The future of ed tech could be in your hands

TES Labs initiative will unite teachers and start-up companies

Teachers will be given the opportunity to shape the technology they use in the classroom with a new online platform linking the profession to start-up companies.

TES Labs will enable teachers to speak directly to tech companies and help them to design applications for use with pupils. The project will allow teachers to talk about what they are lacking in the classroom and how technology could fill that gap.

The companies will then be able to act on the advice they are given, tweaking their designs or taking their nascent products in completely new directions. The venture - from TES magazine's parent company, TES Global - will be regularly recruiting new start-ups, and has already signed up nine businesses.

The initiative comes at a time when technology is playing an increasing role in teachers' lives, and will endeavour to use research to develop effective classroom solutions.

Among the start-ups involved is Diagnostic Questions, established by teacher and TES maths specialist Craig Barton. He hopes his idea will help teachers to quickly and accurately evaluate whether their students understand certain concepts. Students' responses to carefully formulated questions and the reasons behind those responses are logged on the website.

"The site allows teachers, and even students, to share their own diagnostic questions but it also allows them to see the reasons students give for their answers," Mr Barton said. "The site will then compare students' responses in the US, Australia, wherever, to see if misconceptions are common."

Data from students' answers and reasons will also be analysed, meaning that teachers can use detailed breakdowns of pupils' performance to improve their own teaching.

"TES Labs will allow me to get in-depth responses from teachers on how it can work better and how the site can be improved," Mr Barton added.

Dominic Traynor, another former teacher, is hoping the product he helped to create will be enhanced by feedback from the profession. His company, A Tale Unfolds, aims to provide teachers with high-quality resources to boost literacy among primary pupils by getting them to produce their own films. Pupils write character descriptions, scripts, letters and diaries as part of the film-making process, strengthening key areas of literacy.

"We know how hard it is for teachers to create excellent lesson plans due to their already heavy workload, so we have produced our own," Mr Traynor said. "We have developed the idea with teachers along the way. But with TES Labs, the number of teachers and the amount of feedback will be much greater, allowing us to take the idea even further."

TES Labs will also play host to start-ups from Silicon Valley: a new firm, Propagate, is keen to hear from teachers about how it can better hone its products to suit their needs.

The technology Propagate has developed allows teachers to set up word lists for pupils to memorise that are designed to be more intuitive than flash cards or normal workbooks. The system highlights specific words that a teacher wants students to learn as they read a piece of text online.

It can provide real-time explanations of what words mean, and sets quizzes to strengthen students' understanding by placing words in context. Emily Schu, co-founder of Propagate, said the digital tool was currently at beta-testing stage, and she hoped the input from teachers on TES Labs would allow her team to better tailor the concept.

"Getting ongoing feedback from teachers will allow us to develop our product and tweak certain functionality," Ms Schu said. "We can launch it but then iterate it and customise it to help teachers get the most out of our product."

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