And now for something completely different… As an educator who has organized and attended many education conferences over several decades, I have made a few observations about the unique relationship between educators, and vendors of education materials or educational technology. The reason for my consideration of this topic is because I will be participating in the Software Information Industry Association’s (SIIA) Ed Tech Industry Summit in San Francisco next week. Most of my conferences have been with a majority of educators in attendance and a minority of vendors. At this conference it will be mostly vendors and very few educators aside from me. I am actually flirting with the dark side in answering the many calls for consulting in regard to my Social-Media-in-Education experience.
Of course my reference to the “Dark Side” is a perfect example of what I now plan to address. Just how do many educators view vendors? The ironic point to this teacher-vendor relationship is that many of these people took the same education courses in college, but found that damned divergent road in the woods and travelled down different paths. I have often told students in education methods classes that the skills that they were learning were skills that they could apply in many places other than the classroom. I often thought that to be sound advice to kids trying for hundreds of teaching jobs sought after by thousands of applicants.
An often voiced complaint by conference attendees is that they don’t want too many vendor directed presentations or workshops. I always found that surprising in that who better knows the product and its potential than the vendor. Vendors are the product experts. Of course teachers would often say that vendors did not know the classroom, and that might be true of some, but not all vendors. It has been my experience that the industry looks to recruit teachers whenever possible, so that their personnel do have classroom experience. Unfortunately, I think it takes about a year out of the classroom however, before credibility as a teacher is diminished if not wiped out altogether.
Additionally, I wonder if the comfort, and ease of the vendors demonstrating their products, especially in the area of technology, doesn’t in some way intimidate some educators. Surprisingly, not all educators are at ease with technology. It doesn’t fall within their comfort zone. Then there is always the fear that some educators may have, based on the mythology that teachers can actually be replaced by technology. Using that perspective, the vendors are then trying to replace educators with their wares. Dastardly Tricksters!
Of course the most common complaint heard from educators is: The only reason why vendors do these workshops is to sell their products. Is there a loftier, more altruistic reason why vendors should demonstrate their products? Their products serve educators, help kids learn, financially support education conferences, and yes, it puts food on the vendor’s family table. Of course the vendor is there to sell products. That is the purpose of being there.
In this emerging era of collaborative learning, we need more educators and vendors reaching out. Teaching and learning is not easy. The more we move forward, the more we have to learn. If technology is required in our culture in order to aggregate, create, collaborate, and communicate, then great, let’s use it. Let us engage the experts who can best help us help ourselves. We need to engage them in a common effort to improve what we do, and how we do it. Let’s take their vision for teaching and apply it to what we know about learning. The term “Educator” can be broadly defined beyond a classroom teacher. Corporation and Education may need to strive more to find similarities and common goals together, rather than assume the solutions separately.
In the interest of full disclosure: My wife, a former professor, has been an education technology industry executive for more than two decades. We have often discussed the educator-vendor issue. We have managed to get along in harmony for a very long time with a bigger and better perspective on what we each do.
This is a survey that SIIA has asked teachers to take. It is an attempt by the industry to take in to account the needs and concerns of teachers. SIIA Survey