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Working With NYC Schools: Insights for EdTech Start-Ups V1.0

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The NYC Department of Education's iZone developed this guide to help edtech startups and entrepreneurs consider the challenges and needs of school communities in order to design and develop smarter technology solutions.

Published in: Education
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Working With NYC Schools: Insights for EdTech Start-Ups V1.0

  1. 1. WORKING WITH NYC SCHOOLS: INSIGHTS FOR EDTECH START-UPS Carmen Fariña, Chancellor
  2. 2. 2 As an edtech professional, you know that technology has drastically changed the way we live our lives and continues to shape how we engage in learning. EdTech has the potential to help educators more effectively and creatively personalize learning opportunities for their students. It also has the ability to create and improve systems that help schools better serve our youth. Now more than ever, educators and schools are seeking high-quality edtech tools, apps, and software to support and transform teaching and learning. To meet this demand, we created this introductory guide to help entrepreneurs and start-ups build better technology products with and for New York City public schools (NYC Schools). NYC Schools is the largest and one of the most diverse public school systems in the country. These conditions create an environment where different schools may serve unique student populations with varying demographics depending on their geographic location and school admissions process. Additionally, each school principal has autonomy over setting their school’s vision, making budgetary decisions, and establishing relationships with edtech providers. As a result, technology access, human capacity, and the use of edtech products varies widely from school to school, and even classroom to classroom. These factors can make navigating and working with NYC Schools complicated for edtech entrepreneurs and start-ups. However, they also present an opportunity to innovate and test new ideas that address the needs of students, educators, and school communities as well as the opportunity to debug products in a variety of contexts. This guide will help you consider the everyday challenges and needs of school communities in order to design and develop smarter technology solutions. The iZone was established in 2010 by the NYC Department of Education to explore how technology supports new models of teaching and learning. Our edtech ecosystem initiatives over the past three years have focused on improving collaborative relationships between school communities, potential vendors in the edtech market designing innovative solutions, and professionals who are researching and evaluating what works in schools. We engage closely with educators to understand the challenges in NYC Schools and help them assess how to fit and integrate edtech products into their instruction. This primer builds upon the lessons learned from this work and countless conversations with the larger edtech ecosystem.
  3. 3. 3 To foster better relationships within the edtech ecosystem and between developers and schools, we needed to make intentional efforts to improve information on effective strategies for building and evaluating educational technology at various stages of development. At the forefront, we believe that it makes a crucial difference when edtech product developers like you have empathy for educators grappling with challenges that permeate urban public schools, like the balance of compliance with regulatory polices and issues of equity and access. Product recommendations work best when shared directly by peers, and that is with good reason. Educators have expertise and insight on the day- to-day tactical implementation of technology in the classroom. When you create value and demand by delivering a stellar solution and support to adopt and implement, educators become your greatest evangelists. The key to success begins before you even build the product. This guide is intended to assist edtech entrepreneurs and start-ups in better supporting NYC teachers with technology in the classroom and to help increase the adoption and usage of products that effectively solve real problems. This guide also aims to help entrepreneurs save crucial time and maximize their resources as they begin to develop new edtech products for public schools. A better understanding of educators’ needs will help entrepreneurs deliver stellar solutions for them to adopt and implement, which in turn creates more demand for the product. Understanding how to best support educators better with the use of your product is a critical component of your work. This is a pivotal point that can determine whether products are built for success or doomed to fail. Educational technology is only as effective as its implementer; and therefore, better support leads to more effective adoption and usage. Across the many stages of product development, there are touch points with your customer and user. For the purposes of this guide to help you plan and organize, we have identified three phases of product development in K-12 edtech: It’s expected that different edtech products will have different paths through these stages and that the stages for each product will vary in duration. The time spent in each stage largely depends on the objectives of the phase and how long it will take to gather information and assess the outcomes. Problem and Product Validation: Determining whether your product addresses an authentic challenge or instructional problem educators face in NYC Schools. Piloting: Non-paid or paid implementation of your product in one or a few classrooms. Scaling Support to More Schools: Supporting product use with multiple schools.
  4. 4. 4 Understand and assess the motivations, incentives, and risks for each staff role. Start by researching what accountability metrics govern their work. Interview each member to better understand what might warrant risk for potential reward. Identify the relationship between the user or influencer vs. the decision maker. Who needs to see the value in edtech and in what terms? Each school principal is ultimately responsible for deciding which curricula and instructional resources to adapt for use in their school to best meet their students’ needs. Look at school websites and speak with educators about how their school’s vision and focus shapes instructional priorities. Identify existing systems that schools in New York City are using that your product can integrate with, such as data systems and cloud- based platforms, etc. Tips for navigating NYC Schools: When working in NYC Schools, you’ll likely encounter multiple stakeholders with different roles including school administrators, teachers, and students: A school administrator (a principal or assistant principal) or a designated technology coordinator is often the purchaser of edtech products. School administrators can purchase their own software, hardware, and professional development services from district-managed purchasing portals. They may not see immediate value in edtech tools that require additional resources to implement. Teachers may be the end users or implementers of edtech, and for some products they may be both. Many teachers view technology as a tool to enhance their practice or support student learning. Teachers who identify as early adopters are more likely to take risks and try out new products. However, many educators are less comfortable with technology and may be unfamiliar with or reluctant to try the latest trends in edtech. Students are often the end users of educational technology and present a diverse set of experiences in terms of familiarity with technology, competency levels and engagement in products. • • • • NYC Schools student population by the numbers 14.4% students identified as English Language Learners 18.2% students identified with learning or physical disabilities 74.0% of eligible students graduated students served by New York City Department of Education 1.1 million 78.0% students living in poverty INSIDE NYC SCHOOLS
  5. 5. 5 VALIDATION What is the validation phase? This phase includes the validation of the problem and the validation of a minimal viable product (MVP) solution. During this phase, entrepreneurs and start-ups focus on deeply understanding the problem they are trying to solve. As an entrepreneur, designer, or developer trying to solve a real problem, it is crucial to understand the complexities of the problem and how it manifests in local schools in order to create an effective technology solution. These problems may be instructional challenges, assessment and data gaps, or operational issues that educators and schools are looking to “hire” technology to solve. Have you accurately understood and defined the problem and the product solution? As you begin the process of designing apps and tools for learning, focus on solving problems that will have an impact on your intended users (i.e., teachers and students). A common mistake that many companies make is prematurely piloting their product before they’ve effectively validated the problem by fully understanding the instructional, operational, and infrastructure challenges that created it. A considerable amount of time should be spent on this phase, or you might run the risk of developing a product that does not offer the most relevant solution or address the educator’s highest priority. Fully validating the problem will prevent you from wasting resources and retroactively assessing where your product might have missed the mark. As you move from problem validation to building and validating your MVP, you should be able to answer the following questions: Who are my end users and how are they currently addressing or working around the identified problem? Have you understood the root causes of the problem and flaws in current “solutions” or processes? Have you asked enough users to really test your assumptions? Are there incumbent players or systems that teachers are required to use for some aspect of your solution? What would it take for users to adapt or change current behaviors in order to adopt a new technology solution? As you develop your MVP, consider these questions: Where and how does your product help the user to make behavioral and operational changes necessary to adopt your product? How can you support? What policies do you most prudently need to understand as you develop your product? How will you prioritize and incorporate feedback to improve the product? • • • • • •
  6. 6. 6 Find out how educators, students, and parents (i.e., your potential users) in NYC Schools define and talk about education problems. Participate in meetups, local events, Twitter chats, and other online platforms to engage with your potential users. Asking open-ended and probing questions about their experiences will help you understand their pain points and other insights to build a more responsive product. Discover how different school communities are currently trying to address problems with analog or technology solutions. Does their approach address the root cause of the problem? What are the flaws or pain points in their current approach or work-arounds? Keep asking “why” to get to the root causes of a problem. Otherwise, you might end up solving for a symptom and not a cause. Conduct interviews or focus groups with potential users. Use mock-ups, wireframes, and prototypes to get feedback from educators, students, or parents before you build. While this takes time, it will help you test key assumptions and frame the problem appropriately. Read the U.S. Department of Education’s Ed Tech Developer’s Guide, which lists 10 opportunities for software developers, start-ups, and entrepreneurs to make an impact in school communities. Tips for validating common problems in education: Avoid taking the top-down approach with problem/product validation. It might be more effective to go directly to your end user. Initiate conversations with educators to build meaningful relationships that will add value to their profession and your product. Build a “minimal lovable product” based on your understanding of what your user needs and values most. At this point, it’s about building a product that your users love. It’s up to you to really understand what carries the most value for them. Since usability is critical, glean from those who already recognize the problem and have attempted their own solutions, whether analog or digital. Use paper prototyping to get as much feedback and input as you can before investing time and energy into a technology build. Research federal U.S. Department of Education laws, New York State policies and guidelines, and local district regulations to better understand how education is governed (e.g., the delivery of educational services, student data privacy, scheduling, standardized testing, etc.) Learn how your product can solve problems in the classroom versus over- prescribing a use case to educators. Tips to help you with product validation: • • • • • • • • • • •
  7. 7. 7 PILOTING What is the piloting phase? This phase includes non-paid and paid small-scale piloting in schools to further test assumptions and validate product functionality, user experience, and the features of your MVP. The developer plays an equally crucial role in pre-pilot preparation as the educator. Technologists have the opportunity to anticipate any challenges in implementation and how to troubleshoot them. When selecting pilot schools in New York City, it helps to find educators who have already identified the problem and tried their own solutions. If it’s effective, then the pilot product will improve the school’s capabilities and enhance existing practices. Are you ready to pilot your product in schools? This phase is also a critical time to design, test, and refine feedback cycles that you can replicate in additional environments. Remember that each additional environment will likely have different use cases, challenges, and requirements for aligning to existing priorities and practices. Before you begin your initial pilot, consider these questions: What level of tech proficiency will teachers need to utilize this product? What are some challenges to using the product in the classroom that you may have intended? How do the realities of implementing and using your product in the classroom differ from your expectations (e.g., connectivity, devices, scheduling, competing instructional priorities, etc.)? What information do you need to gather and what actions do you need to take to implement more successfully? During the piloting phase, consider these questions: What are you learning from the usage and engagement with your product in the classroom? Are there opportunities or use cases for the product that you had not originally anticipated? How can you align usage and engagement metrics with what teachers identify as indicators to continue using the product? How might teachers modify use of the product to fit their respective needs? Is the piloting group representative of groups you anticipate onboarding in later stages? What assumptions do you need to test in the future? Consider if the piloting group is representative of who you will onboard in later stages - what assumptions do you need to test next? • • • • • • • • • •
  8. 8. 8 By the time you complete your pilot, you should be able to answer and assess the following: What insights can you gather from the usage data (e.g., engagement with features)? What metrics would help you understand if teachers and students effectively engaged with the product? What did you learn about the realities of implementing this product from your user? How much product usage time is realistic? When is it logistically possible to use the product? What are the barriers to using the product as you intended? Who is the influencer and who is the purchaser? What information and metrics communicate value to each of those players? If you are building an instructional product, how can you better understand how the product aligns or does not align with the school’s instructional practices and priorities? If you are working with student data, how will you address issues of data privacy and security? What are important data systems for integration? Be intentional about your pilot classrooms and schools. Be aware of the different perspectives between users who have already opted in and users you will encounter as you scale. Co-design your piloting process by setting expectations for both types of users and valuing terms that matter to both parties. Make it easy for teachers to pilot so that it won’t take away time from their other priorities. Consider what basic classroom management practices, including routines and procedures, educators will need to have in place to use your product effectively. Ask teachers how using your product may or may not align with their daily routines and schedules. MVPs used in classrooms need to meet a higher standard because you can’t smoke test products with students. Understand where exactly flexibility is needed in the product to meet the varying needs of different classrooms. Develop relationships with users and customers that extend beyond the pilot. Be sure to communicate respect for the challenges of teaching in public schools and ways your product can offer powerful solutions to specific tactical challenges. Provide your teachers with a great user experience and necessary support because they could be your greatest advocates. Tips to help you run successful pilots: • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
  9. 9. 9 SCALING What does it take to support multiple schools? This phase entails growing your user base and supporting a variety of schools, which can vary greatly across New York City. Think about how to best leverage the information you learned during previous phases and apply it to your plans. If new customers ask for references, think about which product highlights existing customers will share and why. During this phase you will likely need to debug, determine any variance in product usage from school to school, and think about how to effectively scale the product’s technical capacity and customer support. Are you ready to support more schools after piloting? Think about patterns for user activation flow in differing environments and how that impacts customer support needs and plans. Scaling becomes less about maintaining high-touch relationships and more about building efficiencies into onboarding and support. Before you begin working with multiple schools, consider these questions: Be aware of any inherent biases that early adopters of your product who have opted in might have. What can you anticipate from the naysayers and skeptics? How do different instructional practices and curricula in schools influence how the product is used? How do you capture different use cases and implementation models in different schools? What additional technical and implementation support do different classroom contexts need in order to optimize use of the product and keep users engaged? What indicates and communicates value and success to a user and customer? Where is this success the same and where might it differ? Why? What information do you need to collect to understand your next phase of growth? • • • • • •
  10. 10. 10 As you work with multiple schools and classrooms, consider these questions: As you scale, what differences are you seeing between your earliest users and your new users? What type of interoperability is a make-or-break for your product in each new environment? Do users need additional or different training and support to onboard? What, if any, additional support do users need to successfully use your product? What are the key touch points that will get new users invested in the product? Based on data and capacity, what is the feasible and logical next step to scale successfully? Observe how teachers are adapting and modifying the product for their classrooms to support their schedules, curriculum, and instructional practices. Work your support plans as you expand. Debug your onboarding and customer setup process. This will help you immensely to scale successfully. At this point, consider developing an onboarding guide that highlights key information. Different NYC schools have divergent needs based on populations served, instructional practices, infrastructure, and operational procedures — develop support models tailored to each type of context. Providing excellent customer support is a defining factor in sustaining and growing engagement with your product. However, as you scale, you might have to adjust your expectations for sustainable support structures. Share customer success stories with educators and school leaders. Give clear and specific examples of how your product supports different classroom contexts. Be sure you can communicate your product’s value in terms that your customer and user will understand. Learn the policies and constraints that govern and impact their work. Tips for working with multiple schools successfully: • • • • • • • • • • • •
  11. 11. #NYCSchoolsTech Use the #NYCSchoolTech hashtag on social media to share your experiences using technology at your school and to connect with like-minded educators. Give Us Feedback Help us improve this guide! Send us a note with your questions, comments, or feedback to innovation@schools.nyc.gov. Acknowledgments This guide was developed by Preeti Birla and Angelina Lopez of the NYC Department of Education’s iZone. Many thanks to those who contributed to this guide: Deborah Chang, Matthew Robins, Danelson Rosa, Sanket Alekar, Kara Carpenter, Liz Engellenner, David Joo, Bara Levitt, Abbas Manjee, Noelle Millholt, Bharanidharan Rajakumar, Megs Shah, and Gordon Smith. © 2016 | version 1.0 strategy & design by TYTHEdesign

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