Building Relationships with EdTech Companies to Better Serve Students

By Starr Sackstein

Once you’ve selected a system that will be best for your schools, it’s time to get down and dirty with the program. But what if that program doesn’t do everything you need it to or maybe you aren’t familiar enough with it to really manipulate it in a way you need?

It is then time to build capacity by getting to know the people, as well as the program, you’re working with. Sure you can start by calling the support, but functioning more in an advisory capacity may be more impactful.

I have a need, does my program do it already?

When we first start using a new program, it’s easy to overlook the functionality that already exists especially if it isn’t intuitively placed. A great place to begin is the help area where you can search frequently asked questions. Personally, I’m the kind of person who likes to touch everything and tinker until I figure it out. Granted, doing it this way can often lead to frustration, but you have to know yourself as a learner when you start.

If the help area doesn’t offer as much help as you hope it might, it’s time to send up the bat signal for support through customer service. There are usually very helpful tech folks who will assist you. I know that when I started my relationship with IO Education, I often reached out via email for answers to questions that didn’t seem readily solved.

Much to my amazement, someone always returned my emails in a timely fashion and so our working relationship began. When email wasn’t personal enough, Peter Bencivegna or Stephanie Ring would set up personal webinars for me to walk me through what I needed to do to make full use of what the robust program could do.

*Tip: If you ask, answers will be given, but you must reach out. No one is going to be able to know your needs until you make them known. Sometimes the best place to start is with your school’s system administrator. Then you can contact the company directly.

My program doesn’t do it, is it possible for it to do it?

Your new program probably does a lot of useful things, but there may come a time where you want it to do something it doesn’t already do. Although this may cause some frustration initially, it’s a good idea to contact your provider. In my case with IO Education, I had a lot of modifications for the specific needs of my alternative assessment practices. Rather than assume it couldn’t be done, I asked. You never know how a modification you may need can benefit others too.

My simple question led us down a path towards future collaborations. Once I understood how accessible and open they were to my ideas, one question led to another and before too long, they were helping me really customize the experience. When I wanted wider narrative fields, I asked and I received. When I needed a workaround for needing a grade to save the narrative feedback, there was always a member of the team there to assist and log my suggestions. They even worked on making the mobile app better for my needs since I was doing a lot of my uploading of feedback on the go. Together we worked to improve their platform and before I knew it, the features I needed were there.

When we put the students’ needs first, we can all work together to personalize the experience. In this way, we are able to communicate effectively with all shareholders without generating a needlessly onerous experience. Of course, learning something new always has its learning curve, but the more familiar we become with the platform and the people, it’s not cliche to say that anything is possible.

You don’t need to be a tech guru to understand what you want the program to do, you just need to know what you want it to do. These programs exist to make learning visible, so they have to be functional for us or they aren’t worth using. But be patient. Many of these programs offer features you may not use and it will take time to know how to navigate it efficiently for yours and your students’ needs.

There was no way of knowing when I started using IO Education that I’d develop the relationship I have with them. But it is a continued effort to work together to serve the kids and teachers for the most supple program possible. As we support each other, the greater good is being served.

Have you reached out to your provider recently? Hopefully you got what you needed.

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Starr Sackstein runs and teaches at a Teacher’s Center in Long Island City High School in Queens, NY. You can follow her on Twitter at @mssackstein.

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