I was honored to recently participate in a roundtable discussion on running an education startup at the SXSW EDU Conference in Austin. I used the opportunity to talk with many amazing educators and innovators. As I reflect on the conference, there are five themes that stood out for me:
- Research and Development: There were a few panels that spoke to the need for increased investment in R&D in education, including “How new attention to R&D will transform learning.” In light of the latest federal budget that highlighted education R&D allocated to this area, I am excited for this topic. Education can lag behind other sectors in terms of innovating on interventions and solutions that are continuously improved to produce outcomes and taking risks. As a nonprofit, TalkingPoints is able to invest in ongoing and rigorous research, such as our recent causal research study. This is possible because of philanthropic partners who share our belief in R&D, including Overdeck Family Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
- Efficacy: As the market becomes flooded with more products and services promising magic solutions, a lot of the conversations centered on how to help schools make more informed decisions. It’s understandably very challenging for school districts to conduct due diligence in an environment where the definition of “impact” is often so murky. Many of my Ed Tech peers share my commitment to pursuing a more data-driven, evidence-based approach to product development. This is why I’m so excited about our recent announcement that Dr. Karen Mapp from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education has become an advisor to the organization. Dr. Mapp is volunteering her time and expertise to help us develop a research-driven standard for excellence in developing family-school partnerships.
- ChatGPT: It wouldn’t be SXSW without people making bold predictions about the promise and perils of the latest technology. There was no clear consensus on where this technology is going and what value it will provide to the education sector. Some were bullish that AI will become an amazing teaching tool for students and a support tool for teachers. Others were more skeptical. At TalkingPoints, we have long had AI baked into our products for features such as suggested replies and our language translations. We will continue to experiment with new applications for AI technology as long as it is in service of meeting our mission of overcoming barriers to effective family-school partnerships.
- Mental Health: Multiple sessions discussed the need for schools to address our country’s adolescent mental health crisis. We know that student learning is inextricably linked to student wellbeing, so it’s no surprise that many schools see it as their responsibility to take mental health seriously. Teachers deserve our appreciation, but so do all the counselors, social workers, school nurses, and other caring adults who interact with students every day. Last year, we added a feature to our platform so that these non-rostered staff could communicate directly with families. It’s a small but important step towards acknowledging that we are in the business of family-SCHOOL partnerships, not just family-TEACHER partnerships.
- DEI: Over the past few years, I have observed a heartening trend of organizations really grappling with how to best serve diverse students. As a woman of color, I am proud that I have baked these efforts into the DNA of our organization, from focusing on serving underrepresented students to designing our products with the north star of universal accessibility.
These five themes likely aren’t a surprise to anyone involved in education. They are discussed so often because they are so important. At TalkingPoints, we will continue to lean into these challenges in order to achieve our mission of unlocking the potential of family engagement to drive student success
TalkingPoints is an education technology nonprofit that drives student success by removing critical barriers to equitable family-school partnerships, such as language, time, mindsets, and capacity. Ten of the country’s twenty largest school districts trust TalkingPoints to create a district culture where all families, no matter their background, can engage with their schools. Our simple, intuitive family engagement platform offers the highest-quality human- and AI-powered two-way translated communication available — in 145 languages and counting. Named by Common Sense Education as “the best overall family communication platform for teachers and schools”, TalkingPoints leads to higher test scores and lower absenteeism, as shown by rigorous causal research that meets the ESSA Tier 2 standard of evidence. To learn more, view our TED Talk or visit talkingpts.org.