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As the Ed-Tech Market Grows, What Voice Do Educators Have?

Audrey Watters

Education technology journalist
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It's that time of the year when tech journalists like myself start to review everything that's happened over the last twelve months so we can write our obligatory "this year in tech news" stories. And my, what an interesting year it has been for education technology. We've seen new hardware (least of which, of course, the iPad), new software (with new education startups galore), new ed-tech programs (at schools, at libraries), more broadband penetration (well, slightly more), and more widespread adoption of technology tools -- by students and educators, in the classroom and at home.

All of this has had a big impact on "the business of ed-tech," and according to statistics released last week by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), the market for educational software and digital content has reach a new high: some $7.5 billion for the U.S. alone.

Of course, it's a bit of a red herring to talk about the "educational software market" with such broad, sweeping generalizations because there are a number of different types of buyers there: schools, teachers, parents, and students to name at least four "consumers" (and that's ignoring, too, the differences between K-12 and higher education). Nevertheless, it's been a big year for ed-tech.

But when we examine the growth in the ed-tech industry this year, it's still important to examine how much voice educators and students have. Sure, they're the end-users. But they're not always the buyers. Even in the case of the most popular of educational products -- and the iPad is a good example here -- that there are some great features (touchscreen, mobility, and so on) alongside some elements that just aren't "right" for schools (individual accounts, syncing and administering multiple devices in a 1:1 environment, for example). Schools are still being sold hardware and software with little chance for teachers and students to dictate how those products are built and what shape they'll take.

Yet it feels like 2011 marked a shift -- maybe not in hardware manufacturing, but certainly on the software side. We're beginning to see educators and students not just as the consumers of education technology; they are also more and more the makers.

More Third-Party App Developers, in general: Part of that shift, no doubt, is thanks to the third-party app markets that Apple (and Google and others) have created to work with their respective devices (whether that's the iPad in the case of Apple or the Web in the case of Google). The Android and iTunes apps marketplaces have provided new distribution opportunities for developers, helping them get their apps in front of learners. In many cases, this has meant that educational apps can make money without having to go through the enterprise sales cycles that getting software onto school desktops has long required.

Startup Weekend EDU: One organization that made a concerted effort this year to make sure educators were among those building new education apps and education startups is Startup Weekend. The Kauffman Foundation-funded Startup Weekend events ask participants spend the weekend -- Friday evening through Sunday evening -- building working on a tech product (and ideally a tech startup). In September, after a couple of successful of events focused on building education startups, Startup Weekend announced a series of events dedicated to building startups in the education vertical. Since then, Startup Weekend EDUs have been held in Seattle, San Francisco, Washington DC, and London. And much to my great pleasure, teachers have become involved more and more as the year has progressed.

I've argued elsewhere that educators' participation in Startup Weekend EDU may well be a new form of professional development. Of course, some teachers really do plan on leaving the profession to become edu-entrepreneurs. But even for those who don't, working as a member of a Startup Weekend team can, as Edutopia's Elana Leoni suggested, spark innovation. Working on a startup means tapping into project management, problem-solving and marketing skills. It also means identifying a problem in education and building a solution, one that is economically viable as a new business.

PLN: That's something that's echoed all the time in educators' own personal learning networks: identify a problem; build a solution. Those solutions can mean resource-sharing in face-to-face settings, on blogs, on Twitter and the like. Solutions can mean helping explain how to use a tool, how to "tweak" a tool for an educational purpose, or how to build something from scratch. This last piece seems particularly powerful this year and in the future. After all, as the ed-tech market grows, educators' voice in not just buying, but in building the next generation of ed-tech will be crucial.

So More Teachers/Hackers/Builders/Makers in 2012, Please: Let's help support one another in building and sharing our tricks and tools and hacks. Better ed-tech will require all of us become builders, whether that means we're looking down at the code or looking out for other users.

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Audrey Watters

Education technology journalist

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Grant Lichtman's picture
Grant Lichtman
Chief Operating Officer, Francis Parker School, San Diego

We anticipate a game-changer in terms of how school money is allocated when we start to go BYOD next year. This is something that a lot of independent schools are taking a hard look at. It will leverage an resource that we have never had in the equation in the past: those computers that are sitting at home when the kids are at school. We spend on the order of $200K a year to keep our student laptops etc even marginally up to date. By increasing the number of student-owned devices that are used at school we will stop sending those dollars to Apple and Dell and re-direct them either to more in-class ed-tech support or to keeping the rate of tuition increases somewhat lower.

I know this equation does not directly translate to public schools, but there are parts of it that will. The idea that 10 years from now we are still going to provide some separate device for a student to use at school apart from what they live the rest of their life on is absurd, and we should not be spending dollars in that direction today.

futureclassroomtech's picture
6th Grade Teacher

I would have loved to have participated in the Start Up weekend. I developed an app over the summer for my own use in the classroom:

I use it to track behavior and other things that I would otherwise be tallying on a clipboard. I wanted to be able to export and use the data and couldn't find a good app with that feature so took a crash course in making my own and it ended up working out and I started sharing it.

It really would be great to have educators, students, and other end users to be involved in the development of technologies that they will ultimately use. I think state governments should also get involved and put together teams to plan for technology implementation on large scales instead of all the disconnected initiatives I have often seen.

Jennifer Inglis's picture
Jennifer Inglis
Social Media Supervisor for

Educators do have a voice in Education Reform. Please check out ClassroomWindow at or @Power2Teachers on Twitter. We are a new site created to give teachers a voice in how education products are developed, purchased, and implemented in the schools.

Like Yelp or TripAdvisor, ClassroomWindow empowers teachers to rate and review education products and services. The data teachers generate will change how districts purchase classroom products and how publishers and vendors develop materials.

knumbersense's picture

We've engaged with an approach whereby "educators and students [are] not just...the consumers of education technology; they are also...the makers" for close to 3 years now. We collaborate with two kindergarten teachers and several pre-service teachers in building numeracy apps targeted to the particular learning needs that arise in our neighborhood kindergarten. Our apps are far from flashy, and they are not intended to hold mass commercial appeal, but they do respond directly to learning needs identified "on the ground" at our partnering elementary school, and the teachers themselves provide the ideas for what the apps should do. We simply build them in response to this localized "demand." Please visit our website ( for more information about one model of Audrey's vision in practice. Like Audrey, we would like to see an expansion of this approach. The mobile app market seems to have laid a firm groundwork for this to happen on a larger scale.

ClassroomAid's picture

The transition into digital textbooks is actually aiming a higher goal than just bringing cost down. Let's not make students "sit and get" when it comes to digital content, but instead, make them part of the engaging content assets, so do teachers.Looking back on year 2011, there are so many to talk about digital textbooks written by teachers and even students, these are some reviews. Why don't educators turn the digital transition into education revolution ?

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