5 lessons learned from the edtech community and working with solutions providers.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Christina Oliver

CREDIT Classroom Inc image.pngOut-of-school (OST) time is a major factor in educational development for students.

However, it’s not always afforded equal attention in the edtech product space.

In 2014, according to the Afterschool Alliance, nearly 25 percent of families across the U.S. relied on OST programs.

There’s an opportunity to capture this out-of-school time with engaging, fun, and academically-focused educational technology.

What’s more, afterschool, extended-day, and expanded learning—all forms of OST—are especially effective in providing the support needed for the most at-risk youth who tend to live in communities of concentrated poverty (Afterschool Alliance, 2016).

Bringing educational technology into OST is a promising way to deliver quality programming build a variety of skills, reinforce learning from the school day, and give program staff a range of easy-to-use tools to keep students engaged.

Here are our top five lessons for the edtech community that we learned from our deep partnerships with OST providers:

  1. Make your product “off the shelf”: Program directors require different tools and content than teachers in classroom settings. In addition, they often do not have planning time built into their schedule. Many products and curriculum designed to improve students’ 21st century and academic skills are focused on school-day teachers. This means OST providers, who may want to offer more rigorous content, but don’t have planning time built into their workday, often do not have the opportunity to retrofit tools not designed specifically for them. Turn-key lesson plans, illustrated use cases for a product, and simple onboarding go a long way in successfully implementing a product in OST.

 

  1. Embedding coaching in a product: In a related theme, quality and quick professional development for program staff are critical. Program directors come with a wide range of skills—some are certified teachers while others are not. Training doesn’t have to be in-person and high-touch; technology can help you scale effective coaching and training. And we’re not just talking about video chat. Coaching and training features built into products make a big difference when implementing new edtech. A chatbot can help with real-time questions; organized and easily accessible instructional tips and materials in a product’s dashboard allow directors to build skills on their own time; admin alerts and tips on “what’s next” for a student based on how they are performing in a product provide powerful ideas for program directors to deepen the learning experience.

 

  1. Social Emotional Learning (SEL): OST providers have led the way in building students’ self awareness, social awareness, decision-making ability, and relationship skills. Tools that support SEL are incredibly valuable in the OST market, especially edtech tools. We’ve found that products— particularly game-based learning programs—that simulate situational learning experiences and have built-in consequences give students the agency and confidence to make decisions and solve problems in a safe space.

 

  1. Balance Fun & Academics: Many students require academically rich out-of-school time programming because they are struggling in specific subjects. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, students spend an average of 180 days in school, at about 6 hours/day. That leaves a lot of time outside of school. There’s an opportunity to capture this time with engaging, fun, and academically-focused educational technology. Edtech companies can offer material adjusted to OST settings, with a focus on project-based learning and 21st century skill building. For example, game-based learning is a highly effective type of edtech to utilize in OST programs. While gaming is the hook for youth, the learning ends up being the hook for program staff.

 

  1. Reinforcing learning for each student: Our last point is that OST is an opportune environment to reinforce learning and remediate specific skills; and technology can help make this process efficient so programs can serve each student’s unique needs. Students’ skills are all over the map, and this can make it nearly impossible for OST providers to manage remediation effectively. Leveraging a tool that can individualize instruction, identify what each students needs, and provide support to that student along the learning path can make a real difference in student success.

 

We’re excited to see more edtech being used in and built specifically for out-of-school time settings.

Let’s keep this momentum going because it can have a positive impact on students’ social and academic skills— something surely the entire edtech community can get behind.

Christina Oliver is Chief Program Officer at Classroom, Inc. and has spent years working closely with schools as well as afterschool, summer school, and extended day program providers. She oversees the implementation of Classroom, Inc.’s award-winning Read to Lead Series.