How Your Professional Learning Community (PLC) Can Change the Future of Ed-Tech, in 7 Practical Steps

on September 27, 2016 in Insider

It’s no secret that K-12 technology can be supremely frustrating sometimes.  You’ve probably had moments where you wished for improvements to your LMS or magic whiteboard, or had an idea for an app that would be a game-changer for you and your school.

But what did you do with that idea?

oncourse-blog.jpgIn a talk at September’s ECET2NJPA, I learned that most educators simply internalized this frustration, chalking it up to “the way things were.”

Or, perhaps you are the industrious type. You e-mailed your idea to your provider, sent on a wing and a prayer into the cloud or Silicon Valley, only to never hear back again.

Can you improve your chances of seeing your idea blossom into being? Absolutely.

In almost a decade of being a translator between educators and developers, I’ve seen hundreds of ideas make it to the promised land, and thousands more die on the vine. Here are 7 steps you can take to tantalize developers into doing your bidding (don’t tell them I told you!).

1. Understand Where Your Power Comes From

If you’ve ever used Netflix or Spotify, congratulations! You’ve joined the subscription economy! The paradigm of subscription-based software (also known as Software-as-a-Service or SaaS) came swiftly to K-12 in the form of cloud-based programs like Learning Management Systems and Student Information Systems.

oncourse-icon_quote.svgThis shift to SaaS gives you incredible new influence over the trajectory of innovation.

In a subscription-based world, the technology provider must win you back year-after-year, spurring them to consistently produce a better overall experience.

This current of innovation is relentless, so now let’s talk about how to get your hands on the rudder.

2. Plant in Fertile Soil

Before you pack up your brilliant idea, make sure that the conditions are right by:

  • Knowing Your VendorThe motivations, responsiveness, and agility of every company are different, so do your research and see if you’re barking up the wrong tree. Test their responsiveness by dropping them a message on Twitter or e-mail. Do they seem responsive to their community? Or does it take them eons to respond, or do you never hear back at all?
  • Knowing Your Scope: Don’t ask a chemical engineer to build you a bridge. Make sure your idea relates in some tangible way to the vendor’s core competency or related product.

3. Let Your (Professional Learning Community) PLC Amplify Your Voice

You’d be astonished at how many interesting ideas come in daily, so getting a group involved can help get your voice heard over the masses. Pick your colleagues’ brains and let them help you refine your idea.

4. Make a Dramatic Entrance

When you make contact, write a vivid introduction. Email inboxes are crammed with hundreds of messages daily, so give some much-appreciated context with this two-part intro:

  1. Become human: “My name is Lisa LeBlanc, I’m a fourth-grade teacher at Monroe Middle, and cc’d on this message are three PLC colleagues and my principal Mrs. Poe. We’re the tech-contingency for our school and helped launch the 1-to-1 program last year!”

  2. Build an inroad with the vendor. “We’ve been using the OnCourse Student Information System for five years and we absolutely love it (especially the mobile apps for attendance and discipline), but we have an idea to make it even better.”

Now…get laser focused on the WHY!

5. Know Your ‘Why’!

Nebulous requests can lead to a week of email ping-pong to figure out the end goal. Clear these hurdles ahead of time, and you’ll dramatically increase your chances of breaking through.

Here’s what not to do: “Why won’t the Lesson Planner post my plans for me? I keep forgetting to do it.”

So. Many. Questions. When should it post? Will you be upset if we post it automatically and you aren’t finished? If we give you a feature to schedule it, it’ll take ten clicks to do that instead of the one it takes to post that ok?

Bottom line: be abundantly clear about why you need this feature, and how it could work (this is called the ‘use case’ and it’s like catnip for developers!)  Most important, highlight why it will ultimately help you to be a more effective educator or administrator.

6. Volunteer to Be a Cheerleader

Of all the items on the list, this may be the one that really moves the needle.

We’ve embraced and developed some really terrific requests over the years, announced the change, only to find out later that 0.08% of educators actually used it. This is a major fear when it comes to investing resources in a new idea.

To evaporate this fear, volunteer to be the spokesperson for how your new feature impacts the experience for you, your school, or your students.

By offering to write a blog or create a video about the new technology, you’ve upped the chances that other educators would be inspired to use it, thereby making the value much greater for your provider.

7. Be Patient

My final advice: be realistic. Not only do developers have to constantly innovate, but they also have to work backwards to make sure that existing technology is keeping up with all the new browsers, devices, and standards that are changing every day.

The sobering reality is that only a chosen few ideas will make the cut, but I’m confident that these steps will help your idea leapfrog the hurdles that tangle up most requests.

Happy innovating!