October 25, 2023 | By Kori Hamilton Biagas
The annual ED Games Expo, part of the Institute of Education Sciences’ (IES’) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, creates a space for engagement and learning across the education technology (EdTech) field. Bringing together EdTech developers, researchers, students, educators, families, and government agency staff through discussions, panels, and networking, the Expo generates insights around the development and implementation of game-changing EdTech.
At the 2023 Expo, the LEARN Network hosted a panel moderated by Rebecca Griffiths and featuring speakers who have successfully scaled educational innovations and who bring different perspectives about transitioning products to the market. In this blog post, we share a few key insights from the fruitful discussion between panelists Vanessa Coleman, Jay Connor, Suzanne Donovan, and Sarah Siegal.
– Vanessa Coleman, SRI
Prioritize the needs of those in the peripheries. We know from universal design for learning research that if we design with our most vulnerable populations in mind, we create products that benefit everyone. Coleman talked about the importance of focusing on marginalized identities during the development process, which allows for the development of a product with wider appeal and increased potential for scalability. Connor suggested that researchers and product developers create diverse teams and set research goals and milestones for inclusion of identities that are traditionally excluded from research.
Solve a real user problem. Donovan made a simple yet important point – “products should be designed to make the lives of teachers and students better.” She then discussed the importance of looking into the root causes of student disengagement and teacher frustrations in order to better design solutions that address a clear need. This approach supports developers on the path to scale because publishers want to invest in products that both solve a clear problem and have a clear path to revenue. Siegal made it clear that a developer seeking to sell to a publisher needs to have a fully finished product that satisfies a real user problem, so it will stand strong with market needs.
Make the product easy for teacher to use and engaging for students. Ultimately, educational products can only scale if they are easy for teachers to integrate into their practice and appealing for students to use. Having a product that engages students is a huge win for teachers, according to Donovan. She suggested that developers talk with administrators to better understand teachers’ experiences, time constraints, and competing priorities. Connor emphasized it is most important to never forget about the need, and then think about addressing that need with an easy and approachable solution.
Communicate broadly and often. Regular, reciprocal communication between developers and end users, procurers, decision-makers, researchers, and publishers will help forge a path to scale. Connor shared that engaging with users and their leaders can guide the development of training activities and ensure ease of use for product implementation. Siegal noted that explicit communication between developers and end users as well as between developers and publishers is required to make sure expectations are met on both sides of the market. Connor also encouraged developers to look for opportunities to connect and communicate with others in EdTech community, through IES and other U.S. Department of Education meetings, programs, and resources like the LEARN Network and SBIR program.
If you found this post interesting, stay tuned for a follow-on discussion series with our expert panelists.