Building Bridges Between Educators and Edtech
The Silicon Valley Education Foundation (SVEF) and New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) Seed Fund have constantly been exploring ways to deepen relationships and meaningful exchanges between educators and the edtech community. With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they teamed up to launch the iHub program earlier this year. (Many regions are testing different approaches with similar programs being piloted in NYC and San Mateo County.) Curious to hear how these efforts were progressing and provide insights for others trying to connect these communities, I recently caught up with Ritu Tandon and Jennifer Li who are leading the efforts for the SVEF team.
While the broader goal is bridging the gap between educators and edtech, the more specific mission of this pilot is to “facilitate collaboration and product feedback for more effective and impactful edtech tools,” according to SVEF.
The four teams and eight fellows, all with a focus on middle-school math, are approximately half-way through the pilot now, capturing results through case studies, video reflections and measuring student engagement. The iHub team was very thoughtful in their approach to identify and pair up the educators and entrepreneurs. Once the eight fellows were identified, their school and classroom details were shared with the NSVF team who looked to their portfolio and beyond to identify the startups. “In selecting the startups it was important to look at the stage of development of their tool, would their product work on the platform/devices for the schools they had chosen, as well as if they had rich content for teachers to delve in to,” Tandon explains. She goes on to share, “one of the main selection criteria was the ability of the entrepreneurs to work with teachers.” The group of semi-finalists went through a ‘shark-tank’ style competition where the winners were chosen by a panel of school administrators, educators and business leaders.
With the selection process complete the match-making began, pairing teachers with the startups in regionalized groups to meet regularly, mentor each other and talk about product implementation feedback and strategies. The pilot culminates in May with a collaborative session to reflect back on the experience and redesign certain aspects of the program to be implemented for the fall cohort. Tandon shares they have been “extremely cautious about jumping to any assumptions about impact on student achievement because the pilot is only three months long and classrooms differ on pacing and structure.”
In designing the program, there were a few key factors that have led to the positive results so far, including compensating the educators (each receive a $1750 stipend), incorporating their feedback in iterating on the pilot and the timing of the selection process. “We were looking for educators that had more experience teaching, previously worked with tech and excited to try new things,” shares Tandon. She adds, “it was also essential that the schools we chose have capacity to support this type of work and have a philosophy for embracing tech in their classroom.”
One of the fellows, Gabriela Rios, clearly embodied this philosophy, as she was already open to experimenting with new tools. (One of her students learned about Knowre, an adaptive math platform, while attending a MouseSquad conference and spoke so passionately about this product that they decided to pilot it in their classroom.) That culture set the perfect stage for a successful iHub experience implementing Blendspace to organize content and create personalized lesson plans for students. Rios shares that using this tool has improved her ability to flip her classroom more effectively, which “allowed me to have more conversations with my students, more often. This experience has made my students more comfortable with math and has taught them to be more independent and proactive around their learning.”
In reflecting back on the experience so far, the main critique Rios shares is how she wished fellows were more involved in the first round of the selection process. She explains that, “the (judging) panel was impressive but many of them are not in the classroom and it would have been useful to have someone who is in the classroom give their input.”
Beyond Silicon Valley
When efforts like this see pockets of positive results we often think about how that can scale to other communities. Many startups (BetaMatch and TinkerEd are the two most recent that come to mind) have explored how software can possibly support this type of match making to bridge the educator and edtech divide, however no one has been successful, yet. SVEF and NSVF clearly see value in the early results and are looking for ways to scale this type of program by emphasizing the local and centralized approach. According to Li, “rather than run the program ourselves in other locales, our thought is to engage others and provide support for them to execute this model. This is similar to our approach in scaling our Elevate [Math] program to Alameda, Contra Costa and San Mateo counties over the past two years.”
The team has been very happy with the progress so far. “For me it has been really exciting to see the community reaction to this project as it is something we’ve been trying to launch and facilitate for a while,” says Li. “One area we are looking to improve the next time around is to draw from a more diverse pool of teachers.”
Hear that, Bay Area educators? If you’re a local educator or edtech entrepreneur and want to get involved you can apply for the next round of the fellowship (applications open later in April) and attend the next pitch event slated for this summer.