Developing for Impact: Making Meaningful Change, Not Just More Apps

Cross-posted from Medium.

Secretary Duncan speaking at the ASU+GSV Summit. (Photo credit: Joe Portnoy/U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Duncan highlighted the power technology holds for closing the opportunity gap. (Photo credit: Joe Portnoy/U.S. Department of Education)

The demand for high-quality educational apps is increasing as communities become more connected, devices become more affordable and teachers and parents are looking for new ways to use technology to engage students. Yet many existing solutions don’t address the most urgent needs in education.

That’s why this morning Secretary Duncan announced the release of a new resource: The Ed Tech Developer’s Guide: A Primer for Developers, Startups and Entrepreneurs. Created with input from knowledgeable educators, developers, and researchers who were willing to share what they have learned, we designed this guide to help entrepreneurs, app developers, and educators apply technology in smart ways to solve persistent problems in education. It is our hope that the guide will answer key questions and highlight critical needs and opportunities for developing digital tools and apps for learning.

The guide highlights 10 specific areas where developers can focus their efforts for greatest impact. These opportunities represent some of the most urgent needs expressed by educators, parents, and students across the country. These stakeholders are seeking educational apps that improve mastery of academic skills, foster and measure non-cognitive skills, improve assessment experiences, engage families, support college and career planning, provide meaningful professional development for educators, improve teacher productivity, increase access for all students, and close achievement gaps.

Secretary Duncan highlighted the power technology holds for closing the opportunity gap, and meeting the needs of all students, regardless of geographic location, family income or any other demographic factor. All students have the right to an equitable education, and technology can be a powerful tool for making that a reality. For example, apps can provide access to virtual science labs and equipment that may not be available in schools, or digital connections to experts that may not otherwise be able to engage with students.

The guide also discusses some common pitfalls to avoid. For example, the value of technology for transforming learning is lost if it is only used to digitize traditional materials (e.g. scanning worksheets makes them digital, but doesn’t improve the learning experience). Instead, we encourage developers to think about innovative approaches that allow students to engage differently. What does technology make possible that could not be done before?

School leaders also report that developers often rely too much on what they remember about school from when they were a student and fail to address the complex, interrelated needs of today’s education system. Creating high-impact educational apps takes a whole community working together; in particular, educators must be involved at every stage of development for tools and apps to align with their priorities and effectively mesh with their daily workflow. The guide provides examples of successful collaborations between developers and educators to create meaningful educational apps.

Developers and entrepreneurs who choose to apply their talents to build tools for learning have the ability to help transform education in America and exponentially increase opportunities for all students.

Richard Culatta is Director of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.