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.