Deep Listening And The Future Of Educational Technology

By Paul Tocatlian.

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Here’s a news headline you’ll never see: “Software Engineers To Spend 6 Weeks In Elementary Classrooms”.  That’s for good reason, of course. Teachers face enough distractions already, not to mention security risks and administrative roadblocks. Focus groups, pilot projects and direct interviews create most of our user input. These methods are very useful, but lets be clear about one crucial issue in educational technology: we don’t spend much time inside of ordinary classrooms, yet we do make the software that is used by teachers and students in these rooms. 

Does it matter? At the TCEA Conference in Austin, TX, we asked 48 teachers and instructional technologists their opinion. While instructional technologists had varying opinions, the feedback from teachers was strong. “They need to see the struggle,” said Lewsiville High School Math Teacher Elizabeth Lund. “They need to see what happens when technology doesn’t work. They need to see how their technology works with a teacher who is good and classroom management and a teacher who is not.”

So while it may be a good thing that developers aren’t packing snacks and squeezing into pint-sized desks, its important that we address the problem this creates. Teachers struggle daily with technology. They tend to respond by using the technology poorly, or not at all. Districts often respond by switching to competing products, or purchasing “solutions” which further reduce options in favor of stability.

This is why 1:1 (School Provides Device) and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) have made inroads over the years for non-teaching aspects like security, network and device management, monitoring and auditing. But when it comes to classroom instruction, the weakest BYOD link is also the most vital: the moment of teaching and learning.

In comes EXO U. We’re doing things a little differently, because we know that our job isn’t really to make software. Our job is to help teachers and students succeed. Fortunately, we’ve been developing software long enough that many teachers and administrators trust our eyes in their classrooms, enabling us to study the moment of teaching and learning.

We also sponsored The BYOD Listening Project, which we launched just ahead of Ormi at the BETT Conference in London last month. The idea was very simple. Since teaching challenges continue to dominate in BYOD and 1:1, we started posing questions to a global teaching community. Can we pin down BYOD in terms of instruction? What are the universal opportunities and outcomes? What are the winning models and ideas? What are the challenges that inhibit BYOD teaching? The goal is to draw from at least 3,000 educator inputs from teaching communities in 20 countries.

To build trust, EXO U asked a group of educators to design, moderate and analyze educator responses. Ken Royal, Kimberly Hunter and Sharon Campbell kicked the project off, which will continue through June. Please visit, even if your voice is that of a parent, and share your thoughts via the site or on Twitter. Through interviewing, paneling, tweeting and surveying, we find a lot of surprises we couldn’t get just from focus grouping or user testing.

“Put your devices face-down,” is commonly heard in BYOD teaching. Even in the most high-tech classrooms, we get a lot of “Open your books…” and “Take out a sheet of paper” still echo daily.

No matter how many teachers we talk to, they all say the same thing: “Give me something I can actually teach with that doesn’t slow me down, and then stay out of my teaching!”

To develop a standard for translating the moment of instruction into our software, we created the following design principles which drive Ormi:

  • Support Teaching Momentum – Make it beautifully simple and swift to use, precisely in the moment of instruction.
  • Support Learning Momentum – Fiercely guard the connection between teacher and student by reducing steps, taps, clicks, distractions.
  • Stable, Personalized Platform – Must integrate with lifestyles and work glitch-free, even when the web goes down or devices leave the classroom.
  • Integrate Classroom Teaching – Approach every classroom resource as an opportunity for integration with other systems, including SIS and LMS.
  • Give Them What They Ask For – No compromises: an intuitive, consistent experience across all “classroom devices” and operating systems.

We combine these with a larger set of tenets for technology development which together create the backbone of our approach to educational software.

In a recent report released by the National Centre for Education Statistics with the Department of Education, 74% of Pre-K to 12th grade teachers said that technology has helped them reinforce and expand content and has also motivated students to learn. We hope that the approach presented above, and how these principles manifest themselves in the Ormi platform, help further unlock the benefits of technology in education.

Interested in being part of our education feedback community? That’s easy: www.LetsSolveBYOD.com.

PS – that’s a teacher-made, teacher-moderated initiative so don’t worry about getting added to any marketing lists or databases. That’s a promise.

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2 comments

  1. […] about EXO U’s approach to translating the moment of instruction into our software and the design principles which drive Ormi. The lessons we learned led us to define and live by a number of BYODedu tenets […]

  2. […] Deep Listening And The Future Of Educational Technology […]

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