We had our mission, our team, and an identity, but what now? What do we build? We had a million ideas, all which we wanted to start today. We took a few deep breaths and decided how we were going to figure out what foreign language teachers actually wanted: ask them. And we were going to start by asking the ones we already knew from MIT and high school.
In the early days (i.e. two months ago), we presented our ideas as if they were Rorschach inkblots. We described our general notions of what we thought would be useful and more often than not, they would concoct their own vision and share it with us as we vigorously took notes. Sometimes, just simply asking teachers to describe their biggest headache yielded a wonderful discussion on how we could could provide some technological Tylenol.
So, what did teachers identify as their biggest headache? Several pain-points stuck out, but the one that recurred with the greatest frequency went something like this:
My students leave my class unable to speak the language. They can read and write well enough, but it’s frustrating to think they wouldn’t be able to survive in the native country if they were dropped there tomorrow. I’d like to engage students in more individual oral exercises, but I simply lack the time and resources to do so.
We forced ourselves to shelve our long list of ideas and focus one-hundred percent on one that addressed this pain. We put our heads down, fingers to the keyboard, and got started.