Learning Across Boundaries: Educator and Startup Involvement in the Educational Technology Innovation Ecosystem


Source: Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 19(1)
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)


This study examined what educators and startups learn from each other, the ties they form, and the resources they share when offered a chance to deeply engage with each other.
The research context involved a specially designed edtech pitch event that strategically facilitated a boundary crossing opportunity through conversation across typically siloed constituents in the edtech ecosystem.
Research Question - The study was guided by the following research question: What are educators and edtech startups learning from each other, what resources do they share, and what ties might they form when participating in SlowPitch, a 4-hour educational technology (edtech) design summit?
Research Methodology -This research employed a qualitative case study methodology and focused on the SlowPitch event, an intrinsic case due to its unique design for a startup pitch event. Within this case, the study aimed to identify educators’ and startups’ learning experiences that were facilitated by this boundary crossing conversational opportunity.
Participants - All startup founders and representatives, mentors, and audience members present at SlowPitch were invited to participate in this study by the researcher.
Eight of the 10 edtech startup representatives, seven preservice teachers, and 18 anonymous practicing educators participated (n = 33).
The author directly invited preservice teachers from a local university to participate in SlowPitch because
(a) she knew from past experience that preservice teachers did not typically attend this conference, and
(b) she wanted to explore preservice teachers’ and in-service teachers’ experiences in this edtech ecosystem context.
Seven preservice teachers were available and agreed to attend SlowPitch.
Data Sources - The author reported that the data included three sets of interviews.
Three research assistants conducted 2- to 4-minute anonymous participant interviews as SlowPitch participants left or during breaks. Questions included demographics, SlowPitch participation activities, learning experienced, and positive/negative personal or professional take-aways.
In the 2 weeks after SlowPitch, individual interviews were conducted with startup representatives and the invited preservice teachers.
For startup representatives, questions probed pitching experience, learning experience, and positive/negative personal or professional take-aways. Startup interviews lasted 15-55 minutes.
For preservice teachers, questions included demographics, SlowPitch participation, learning experienced, positive/negative personal or professional take-aways, and technology preparation for teaching. Preservice interviews lasted 8-21 minutes.

Educators’ Learning at SlowPitch
The author reported that the educators who participated in SlowPitch described four areas of learning:
(a) new edtech innovations,
(b) integration practices involving the edtech innovations,
(c) the voices and influencers within the edtech ecosystem (including educators), and
(d) the edtech startup development process.
Edtech Innovations.
Educators expanded their knowledge of existing or emergent educational technology.
A few teachers mentioned how the products introduced new educational content ideas.
Other educators made connections between the new edtech products in SlowPitch and specific needs in their schools.
Many preservice teachers saw the exposure to new edtech as “a springboard for me to look into more programs that I could be using for my students in my classroom.”
Others felt the knowledge might be useful for future technology integration.
Both practicing and preservice educators developed knowledge of new edtech innovations
Integration Practices With Edtech.
While some preservice teachers expressed their immediate lack of agency in adopting edtech products, they still engaged in what one preservice teacher called “teacher-thinking that hadn’t been triggered before, thinking about how I might use it in my own classroom.”
In the author’s data, only preservice teachers voiced these classroom-based “teacher-thinking” considerations.
The preservice teachers’ queries were insightful and critically examined edtech products’ affordances and limitations for instruction and learning.
Voices and Influencers in the Edtech Ecosystem.
Teachers acknowledged pleasure that the educator viewpoint was being taken into account in edtech development processes.
However, most educators did not focus on their specific role in the ecosystem, but rather, noted that they learned through the diverse and broad viewpoints and influencers in the edtech ecosystem, as represented at SlowPitch.
Both preservice and practicing educators recognized how multiple viewpoints, including their own educator voices but also innovators, businesses, educational policymakers, and political legislators, contribute to edtech development and adoption in schools.
Their queries recognized their role and contributions but also the ability to learn from others in the ecosystem.
Edtech Startup Development Processes.
Finally, through these diverse, collaborative discussions, educators began to acknowledge the educational goals underlying the edtech innovations and the challenges and risk-taking involved in moving a product into the educational market.
Through these conversations, practicing and preservice educators evidenced empathy – understanding the realities of the edtech startup founders.
In this data, the educators built empathy and understanding of the startup founders and their goals and the challenges and risks inherent in the innovation process.
Building mutual empathy between and among educators and startups (as well as all other stakeholders) may yield more productive design solutions and penetration into school markets.
The author noted that this finding raises “empathy for whom?” as an emerging question in design processes, a topic that needs further research.

Within the context of the SlowPitch experience, the author emphasizes that this study identified that both educators and startup representatives were leaning in and learning from each other through boundary crossing conversations and experiences in ways that expanded their respective perspectives on educational technology.
Ultimately, the data indicated that educators and startups valued each other.
Educators were eager to learn about new innovations, and startups were eager to meet and hear from educators.
Some startups indicated they had never talked with administrators or possibly even teachers prior to SlowPitch, and many of the educators said they had never engaged or met edtech startup entrepreneurs before.
The case study of SlowPitch illustrates a boundary crossing experience that contributes toward meeting Bull et al.’s (2017) recommendations for the preparation of leaders and teachers to use learning technologies.
Educators mentioned building ties with other educators and startups that potentially could serve as a professional learning network into the future.
Finally, various types of educators were involved in SlowPitch, including preservice teachers, classroom teachers, principals, superintendents, technology specialists, and higher education faculty, which means all levels of educators were potentially building similar take-aways through this boundary crossing experience.

Bull, G., Spector, J. M., Persichitte, K., & Meier, E. (2017). Preliminary recommendations regarding preparation of teachers and school leaders to use learning technologies. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 17(1).
Kurshan, B. (2016, April). Breaking down silos, advancing innovation: Innovation ecosystems in education technology. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Washington, DC 

Updated: Nov. 26, 2019