Teacher and Student Input — Or Why It’s So Hard to Take Down Those Rabid Wolves

A while back, Venture Beat ran a piece on why most ed tech startups suck. We had to agree — and felt slightly superior knowing that we definitely do no fall under that suck category. It’s a good read on what ed tech startups should and shouldn’t do.

And one particular line jumped out to us as we’ve discussed it in-depth around our office.

The piece’s author, Reynol Junco, wrote:

Ed-tech startups rarely, if ever, talk with educators about designing their product.

As we’ve been working in the ed tech space for a while, we have to agree. To be clear, we’re not saying all other ed tech startups suck. But we’ve also heard plenty of pitches and/or folks talking about their “startups” (which often aren’t actually companies as much as ideas) where the person says, “We’re just going to throw out textbooks tomorrow, and they’ll use our super-amazing iPad app. Which by the way, we haven’t actually started developing or validated with teachers, but trust us – it will revolutionize education.” (And of course, there’s small issue of most schools not being 1:1 iPad schools. But let’s not classroom realities get in the way.)

Of course, that’s not actually the way to revolutionize education. Sure, it’s a lot easier to tell people what they need to do to fix things when you have absolutely no idea as to the complicated issues that cause the problem. This is not the same as taking a step back from the problem or looking at it with a “fresh set of eyes.” It’s more like telling someone to buy a new car when they get a flat tire.181310_1827352530675_6071021_n

Sure, buying a new car with a new set of tires would solve the problem of the current flat tire, but it is neither cost effective nor practical. Then there’s the fairly significant fact that you haven’t actually solved the flat tire problem — because your new car is just as likely to get a flat tire. So you’ve got a flashy new car, but have done nothing to solve the actual problem and you’re now out a bunch of money that you probably didn’t have in the first place.

We prefer to take a different approach. We’re committed to developing games that meet teachers’ actual needs — not what we think they need. We believe in surveying the educational landscape – like broadly surveying it. Our CEO was at a pitch competition last week where the guy cited a survey of 12 people as validation of his concept. Right now, we have literally 100 times that many people whose feedback we are soliciting — either via data or direct input.

middle schoolIn all of our teacher workshops, we tell them to tell us what we can do to improve. What needs to change? We ask the kids what they like and what they don’t — and believe us, middle schoolers have not yet developed the “let me couch my criticism so I don’t hurt your feelings” filter. They tell it like it is — which is incredibly fortunate for us. Because we use this feedback to make what we’re doing better.

We’ve worked to gather teacher and student feedback as far back as the design phase – before we even wrote a single line of code. And we’ve continued those efforts every step of the way – through our alpha and beta testing, through iterations and updates, now as we segue into a true commercial launch in the coming months (our launch efforts to-date have been on the softer end).

We have made significant changes and iterations to reflect the demands of active classroom teachers and the students who play our game. We created a supplementary teacher resource site, in direct response to teacher feedback. We added more animated movies as learning modules because that’s what the students said they liked most. We thought maybe we should make it easier to fend off the rabid wolves. The kids we talked to overwhelmingly told us “No!”

Why do we do this?  Maybe because we’ve been there ourselves. Our CEO has taught math at every level from grade school through graduate level – including middle school math, which is the focus of our games. Our lead consultant, who has been part of our team since before 7 Generation Games was even a concept, is a teacher currently working in K-12 classrooms. In addition to soliciting the input of the teachers who are currently using our games, we have a three-member educator advisory panel. Two of those advisors are teachers actively teaching — a middle school history teacher and an elementary school math teacher. Our third advisor is a retired educator and school board member.

Of course, the reason we’re so dependent on real world feedback is simple. We want to succeed — and making games that serve the actual needs of teachers and students is the surest way to keep 7 Generation Games off the ever-growing list of failed tech companies.

We realize that as an educational technology company, there is no value in your product unless teachers and students will actually use it.