The Top Edtech Frustrations of Educators


We recently ran a survey to find out which technologies are currently used in education and which technologies are most in demand. The goal was to identify gaps in what educators need vs what educators have. The results were very enlightening.

A few thousand of you responded. The majority of the respondents were public K-12 school teachers. The second largest group were university educators from both public and private universities.

We coupled these results with search data from edshelf. Like Google, searches taking place on edshelf are a good indicator of demand. They represent what you are seeking.

Hopefully this information is useful to aspiring edtech entrepreneurs who want to create something to help educators. Education is a field that deserves attention. It is the foundation of the future. Technology, as a tool, can have a significant impact - as long as it is the right tool that solves a real problem effectively.

Now onto the survey results. Note: respondents were able to make multiple selections, so the percentages do not total to 100%.

Which subjects do you cover using technology?

  1. Language skills (literacy, linguistics, grammar, etc) - 49%
  2. Math (algebra, calculus, etc) - 46%
  3. Sciences (biology, physics, medicine, etc) - 43%
  4. Civics (social studies, history, law, etc) - 37%

These happen to match the most popular subject searches on edshelf fairly well:

  1. Language Arts - 22% of all searches
  2. Math - 21% of all searches
  3. Science - 9% of all searches
  4. Art - 6% of all searches

We expected math and science to be on top because they are so closely tied to technology. But they make sense. Language skills are critical and technology is a good language learning tool.

How do you find out about new apps, websites, and programs, (other than edshelf of course)?

  1. Online communities (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc) - 81%
  2. Blogs - 74.6%
  3. Word of mouth - 74.3%

We were surprised that word of mouth wasn’t at the top of the list, but it makes sense when you investigate further. Teaching can be a lonely profession and many educators use social media to connect with peers and extend their network. And since social media gives you access to people outside of your existing social circle, the likelihood of discovering new ideas and tools is high.

Which technologies do you wish you had?

  1. Tablets - 51%
  2. Mobile devices - 31%

The top choice here matches the most popular platform searches on edshelf:

  1. iPads - 47% of all searches
  2. Websites - 29% of all searches

Sadly for Google, Android is way down on the list (4% for Android tablets, 3% for Android phones). Will the Android-based Amplify Tablet change that? We’ll see. What we do know is there is a growing demand for tablet and mobile devices in classrooms.

Which tasks do you wish were easier than they are right now?

  1. Assessing and grading students - 39%
  2. Creating and/or watching videos - 32%
  3. Assessing and evaluating yourself and/or other educators - 31%
  4. Creating and/or reading textbooks, storybooks, etc - 28%
  5. Creating and/or using lesson plans - 27%

These answers become really interesting when paired with the top categories of tools that educators use, which can act as a proxy for tasks. Note: percentages are of the top 10 categories used.

  1. Game-based learning - 19%
  2. Language learning - 13%
  3. Study aids - 12%
  4. Video content - 10%
  5. Publishing - 10%

It makes sense that video content and publishing tools are highly used. You are looking for videos to aid in your instruction, as well as tools to help you create ebooks, digital documents, etc. Study aids can also be used with lesson plans, though searches for lesson plan creators is more frequent than for lesson plans themselves.

What is particularly interesting are the frustrations with “assessing and grading students,” and “assessing and evaluating yourself and/or other educators.” In both cases, tools exist. There are a lot of student assessment and grading tools, as well as teacher evaluation and professional development tools out there. We don’t even see the terms “assess,” “grading,” or “evaluation” appearing in our searches.

Why is that? We have a few conclusions:

  • There is a discovery gap. Solutions exist, but the solutions have not been discovered by the general education community yet.
  • There is no demand for new solutions because existing ones are good enough. That doesn’t mean there’s no room for a disruptive new solution though.
  • Educators aren’t thinking of technology when thinking about these problems. Grading and assessing students conjures up images of stacks of ungraded papers (ugh). Peer evaluations conjure up images of paper forms, face-to-face conversations, or, in some cases, anxiety and fear.

For teacher evaluations, the answer seems to be a discovery gap. This is a new category of edtech and there are only a handful of choices out there. For example, if you want to do record yourself on video so colleagues and coaches can give you feedback, you have two options: SmarterCookie and Edthena.

For student assessment and grading, options abound. Some services are new, but most have been around for some time. There are some exciting new categories within student assessments, such as clickers like Socrative, GoSoapBox, and InfuseLearning, but traditional gradebook software has been bundled with large learning management systems. So it’s possible that existing solutions seem good enough.

But are they? Every time we visit a school, we hear complaints about their LMS software. Confusing to use. Can’t do this or that. Slow and breaks down often. Sounds like there’s room here for someone to change all of this. And thankfully, there are. A handful of up-and-coming edtech startups are trying to change this market, though no leaders have emerged yet.

What frustrates you the most about the technology that you use?

  1. They don’t do exactly what I need - 36%
  2. Tech support and access issues - 35%
  3. Too many options; I don’t know what is best - 30%
  4. Poor integration with other tools; lack of a single dashboard - 25%

This is an especially interesting question. We didn’t list the last three bullet points in the original survey. The vast majority of you typed in those answers by hand. They must really be frustrating!

We’re happy to say that “too many options; I don’t know what is best” and “tech support and access issues” are two problems edshelf aims to solve. #3 is what we’re doing right now and we are testing solutions for #2 with a handful of pilot schools and members too.

Your top frustration, “they don’t do exactly what I need,” is a loaded answer. It could mean many things:

  • None of the options are customizable enough to fit my students’ needs or my instructional style
  • I’ve tried many solutions and customizations, but none are good enough
  • There are too many choices out there, and the few I’ve examined aren’t good enough
  • I am unable to switch from the current unsatisfactory products I am using

This answer offers insight to many of the existing searches, such as video content, publishing tools, and study aids. To understand this issue further, let’s pull apart one example, video content. We’ve observed teachers looking for video content to fit their lessons, only to give up and go create their own. If you look at the entire universe of education videos, there are millions, perhaps billions out there. Chances are, the right videos already exist. But who has the time to search through that many?

One conclusion: there needs to be better search and curation for educational content such as this. Fortunately, there are a growing number of solutions, such as instaGrok, Gooru, LearnZillion, Teaching Channel, etc. This is a difficult problem and educators don’t feel that anyone has perfected the solution yet, but we’re hopeful.

Another conclusion: teaching is as much art as it is science. It needs to deal with a wide range of learning styles. Also, every classroom, every educator, every learner is different. For tools to be effective, they must be customizable and adaptable to multiple contexts and situations.

A third conclusion: if existing content is not good enough, then tools to create new content easily will be helpful. The key word here is “easily,” because there are a lot of alternatives. There are all manner of content creation tools, such as Google Docs, Prezi, Educreations, Edcanvas, Common Curriculum, etc.

We hear “they don’t do exactly what I need” echoed in the frustrations of LMS software too, which may have a negative halo effect on student assessment and grading tools. Since educators are frustrated with LMS software, they extend that frustration to all LMS features, such as student assessment and grading.

How about “poor integration with other tools; lack of a single dashboard?” Most LMS packages purport to be a one-stop-shop for educators. They offer a dashboard and many integrate with third-party tools. So why the frustration here? The dominant players, in your words, “suck.” Fortunately, there are a number of edtech startups that aim to replace the incumbents and give you a better experience, such as Schoology, Haiku, Chalkable, etc.

One last conclusion: maybe an LMS isn’t the solution. Maybe it will be an underlying network of interoperable APIs that shares data between disparate services seamlessly. Maybe the dashboard will simply be a view of the data, instead of a portal to all the tools and features you use. The non-profit inBloom seems perfectly poised to enable such a network, though there are concerns over their approach. Startups like LearnSprout and Clever may solve some pieces of this puzzle too.

To sum things up

Edtech in its current incarnation is still relatively young. It is a Wild West. Internet, cloud, and mobile technology is cheap enough now that almost anyone can create a cloud-based product. And many are doing so with similar ideals as edshelf: to make an impact on education.

We’re hopeful that tool creators, at least the ones that plan to stick around and grow, understand these issues and will work with educators and students to address them.

In any young industry, solutions aren’t yet perfect and opportunities abound. We’ve identified some of those gaps here so that aspiring edtech entrepreneurs can take the leap and build something wonderful. Education is the foundation of the future. If you do your homework (no pun intended), understand the needs of educators and learners, and solve real problems effectively, you’ll help us all in guaranteeing a bright future.

Mike Lee, Co-founder of edshelf

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