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  • Writer's pictureJolie Radunich

Abbott Elementary exposes the realities teachers have with edtech products

It was a busy fall for ABC’s award-winning sitcom Abbott Elementary. After scooping up a couple of Emmy’s and Golden Globe awards, among others, season 2 of the mockumentary premiered.

Fans like myself enjoy the show’s wry humor that spotlights the realities many public school teachers and students face, including tech’s place in the classroom.

If you're like me, working in edtech without traditional classroom teaching experience means having to empathize with the feelings and experiences educators have when faced with new tools.

Each teacher has their own opinions about edtech’s place in the classroom. Here’s some insight from Abbott Elementary’s Mrs. Barbara Howard from Season 1 Episode 4, “New Tech.”

Edtech products should support, not isolate teachers

“I don’t need some young Zuckerbern, pimple-faced kid fresh from the smart bar, telling me how to teach!”

"I’m Miss Tech, you know. I love tech. Shop at the App Store. Got a Hotmail. I once even rode in a Tesla.”

Veteran teacher Barbara Howard prides herself on teaching kindergarten students to read for over 30 years. When faced with working a new computer program into her lessons, it’s clear Mrs. Howard has some misconceptions about tech:

  • The last name of the Facebook creator she’s referencing is “Zuckerberg.”

  • Apple support offers help from the “Genius Bar” not the "smart bar"

  • The app store isn’t a physical place.

  • Hotmail, (phased out in 2013 and rebranded as Outlook) isn’t the “hot male” she was referring to.

The plot thickened when the veteran teacher accidentally marked that her kindergartners were reading at a 4th-grade level on her tablet. Not wanting to ask for help, she decides to mask her mistake, which doesn't hold up for long.

Everything unravels at a special school assembly. To celebrate the accomplishment of Mrs. Howard’s students, one of them is asked to read a section of Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming. The student ends up revealing that they aren't ready to read the book yet.

✅CHECKPOINT: Barbara felt overwhelmed by the school's new computer program. She also felt disempowered from asking for help. Tech doesn’t work when it’s thrown at educators without tailored support.

User-friendly products are a must

Tech professionial: “Just use the highlight tool to pinpoint the pronunciation mistakes. Create a word cloud, output a ranks list, see the percentage of your students that missed that word. And that’ll determine whether it becomes a TAI or targeted area for improvement! Got it?

Mrs. Howard: "Easy peasy, keep it breezy!”

Barbara looke visibly frustrated when an edtech professional used mouthfuls of jargon to describe how to use the new computer program.

The teacher entered the educator development session with all the info and devices needed to “revolutionize” the classrooms at Abbott. But showing up with tools and tech support doesn’t automatically translate into teachers using them effectively.

✅CHECKPOINT: Does your edtech work alongside teachers to troubleshoot and check in with them?

Overwhelming tech can lead to disastrous results

“So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m gonna continue teaching my students how to read like I have been, for 30 years. I’ll input whatever information I need to into that program and then I’ll just keep doing what I have been doing, and everybody else will just have to back off!”

Barbara felt so frustrated by the program that she eventually gave up on using it altogether.

A product that leads a teacher to misrepresent data sounds even worse than them refusing to use it altogether. Edtech has potential to improve learning, and teachers are resilient. A product that’s difficult to navigate creates unnecessary enemies.

✅CHECKPOINT: Do you have teachers on your product team? If not, are you involving them throughout the stages of your product’s development?

Skip the chaos and score with support

“I really liked that feature where I could teach a class on just one letter!”

At the end of the episode, before the computer program is shut down for allegedly collecting prison data, Barbara started getting the hang of it and even enjoyed using one of its features.

But the emotional rollercoaster that led to that point made for a bumpy user experience that almost caused her to abandon the program altogether.

✅CHECKPOINT: A simple support will succeed far more than a fancy “cutting edge” gadget. Edtech products should support, not convince. When this is done right, it can create inspiration in that educator:

“It can be daunting when a new technology is introduced and it’s changing the way you do things, but this is the future!”

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