Here’s Why Teachers Adopt New Tech — and Why They Don’t
I can’t count the number of technological tools that were marketed directly to me during my 14-year teaching career. I could probably count the number of tools I tried out and tested—that number would be in the double-digits. And the number of education-specific apps, services, and software I actually used consistently? Those I could easily count on one hand.
You see, as a high school English teacher working more than 50-hour weeks, I just didn’t have the time to invest in new technology. Any “spare” time I had (the time my friends used to advance their careers, take Yoga, connect on Facebook) I spent lesson planning, rereading literature and grading papers. The only time I had to explore technology was during professional development and over the summer. Translation: never. The district-mandated PD tech instruction I experienced was inconsistent, infrequent and seemed to focus heavily on early-education apps like ClassDojo. And the summer? Who are we kidding—the part of my summer not spent in a self-induced comatose state, I was lesson planning for the following year.
It’s unfortunate: There’s a ton of great technology available to support teachers and enhance the learning experience and—if investment trends in edtech are any indication—we’ll see even more innovation in the upcoming years.
The problem isn’t product scarcity. It’s in product design and marketing. Because no matter the business model, whether the technology is marketed and purchased at the district level, or whether it’s a free app marketed direct to the teacher-consumer, the product will have a short life if the end-user doesn’t use it.
To increase conversion and build a loyal customer base with teachers, R&D and marketing efforts need to focus on the ROI.
When teachers conduct an initial assessment of any technology, they assume there will be some investment involved—usually related to the amount of time it will take to learn the technology and incorporate it into practice. So there’s little motivation to even consider the potential investment if there’s no guarantee of a return. If the technology does not offer a clear benefit, I’m not going to look into it any further. When assessing return, teachers look for the following:
Will It Help Meet Learning Objectives?
A teacher’s primary goal is to get students to meet standards-basedlearning objectives. If the technology supports this, it meets the primary requirement. Can the tech support or provide a learning activity that can be classified within Bloom’s taxonomy? Does it meet subject- and grade-level Common Core standards?
Tom Traeger is a California science teacher and former colleague of mine. I reached out to some to learn when and why teachers use technology. Tom told me he has always incorporated a higher than average level of technology into his instruction. He uses programs like Google Suites (a teacher favorite across the board), his Mobi interactive whiteboard and Vernier probes and software primarily because they all help him meet Next Generation Science Standards.
Will It Increase Engagement?
A teacher may have created a mind-blowing standards-based lesson with measurable, data-driven outcomes, opportunities to differentiate instruction and all that good stuff. But it doesn’t mean anything if the students aren’t engaged. And engagement is more than half the battle in the war to educate this Snapchat generation. If the technology is going to assist me in reaching my reluctant learners or enhance a lesson that, quite frankly, even bores the heck out of me (sentence diagramming, anyone?), I’m game. This is probably why response and formative assessment apps like Pear Deck, Kahoot and Exit Ticket are so popular.
Emily Wilson, an independent study teacher at Olive Grove Charter School and another tech-savvy educator, remarked that her district’s textbook adoption of MyPerspectives became a hit with her students when they learned they could use the smartphone app BouncePages to listen to an audio version of the text as they read. Even though the integration of the technology was “a little cumbersome” at first, her students’ level of engagement made the investment worthwhile.
Will It Facilitate Instruction?
Providing an engaging experience facilitates instruction probably more so than anything else, but there are other ways technology can make a teacher’s job a bit easier. And busy teachers could use a little help. Most teachers I know have adopted the Google Suite into their practice. The convenience of having access to administrative tools like spreadsheets, slides and calendars within one platform makes it easy to document correspondence, provide feedback on written work and quickly create engaging presentations—all of which are stored in a single location.
Take me for example. I used Google Sites and Google Classroom as a lessons database and communication outlet for parents and students, greatly reducing the time spent micromanaging and communicating about missing assignments.
If the technology meets any of the requirements above (and more than one is even better), a teacher will then calculate whether the return is worth the investment. In the edtech world, meeting this requirement is far more difficult than meeting the requirements of the return.
If the tech company has received funding or has a shrewd and experienced enough team to market to the end-user, the technology is probably pretty slick. But is it slick enough to get teachers to actually use it? Here’s what teachers will ask:
Will I Have to Pay for It?
The cost of a technology is usually not a concern for teachers; ed tech companies understand their audience well enough to know most teachers aren’t given discretionary funds to purchase their own supplies. Therefore, most technology is free (with limited usage, advertising or in-app purchases), or it’s paid for at the district level.
In the rare instance in which a teacher is being asked to purchase tech, it better be cheap. Teachers are notoriously underpaid and already spend an average of $479 a year of their own money to support their instruction. If an edtech company creates a business plan in which teachers are the main buyer, the tech better have some pretty phenomenal returns.
How Much Time Does It Take to Learn?
As I illustrated in the introduction, teachers lack time nearly as much as they lack adequate pay.
A recent survey conducted by the Nevada State Education Associationrevealed that half of the teachers polled are considering leaving the profession in part because they’re overworked. Three-quarters of the teachers polled responded that they don’t have enough time to prepare for their jobs during the workday and 21 percent of them spend more than 15 hours outside of their workday to prep.
With so many unpaid hours spent lesson planning, grading and catching up on administrative tasks, there’s little time or energy left to explore new technology, no matter how mind-blowing or innovative it may be.
Miranda Page-Jones, an English teacher at Willamette High School in Eugene, Ore., would welcome the opportunity to explore new technology if it could enhance her teaching. But she’s currently sticking to her trusty document camera and projector because, as one of her school’s IB lead teachers, learning new technology is a low priority when she has hundreds of papers to grade at any given time.
Can I Integrate It Into My Instruction With Ease?
If a teacher has the ability to test and learn new technology, the final consideration is, as teacher Emily Wilson alluded to earlier, the ease of implementation and integration into instruction. This investment is multi-faceted and can vary greatly by district, school and classroom. Part of what goes into this is the following:
- How difficult will it be to set-up the technology in the classroom and how much time will be needed? Can students use their phones, or will I need to reserve a laptop cart that I lug to my classroom (and then manage the distribution of the laptops to the students?). If it’s a Bring Your Own Device situation, will I easily be able to accommodate students who don’t have devices?
- What level of training will students need to use the technology? How much class time will I need to devote to teaching my students how to use it?
- If it’s a technology that I will use to enhance instruction through the creation of visuals or games, how much time will it take to create the presentation? Can a similar presentation be created in less time and with more ease with something already in my toolbox?
- Does my district, school or classroom have the capability to host the technology? Is there a danger that my school’s network limitations will cause my technology-focused lesson to fail—leaving me struggling to find a solution in a room full of teenagers?
This last consideration—whether the school network can support the technology—seems like a ridiculous concern as we head into 2020. Unfortunately, it’s a very real issue and one that disproportionately impacts rural and lower-income districts still struggling to meet the FCC’s short-term connectivity goal (100 Megabits per second per 1,000 students).
The main takeaway is this: To reach teachers, educational technology companies truly need to understand their audience’s pain points and must be aware that even the most innovative technology can’t compete with 55-hour work weeks or survive shoddy infrastructure. To thrive in the competitive market of K-12 tech, it’s all about the ROI.