamification, Community of Practice and Open Badges. She has been engaged in educational community and gameful practices in learning development for the past 15 years. She has worked to explore virtual worlds, games in learning and how we can cultivate identity, agency, citizenship, leadership, and community. Bronwyn earned her PhD in researching the core factors supporting successful online communities of practice. Since leaving lecturing and learning design in the higher education sector (OTEN, UOW, QUT, UWS) her research, consultation and design have been in gamification and game-inspired designs for professional learning and communities of practice.

Bronwyn has consulted in K-12, adult and workplace learning contexts in relation to communities of practice, games based learning and aspects of gamification. She is a co-facilitator of the Open Badges Australia and New Zealand (OBANZ) community and has for the past 2 years researched the efficacy of open badges in re-imagining and re-framing academic learning programs and contexts. She is a postdoctoral research fellow of the Arizona State University Center for Games & Impact and is global leader in the gamification for community and identity cultivation. Bronwyn is also lead member of the Sydney Education Technology Group  working to support edutech startups and to make Sydney the hub of educational entrepreneurship.