Actionable Data: Survey Responses from EdSurge Baltimore

Companies love conducting surveys. Most of them are pretty awful to the point of uselessness.

So it was a nice surprise to find a few gems amongst the questions asked in the survey from the latest EdSurge event in Baltimore,

3 that I liked in particular:

1. If administrators were looking to purchase this product for their school, how strongly would you advocate for this product?

The question was not just another: “Rate this product on a scale of 1 to 5,” a purely theoretical exercise that’s meaningless in comparison to the much more concrete task of trying to imagine how far you’d stick your neck out to try a new product.

2. Forget about the current price of the product (if it’s free, forget about that too). If you were given an extra $100 to spend per user (e.g. student, teacher, etc.) how much would you be willing to spend for this product?

A more confusing alternative might have been “How much would you pay for this product?” Instead, teachers are given a hypothetical that gets rid of issues that often confuse the question of pricing (e.g. variations in teachers’ discretionary budgets, how much was granted and how much they have remaining, whether a product could be gotten for free) and focuses on the teacher’s sense of a fair price. This question replaced my previous favorite: “How much would you expect to pay for a tool like this?” which Desmos founder Eli Luberoff shared a few months ago.

Last but not least, I want to mention this question not so much because it’s particularly well-worded, but because I rarely hear it discussed:

How often would you use this product?

Room for Improvement?

Now that I’ve gotten the praise out of the way, here are 3 specific ideas on how the surveys could be even better.

1. Enable companies to respond to feedback through a craigslist-style-mail-relay mechanism which would enable direct communication while keeping teacher identities anonymous.

2. Provide teachers more of an incentive for quality (of feedback) over quantity (of responses) by allowing each company to enter one survey response in a “Most Useful Feedback” raffle.

3. Don’t allow teachers to respond to surveys before the event starts! I had a teacher show up before the start of the Baltimore Summit who told me she had already looked at Ponder online and decided it was a terrible idea, but if I wanted I could try to convince her otherwise. So I spent ten minutes walking her through our product, after which she said “Well, this is pretty great actually. I’m going to recommend it to the teachers at my school – you should put all of what you said to me on to the web site.” Which is fine, since we definitely need to improve the story on our site, and I was glad she was excited. Then she said “I already filled out the long form survey yesterday, so can you give me the tickets?” I gave her the tickets, and as she walked away realized that we would now have whatever her initial reaction was captured in our public survey results, with no mechanism for her to update them or comment on her misunderstandings.

4. Some sort of tech-savvy-ness question for the teachers to provide some context for their answers. How often do you use tech in your class today? Have you tried other tools similar to this one in purpose and funcationality?

An even bigger idea: The EdSurge Census

Here’s more of a project-sized proposal for EdSurge: A survey of educators, schools and infrastructure – The EdSurge Census. A grassroots, lay of the land sort of thing, which could be independent of the summits. I think it would be valuable to ed-tech companies, the schools themselves as well as funders and foundations. In the spirit of the new “50 States Project,” but a bit more data-oriented.

A few obvious questions we’d love answers to readily come to mind:

Devices – What schools have, what they think they’ll have, what they wish they’d had, etc; and

eBooks – In our experience most K12 schools seem to be lost at sea when it comes to ebook platforms – they don’t like being locked in, it complicates their device story, they have physical books which are easy to manage, etc.

Adoption – What tools are teachers using today and how often are they using them? Tools should be categorized by function (e.g. Administration and Logistics, Planning and Instruction) subject matter and grade-level so it’s easy to see where the gaps are.

EdSurge could charge companies to fund the data collection and reporting. Or perhaps one of the edu heavy weights would be willing to step up up to fund it.

A statistically accurate portrait of the state of ed-tech in schools is probably unlikely to emerge from such a survey. But so long as the results were positioned honestly as an informal sampling, the results would be undeniably useful.

Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to seeing the next incarnation of the Edsurge surveys in Nashville!

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