partnership edtech

Want to bridge ed and tech? Here are 4 partnership elements to consider

By:

Apr 9, 2019

“About 85 percent of education technology is poorly chosen or used,” said Bart Epstein, Jefferson Education Exchange president, in a recent article. And considering that more than $13 billion is spent per year on edtech in the US, Epstein also says it’s an expensive problem to have—a problem the Jefferson Education Exchange hopes to tackle thanks to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s (CZI) recent investment of more than $1.6 million over two years. The funding aims to help educators nationwide make informed decisions about education technology.

The disconnect between ed and tech is not a new problem, but it’s an ongoing one, nonetheless. However, from CZI’s recent investment to thegrowing success of LEAP and its mission to connect educators with innovators for better personalized learning, momentum for bridging the two in more meaningful ways is growing.

But how can both parties ensure that the connection is more effective, becoming less of a marketing mechanism for companies and more of a lever for improving student achievement and increasing teacher capacity? One example may hold powerful takeaways on the components needed for a successful partnership between industry and education.

A model example

In early 2013, a high school math teacher at Leadership Public Schools (LPS) named Mike Fauteux created a spreadsheet-based tool that accelerated the achievement of his students by facilitating some breakthrough teaching practices. But when he shared his tools with Louise Waters, the Superintendent and CEO of LPS, Waters quickly realized that turning the tool into a sustainable edtech application was no small feat. Prior experience had taught her that philanthropic funding could only take an idea so far, and venture capitalists didn’t seem interested in a product with only a handful of users, even if the product demonstrated strong impact.

At the same time, Prasad Ram, CEO and founder of an edtech nonprofit named Gooru, had spent the last few years working to create a platform to help teachers find open educational resources. But its adoption lagged because it failed to address specific teacher needs, and Ram was eager to find a way to close the missing link between teaching and his technology.

The two CEOs were introduced and quickly realized that their organizations faced complementary strengths and challenges—and partnering might be the solution to each of their complex problems. They soon secured a joint grant to work on redesigning Gooru’s platform with Fauteux’s instructional innovations in mind.

LPS and Gooru’s immediate objective was to incorporate many of the functions and features from Fauteux’s spreadsheet-based tool into Gooru’s technology. Their ultimate goal, however, was not just to build a tool for Fauteux and his LPS colleagues, but to create a new platform that could facilitate innovative teaching practices for teachers around the world. To make the collaborative redesign a success, Fauteux was soon spending at least two days per week at Gooru’s offices, collaborating with the Gooru design team.

By the end of the 2015–16 school year, LPS and Gooru witnessed the first fruits of their partnership—students who were using an initial update of the platform mastered approximately 2.82 times as much math in comparison to similar students across the nation.

4 critical elements of a successful partnership

Partnerships like these between teachers and tech developers are crucial to the creation of high-quality education technologies that can help teachers boost student achievement. These partnerships are not about luring teachers to adopt a tool, but about ensuring that a tool supports good teaching and learning.

Though LPS and Gooru’s example is case-specific, there are some elements of their successful partnership that prove useful in any ed-and-tech collaboration:

1. Teaching practices guide the technology

LPS and Gooru made sure that teaching practices guided the development of the technology, rather than technology driving the instructional model. Consistent with this approach, they formed a clear vision up front of the core design principles for transforming teaching and learning.

2. Teams foster collaboration and a shared language

In order to ensure that the redesigned technology accurately aligned with LPS’ instructional practices, the teacher that developed LPS’ personalized learning model became an embedded member of Gooru’s design team. This level of collaboration proved critical for allowing the team to develop a shared language and understanding of their joint work.

3. Design assumptions are tested in classrooms

As the members of the project team developed ideas for improving Gooru, they tested their design assumptions with LPS teachers by creating simple prototypes to pilot in classrooms. Working within the context of the classroom led to design decisions that were better aligned with teachers’ needs and practices.

4. Business models prioritize the partnership

LPS and Gooru’s business models undergirded the success of their partnership. Because the project was funded with grants and because the two organizations had other sources of revenue to sustain their ongoing operations, they were able to focus on ensuring the project’s effectiveness.

Though not every partnership will precisely mirror LPS and Gooru’s, their story provides important insights into how schools and tech companies can collaborate to meet the instructional needs of teachers and improve student outcomes.

Thomas Arnett is a senior research fellow in education for the Clayton Christensen Institute. His work focuses on studying innovations that amplify educator capacity, documenting barriers to K-12 innovation, and identifying disruptive innovations in education. Thomas previously served as a trustee and board president for the Morgan Hill Unified School District in Morgan Hill, California, worked as an Education Pioneers fellow with the Achievement First Public Charter Schools, and taught middle school math as a Teach For America teacher in Kansas City Public Schools. Thomas received a BS in Economics from Brigham Young University and an MBA from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University.