Wednesday, September 6, 2017

What the New York Times doesn't get about Teachers Promoting Tech.

There has been a lot of discussion on Twitter and across the web about the recent @nytimes article "Silicon Valley Courts Brand-Name Teachers, Raising Ethics Issues" and I have been mulling over the article as well as the incredible #edtechchat on the topic (see the transcript of the chat on @participate) for a couple of days. After careful reflection, I am ready to share the following thoughts of the issue and specifically what I think the article missed.

One of my greatest concerns about the article is the revelation by several leaders in the EdTech community, as shared in the #edtechchat, that the reporters behind the article may have purposefully misled potential interviewees as to the purpose of the article. I encourage you to review the transcript of the chat so that you hear their words (they even posted the original message from the NYT reporters which mentioned nothing about an expose of teacher ambassadors as an ethics issue.) It is disheartening, with all of the other challenges facing educators, that a respected news outlet would seek to discredit teachers that go above and beyond for their profession.

There are several terms utilized by EdTech companies to describe the cadres of teachers and educators that are utilized to spread the word about products and services. These terms include ambassadors, certified teachers, "experts", and a variety of brand-specific terms that describe these teachers. For simplicity, I will use the term ambassador. But even with that clarification, there is discussion that needs to take place. I am a Google Certified Educator and Trainer.  For each level of this certification, I completed online courses, additional self-study and passed one or more exams to display my knowledge. There are other companies for which I "earned" the title by completing on online form.

If you follow me on Twitter, you would quickly see that I have several of these certifications. I do, in fact, seek these out because in my current position, it is my job to identify, research, master and share the latest educational technologies with the educators I am charged to support. For me, it is the quick and easy access to information and support (as in help) that having the certification or ambassadorship grants me that is the benefit of my efforts.

Once I locate a program that interests me, and long before I apply or begin working towards certification, I research the program, its "benefits" and it's cost. (Yes, dear reporter, you do have to pay to participate in some of these programs.) Here are a few of the absolutes that I follow:

  1. Is the product/service something I use or would use in a classroom environment?
  2. Do I believe that the effective use of the product/service would improve or enhance the chances of student success?
  3. Does the program require me to provide positive promotion, posts or referrals to maintain my status? (A "yes" to this question results in my declining involvement.)
  4. Does the program require exclusivity? (Tell me I can only use, support, promote this product and I'll tell you "No, thanks!")
  5. Is the cost of the program reasonable for implementation by the teachers, schools, or districts that might hear me discuss it?
There are numerous studies that indicate that this product or that service show no positive difference in student performance. Research is important and should be a part of every decision, but I have also been in education long enough to know that there are different needs in different schools.  Additionally, there are good teachers and bad teachers, hard-working teachers and "get through the day" teachers.  This is why I mention that I have to believe that the effective use of the product could benefit students. Exclusivity is also a deal breaker. I serve over one thousand schools and not all of them use the same systems. To serve them effectively, I have earned certifications from Google, Microsoft and Apple. I promote numerous products that would consider themselves as competitors. I have to help the teachers I serve find the best solution for their particular situation. 

If the New York Times thinks that a free T-shirt, a couple of stickers and a coffee mug would influence me enough to alter my thinking then they need to reconsider the idea of press credentials as well. I don't see sports reporters giving the losing coach a break just because they get to go to the game for free; why would they expect teachers to behave differently?

Now is a good time to discuss exactly what my experience has shown me I can "get" for being an ambassador. I could, right now with a phone call or email, get a couple of T-shirts and packs of stickers to give away if I was hosting a training. Do the NYT reporters think that will make me present on product A over product B? That is very short-sighted.

I do take advantage of the contacts of the various programs I am a part of to ask questions that teachers have, to make companies aware of teacher concerns and even teacher ideas for new features.  In fact, I have been a part of several beta programs, most of them requiring several hours of in-depth testing and online feedback. For this time and effort, I accepted a gift card valued at under $50. (By the way, I just did the math on that one and based on the time I spent testing, reviewing, and discussing the product in a focus group I netted about $7.50 an hour. If you want me to report that to the IRS, I'll be happy to do so.)

I know you have been waiting for me to share what it was that the New York Times missed in the article so here it is- Teachers aren't in it for the money! Every teacher I know spends hundreds and hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets to make up for the shortfalls of declining budgets and underprivileged kids. Many of those free T-shirts end up in the school counselors office for the kids that comes to school underdressed because of family situations out of the school's control. Those free pencils and pens? Teachers slip them quietly to the kid that comes to school each day in part to get out of the homeless shelter they live in. Those rare instances when a teacher earns a piece of equipment or free software- it doesn't go to them, it goes to the school. And the gift card I received? It was redeemed within an hour. . . to buy a book on how to teach coding to every kid in every classroom. Thanks for the respect, New York Times, teachers across the country appreciate it.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Helping students fight fake news

Fake news is not new. This article from Politico documents the story of a missing child that was reportedly murdered by members of religious community who then drank the child’s blood as part of a Passover celebration. The story spread through the sermons of a Franciscan Monk and eventually led to the arrest, torture and execution of fifteen innocent people.  It happened in 1475.

But somehow, the fake news roller coaster has hit a new high in this era of social media gluttony. Inevitable, perhaps, but an area of concern nonetheless. More and more people get their news from social media which has created a target rich environment for those that what to spread disinformation in order to further their cause.

Buzzfeed reported that a false story that reported Pope Francis was to endorse Donald Trump for president during the 2016 election received almost one million shares, reactions and comments. The story was false, but it quickly spread through social media.

So how can educators play a role in the fight against fake news? Let’s start in the classroom. English Language Arts teachers spend a significant portion of class time teaching students how to identify various literary devices. This easily translates into the discovery of fake news.  For example, hyperbole is an effective literary technique that can be used to create a visual picture for a reader.
It was so cold that each word from his mouth froze in mid air and fell to the ground.

However, when used in a news article or advertising claim, hyperbole is often a clue that something may simply be too wild to be true, such as when the Associated Press published a story that the Trump administration planned to “mobilize over 100,00 National Guard troops to round up unauthorized immigrants.”

Teaching the proper use of literary devices, including showing how they can be misused, could have a significant effect on helping students identify fake news. But there are many other techniques that can be used.  Take a look at this video from Common Sense Media Education.

Common Sense Media offers several great resources on how to detect fake news including this video that includes four sites kids can use to “Fact check” what they read online and this creative poster that helps students determine the legitimacy of the site they are viewing.  Older students will benefit from this resource from Ithaca College’s Project Look Sharp. It includes questions for teens to ask both when evaluating sites and well questions to ask when creating media messages.

Teachers have a responsibility to provide students with the skills necessary to identify content of questionable validity. This has been true for years, although when my generation was in school, this was normally related to detecting bias and exaggeration in advertising. This is still common, but today's students need more. Today, we need to give them a set of skills that serve as a “fake news” detector that is in some ways just as important to their digital citizenship as knowledge of the Bills of Rights is to their physical citizenship.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

ISTE Ed Tech Coaches Blogging Buddies

I am happy to share that I have joined up with the ISTE Ed Tech Coaches Network Blogging Buddies project to encourage blogging related to Ed Tech and to share a few blogs that I think you will benefit from reading.

Here are the blogs in my blogging buddies group, please take a look at them!

Daisy Dee's Tech Stuff- This blog is hosted by two classroom teachers that have decided to share some great tech tips with the world.

Nicole Carter's Musings page is a wealth of useful information. Nicole is a Teacher on Special Assignment Innovation Strategist (what a great title!) and is a PBS Digital Innovator (2015). Her current series on Sketchnoting already has me pulled in especially since that is something I really wish I had the talent to do effectively.

Investing to Learn is the blog of Lori Dickerson, the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment for Muncie City Schools (Indiana). Her blog is just getting started but her background leads me to believe that it will be a very interesting collection of posts.  What Lori doesn't know is that I was born and raised about 30 miles down the road in Anderson, IN. That means I have a certain level of expectations from my fellow Hoosier blogger.

Noa Lahav's blog on Medium has already intrigued me. Several great, quick reads on her use of various EdTech Tools and a wonderful series on Paying for EdTech. I have seen Noa on Twitter in several EdTech chats that I follow and cannot wait to follow her work even more closely.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Participate Adds eduClipper to Their Collection


As most followers of my work know, I am a huge fan of Participate, the collaborative professional development platform. The many additions and changes that they have introduced over the just the past couple of years have been amazing.  I began using the app curation tool back in 2013, building collections of iOS and Android apps that were easy to share. Gradually, this expanded to allow online videos and websites in collections.
Participate Screenshot
Then they added the incredible Chats feature, revolutionizing educational Twitter Chats. The Chats feature eliminated the two primary obstacles that had kept me from becoming an active participant in chats- remembering to include the hashtag and losing resources because they went past too quickly.

When VIF International Education purchased Participate (and subsequently took the Participate name) they added online courses. The courses, many of which are created by Participate while others are presented through Participate by a variety of partners, have turned Participate into an amazing educational platform. I often describe the platform as covering the three Cs- Collections, Chats and Courses.

I also was an early user of eduClipper, the educational bookmarking tool originally founded by EdTech Rock Star, Adam Bellow. eduClipper was constantly adding features as well and soon integrated social sharing tools, the ability to "clip" anything (pictures, files, even mini-whiteboard sketches), and portfolios.
eduClipper Screenshot from

Recent Announcements

It is mid-June and that means it is time for a barrage of EdTech related updates and news announcements. As a Participate "insider", I was aware of some planned updates. On the eve of ISTE, Participate unveiled a planned update of the Participate website, especially the Chats area. They also released Chats as an iOS app. I was asked to beta test the app and while there are a couple of "missing" things that I hope are brought over to the app, overall it is a great experience for mobile participation in Twitter Chats. 

Personally, I thought this was the "big" announcement for Participate for ISTE
'17. Oh, how wrong I was!

Saturday afternoon, the news broke that Participate would be acquiring eduClipper. While no financial details have been released, I'll first say that I am happy for Adam Bellow. I once had a great conversation with him sitting outside the conference rooms of the Tennessee Educational Technology Conference two years ago. (This conversation actually included Adam, Kathy Schrock, Leslie Fisher and myself- yes, to that point in my EdTech life, I felt I had reached the pinnacle.) Part of that conversation included Adam describing some upcoming updates to eduClipper and talking about how it was getting pretty big. He certainly wasn't complaining but I had the impression that he was realizing that it was growing to a point that it would require a more substantial team to support its growth.
Adam Bellow, speaking at
Tennessee Educational Technology Conference, 2015.
(Photo by Keith George)

I am also happy for the team at Participate. From my view, this acquisition has great potential.  The press announcement indicated that "will work to enhance the eduClipper offering, while supporting existing users." I immediately began merging the two platforms in my mind. Now, I have no specific information on any plans that Participate may have on this front. In fact, I hope that the folks at Participate read this and steal some of these ideas (royalties are negotiable!)

1. I have previously used, and promoted, a rebellious adaptation of Participate collections for use as lesson plans. (See It seems like the assignment feature in eduClipper could be easily merged with collections as an optional feature to create a guided lesson for students.

2.  Imagine a smartphone/tablet app interface similar to the current eduClipper app that fed "clips" directly into new or existing Participate collections. Then I could add photos, videos or other resources directly from my phone.  I picture myself at a conference or EdCamp just snapping pictures of presentation screens and student showcases to save in collections. Then I link the app used into the collection. Oh, and they have some student samples, let's scan those into the collection as well!

3.  There are already several student portfolio apps but those that I have tried don't really fit the bill for educator portfolios. I envision a special version of a Participate collection that could serve as an ongoing professional portfolio. It should be shareable in a format that is professional enough for my preservice teachers to share with a principal during a job interview but flexible enough to include a variety of products. Adding the products to this portfolio collection should be easy from an app or the browser.

I look forward to what the Participate team has in store for eduClipper and the increased power to collaborate among educators. I see great potential in the combined features of these two wonderful platforms. My imagination continues to envision new uses for this combined educational powerhouse.