Could teachers’ lives get any worse? The cries of overwhelming workloads, unrealistic performance targets and frequent curriculum records play like a stuck record. But there’s something else that’s hindering our teachers. A secret beast disguised as a shining saviour. Technology.

Technology is often a burden to our educators, not the magical solution we all thought. White October made this startling discovery by conducting interviews with teachers across the country. As an EdTech product manager, it’s time you acknowledged both your part in creating the problem, and duty to solve it.

“I’d like to see a single system where all students can work and be marked online.”

Dealing with too many pieces of software is a huge pain point for many teachers. There are different programmes for marking, attendance, parental communication and teaching materials. A technology product may have problem-solving potential for a teacher, but if it adds significantly to their admin it can become a key reason for wasted time.

EdTech providers and product managers have a difficult and evolving ecosystem of technology that their products need to integrate in to. Whilst software like Google Classroom is positioned to tie products together and reduce friction for the teacher, other more established management platforms such as CAPITA SIMS are part of the problem, with cumbersome integrations and poor user interfaces.

As a product manager you have a moral obligation to ease the burden on teachers as well as this commercial reality: products that introduce pain for teachers will not be renewed. You must invest in achieving frictionless integration so management can be centralised and efforts aren’t duplicated.

“If you have 30 iPads, 10 won’t log on. We don’t have the staff to solve this.”

How can teachers be expected to use technology when it can’t even be set up? Login issues are another major problem for teachers. We found that although teachers are positive about the potential of technology in the classroom, their reality is fraught with multiple barriers; including permissions, connectivity, account management and subscription rights.

No teacher wants to set up accounts for 30 students and troubleshoot tech problems in front a class that’s spinning into chaos. And yet many of them reported that this is what is happening due to today’s EdTech products.

A Macmillan Education survey of teachers discovered that about 30% of teachers have limited or no internet connection in their classrooms. Therefore the challenge facing you, the EdTech providers, is the uneven spread of ability, support and provision of technology across UK schools.

“This left us with a big problem to solve”, Rob Fallon, Senior Product Manager of Digital Learning, explained. “As a product manager one has to choose based on development resource which of these distinct and evidenced problems to address first when there isn’t capacity to serve both at once.”

“The biggest challenge is a lack of staff confidence with technology.”

Teachers need to cater for students of differing abilities and needs, and indeed EdTech products can provide many solutions that help them do just that. And adaptive learning products are beginning to offer AI powered solutions to set activities based on ability.

But you as a product manager need to appreciate that before the students use it, the teachers need to adopt the technology with ease, efficiency and a clear understanding of how to use the product. Regarding your product, you need to be asking yourself these questions: When will the teacher find time to reflect on the insight that products provide? Do they have the time to learn how to use these products effectively? Whilst managing a class, what does it take to give a teacher insight that they can act on?

“Some kids don’t have computers at home.”

Some students from disadvantaged families have minimal access to technology at home, and teachers attempting to use EdTech products for homework can find themselves doubling efforts to find paper-based alternatives. You can’t be ignorant to these problems as a product manager. By doing so you could be making it impossible for some schools to adopt technology and causing disillusionment for those that do.

The reality for teachers is patchy internet, out-of-date laptops, and children with little or no access to technology at home. These factors set real, unavoidable limits on the scope for new products. They are also the least inspiring set of problems to solve - who wants to conceive a low or no-tech alternative when trying to crack AI driven adaptive learning? Yet these seemingly mundane issues are the key to creating compelling products that stand a chance of succeeding in today’s schools.

Despite the promise of new technology, you need to solve a wide range of human problems in order for it to be widely adopted. Those that understand the nature of this challenge will end up on top and make teachers’ lives easier in the process.

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