Last week I attended the annual conference of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in Denver, Colorado. Each year ISTE brings in over 18,000 educators from around the world to discuss how to integrate technology into their classrooms and improve student learning. In addition to attending several panels and workshops, I spent most of my time in the expo hall with over 500 different ed tech vendors. One thing I reflected on as I walked into their booths was the difference between products for teachers and products for students.
Products that Help Teachers Teach
- The first category of vendors that quickly became apparent was those who create and share lesson plans with teachers. These include for-profit companies like Science Bits, non-profit companies like Global Oneness Project, academic institutions like PhET at the University of Colorado, and for-profit marketplaces like Teachers Pay Teachers. I really appreciate the value that this category of products brings to the table. When I was teaching, coming up with engaging lesson plans was the hardest part of my job. Though it’s still up to the teacher to ultimately find and adapt these lesson plans to their classroom, the ease of finding them online is a huge time saver. I was glad to see many such vendors at ISTE.
- Another category of vendors I observed was those who make
it easier for teachers to conduct online assessments. It is clear that there is strong demand for online question banks, and vendors like IXL and Kahoot meet this need. I noticed many teachers who were excited about Kahoot, and it’s no surprise. Teachers can easily create their own digital quizzes on Kahoot, and they can also reuse questions from the thousands of Kahoot questions that others have shared. The Kahoot team delivered engaging presentations on how teachers can use Kahoot beyond just assessing performance. Though I personally don’t think multiple choice quizzes are an engaging form of learning, I understand how time consuming it is for teachers to come up with their own assessments, as well as the reality that assessments often guide the material that is taught. It’s also interesting to see companies like Kahoot use quizzes as the basis for an entire lesson- use a quiz as an icebreaker, as introductory material, as a reinforcer of learning, etc. I have concerns about quizzing replacing teaching but I’m also curious to see where these companies go next.
- A third category I observed was tools to help teachers manage behavior in their classrooms. My favorite example of this was GoNoodle, which delivers “brain
breaks” for students through fun exercise dance videos. How can you not love a booth that features a dance party with adorable monsters? Another example is ClassDojo, which reinforces positive student behavior through cute avatars with points and badges. When I look back on my time as a first year teacher, classroom management was definitely one of my biggest challenges, and I wish some of these tools were around to create a positive structure and cadence to my classroom culture.
- The fourth category I observed is products that help teachers manage their assignment and work flows. There are some creative ones like Drawp, which started as a great drawing app, and now has a fun interface for students to submit assignments with the drag of a finger. Others in this category include big players like Edmodo (disclaimer: that’s where I work!) and Hapara.
Products that Help Students Learn
- While many ed tech products are geared toward the teacher as the primary user in mind, it was interesting to see many vendors at ISTE who offered products that can be used directly by students. These include products that students can engage with right away without a teacher guiding them, like the fun robots made by BirdBrain Technologies. Younger kids can program the dragon robots with parent supervision, while older kids can program the robots on their own. Teachers can choose to use these robots in the classroom just like they would incorporate any other student-led game like Legos.
There’s a fine line between products that are targeted directly to students (often marketed to their parents and teachers as the decision makers) and products that can be used directly by students only after a teacher assigns them. My favorite example of this category is Flocabulary, a website with fun hip hop videos for all subjects. Flocabulary is meant to be consumed directly by students, but their website is not meant for students to find it on their own– it is geared toward teachers and schools paying for annual subscriptions and assigning them to kids. Even though it’s a product kids love and that helps them learn, and I would describe it as “fun videos for students,” it is targeted to teachers first. Other examples in this category include Brainpop, a website with educational videos and content loved by many students and teachers, and Mathseeds, a website with high quality engaging math lessons.
As I walked through the many aisles of booths at ISTE, it was fun to think of categories for all the different education technology products I was seeing. It crystallized for me the distinction between “Does this help teachers teach?” and “Does this help students learn?”