Instead of simply leaving it to guesswork, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation decided to come right out and ask the question “What do teachers want?” The foundation asked the question because “in our work with schools over the last few years, we have heard a common theme: Teachers are trying hard to challenge and engage their students, but they don’t have sufficient choices for effective digital instructional tools that truly meet their needs.”
The Gates Foundation took the question to more than 3100 U.S. public school teachers in urban, rural and suburban communities, and 1250 public school students in grades 3 through 12. The answers are now to be found in their recent report titled, Teachers Know Best: What They Want From Digital Instructional Tools.
Summarizing the report findings, we see that teachers wanted digital instructional tools that met the following requirements:
1. Delivered instruction directly to the student
2. Diagnosed student learning needs
3.Varied the delivery method of instruction
4.Tailored the learning experience to meet individual student needs
5.Supported student collaboration and provided interactive experiences
6. Fostered independent practice of specific skills
The foundation also discovered that that in spite of teachers having a good idea of what they wanted in the way of digital instructional tools, they had a tough time getting them. Why? Well for one thing, in most school systems the purchasing is done by a separate layer of bureaucracy. Generally teachers preferred tools they had specifically requested, rather than those chosen by others. For another thing, digital educational tool developers could only guess at what teachers wanted as they were not dealing directly with teachers. Interestingly enough, the foundation also discovered that teachers were as likely to be satisfied with the free tools they found themselves as with the tools purchased by others for them.
We understand that schools have to be careful how they spend the taxpayers’ money. One possible way to make teachers happy without running afoul of the school board's budget process might be to allow more teacher participation in crowdfunding. For example, Makerbot, developer of the Makerbot 3D printer, in tandem with crowdfunder DonorsChoose.Org lets teachers petition for equipment donations directly from the public. What could be less likely to cause the board heartburn?
If the crowdfunding method works -- and it’s working for Makerbot -- other developers are sure to use the system to move their products. Since teachers would be the equipment requestors, developers would have a better sense of what is wanted. The question of “What do teachers want?” would be answered.