A couple weeks back I posted a collection of articles addressing the nature of edtech ambassador programs and topics related to the evolving relationships between educators and the edtech industry. Here is my take on the issue.
To preface this, I do believe that educators must be involved in the development and improvement of educational technologies. There is no doubt in my mind that the educator voice must be at the table. There were several instances when I was piloting a new educational product in my classroom and the disconnect between how the tool worked and the realities, constraints, and workflows of a classroom environment were glaring. Without input and feedback from teachers on the front lines of education, the promise and potential of these technologies will not be fully realized.
Educators must be mindful of why and how they engage with the edtech industry. There are several reasons why an educator may take part in an ambassadorship or related partnership with an educational technology company. Below I lay out reasons that I think are positive, and others that can be very questionable.
Connect with educators, developers, researchers, and others in the education field that you normally would never have had the opportunity to learn with. This is a great way to expand and strengthen your PLN
Contribute your teaching expertise and practical knowledge of classroom environments to the development and improvement of edtech products.
Get your classes access to emerging educational technologies that may otherwise be unavailable.
Help share the story of innovative learning happening in your classroom / school / district. This connects back to the expanded PLN as these networks can learn from your experiences.
Finally, if you have already decided to use a particular tool in your class, why not get involved and learn more about it? You have already chosen that tool, a company had not sought you out to use it just so you can be an ambassador (hopefully). So learning more about effective integration strategies with that particular tool is a good thing. Ambassador programs (and similar setups) can certainly help on this front.
“I can get access to free tools, because why not?” This is not a good way to think about it for a few reasons. One, most new edtech tools that come out every year are not very effective at all. Using new products just because they reach out to you as an educator and offer you a title with free licenses can lead to a waste of your time, and ultimately your students’ time. If we are going to spend incredibly valuable instructional time testing out a tool, it has to be done strategically and in a way that clearly aligns with your vision of teaching and learning.
“I can get more badges for my resume.” Again, what is the motive? First and foremost, you should be engaging in these experiences to enhance student learning and improve your own learning. Even if your goal is to move into a type of educational technology role or position, a race to accumulate the most badges and ambassadorships is not necessarily going to help. And in some cases, it may create the appearance that you chase trends and have cast too wide a net for meaningful and targeted technology integration. I have seen some teachers with so many ambassador badges, it hard to imagine that they actually use all of these tools with their students. And if they do, does that even make sense?
“They recognized one of my lessons / teaching strategies as innovative and shared it with the world, so I owe them one.” Although I can’t imagine someone actually saying this, I’m sure some people think it. Just because an edtech company admires your work and shouts it from the rooftops, you do not owe them anything other than perhaps a thank you. You should never feel compelled to use a product because they keep giving you props online. Also, I have all too often seen companies turn well-meaning educators into a de facto marketing arm for their company.
Lastly, a reminder that to many people (families included), perception is reality. So even if all of our motives fall into what I consider the “positive” category, others may think we have drifted into the questionable ones. Educators therefore need to be mindful of how we are perceived both online and in live interactions with stakeholders. In the end, we must be capable of clearly articulating how what we do is ultimately to improve teaching and learning for all of our students.
*** Big thanks to Karl Lindgren-Streicher for helping me think through some of these ideas last week. You can check out his blog at lskarl.com. Also thanks to Beth Holland for pointing me to several key articles on the issue. She writes at brholland.com.