We value the entrepreneurs who invent and reinvent things (that don't necessarily need reinventing) for their ingenuity and creativity. And, heck, we even get some glee when we see that an app that's generating zero revenue actually gets funding because of its power to create community.
But, in the tech world, we don't give much credit to the actual creators of "community", those who have the biggest impact on today's society: social workers, nonprofit business owners, and the big whammy, teachers.
Some edtech companies, such as Wisewire, are taking note and advocating for empowering these individuals with problem-solving technology, so teachers truly can innovate in their fields. Wisewire Executive Chairman and CEO Nanda Krish thinks the best of these edtech tools are invisible to us. "They are an extension of what we need, and solve a real problem. We use them without thinking," he said.
I sat down with Krish to get his take on the issues plaguing our education system, including if tech can solve them if tech-forwardness isn't already a part of the curriculum.
Rebekah Iliff: In your opinion, what is the number one challenge of the education system today?
Nanda Krish: The pace and expectations put on educators today are much greater than before Common Core State Standards were established. With the growth of Open Education Resources (OER) and online marketplaces, too many choices may mean no choices at all. Teachers are overwhelmed with the amount of materials just a click away, and are burdened by pressures from administrators, parents and the bureaucracy. They need a trusted partner to help sort through the clutter to help them find the right teaching solution for their unique students with minimal effort.
RI: What is the most misunderstood thing (or things) about today's education system?
NK: There are three fundamentally misunderstood pieces in today's education system.
First, teachers, the most valuable human resource, are not always being heard and treated as the professionals they are. Teachers need increased autonomy, improved working conditions, pay and treatment on par with other high paying professions, and most importantly, to be set free to teach.
Second, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Our system for regulating the preparedness of students needs a unifying element to set the bar high for our students as one nation to compete in today's digital global world. The implementation of these standards and expectations on students has proved extremely challenging, and people fear what they don't know or understand.
Third, the idea that "schools are not working." We already know what works and what can be effective. Improved data collection and advances in edtech allow us to continue to focus and refine. There are so many schools, private, public, and charter, that we can learn a lot from. The challenge is that education is often a political thing, so it's easy to cast a wide net and say "schools are not working" when you're not looking in the right places.
RI: Common Core State Standards are under the microscope these days. Talk about why they matter, and if you think we should keep them.
NK: No one disagrees with setting high standards for our students. In essence, that's what Common Core is meant to do: raise the bar across the country. The messaging is the key. States should feel free to use the standards and apply the spirit of the rigor to their individual districts and states. That is the hope of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Implementing these standards is important in closing the knowledge gap and unifying U.S. education to ensure that all students, no matter where they reside or their socioeconomic status, achieve their highest potential.
RI: Something I hear (and write) about often is the lack of focus on STEM for girls. How is Wisewire attacking this?
NK: There's a gender gap in STEM fields in the workforce, and closing this gap is important to maximize scientific innovation for our future. I recently wrote about the challenges and benefits of engaging girls in STEM. But the answer to closing this gap is not tailoring math and science curriculum to be specific "STEM for girls." Rather, removing gender bias in products and shifting the social and cultural perceptions so female successes in these fields becomes normalized and celebrated.
RI: So the STEM equivalent of making toy store aisles less gender-focused?
NK: Yes. The learning engineers and editors at our company, for example, are trained to develop and design content for learners, not genders, and the work our team does includes removing gender biases from materials.
RI: How else has technology enhanced education? And on the flipside of that, how has tech hindered it?
NK: One of the greatest enhancements technology has provided education is data collection and adaptive learning: the ability to give real-time feedback to teachers and students and offer immediate intervention. It has allowed us to collect more data, process it more quickly, and adapt to meet the learner's needs, while at the same time allowing other students to continue at their pace.
The downside is that this advancement may deepen the knowledge gap from an accessibility standpoint. Not all schools have access to technology or know how to use it effectively, and could put students on the lower socioeconomic spectrum further behind. We've also seen a negative impact on the product development side, where some are quick to develop materials to work with the available technology rather than design the technology to work the way students need to be taught.
RI: What does the future of edtech look like, and what are your predictions for the next five to seven years?
NK: We are intrigued by the possibilities of virtual reality to lift students into another world. Look for this technology in more classrooms soon. Amazon uses recommendations and search in a highly effective way for serving customers with what is needed, and similar precision is now being applied for personalized learning so that every student is understood, valued, and able to reach their potential. We expect continued advances here. Data sciences and analytics combined with learning science will have a higher impact on learning outcomes and the students' ability to win and retain a job.
RI: What is one piece of advice you'd give to those who are interested in teaching?
NK: Today's teachers should know how to connect, engage and inspire students in the digital age by keeping up to date on new technologies, including social media platforms like Twitter and Snapchat. They are part of a larger community of stakeholders in student success--which includes administrators, parents, guardians, families, counselors, social workers, community members, and even edtech companies--and deserve the support of this larger community so that they are able to focus on what they do best and are uniquely trained to do: teach. They need to be prepared to work with these communities and network with each other to be most effective.
RI: What type of far-fetched advancements do you think we'll see in education and edtech in the near future?
NK: At ISTE this past summer, Dr. Michio Kaku, futurist and theoretical physicist, shared his predictions for the future of technology and humanity, and what it could mean for education. His predictions included smart contact lenses for reading and searching for information, 3-D printers that can produce human organs, and robot doctors and lawyers.
An interesting takeaway from this is that while doctors and lawyers may be replaceable by robots, teachers simply are not. While there are technological advances with adaptive learning engines, there is no replacement for the true creativity, experience, and mentorship a quality educator can provide to a student.
There is no substitute for the power of that inspiration. As a nation and edtech industry the focus must be on creating effective learning products and supporting teachers to benefit the ultimate end users: the students.