I have a friend who went to to a car dealership. The dealer showed him a new car, he spoke really fast and showed all the new features: Bluetooth, an HD rear-view camera, and a great warranty. The dealer then drove the car around a track showing my friend how great it handled, accelerated, etc. Then the dealer exclaimed “And there’s even more you’ll be able to do with it!” My friend asked about other cars. The dealer scoffed “Oh, yeah I guess you could get a different car. But it’s really not as good.” My friend asked how so. “Hey look, this car has a leather wrapped steering wheel!”
If my fictional friend buys this car without looking at other cars, without reading reviews on other cars, without reading reviews on that car, I would think him foolish. But the thing is, teachers and administrators do this every day with educational technology.
Buying a New Car, Errrr… Device
I think professional development is is often lacking when it comes to backing technology. I am a strong advocate for ensuring that teachers are prepared to make the most of the technology before we spend the money on the devices. I don’t think it makes much sense to buy 1000 of device X which do not transform teaching, when we could have bought 50 devices and ensured that we transform the practice of several teachers. Whatever the reduction in device cost necessary for teacher development is; it is worth it.
That said, plenty of professional development time that is technology focused is often professional advertising. Whether the ad is for Google, iPads, Chromebooks, Twitter, Smartboards, often the time is spent in a show-and-tell environment. I think there is a small place for this. It is a good way to have teachers see what is available, and maybe spark their imagination. The more of these I attend, the more I watch the reactions in the crowd, the more I have concerns.
It used to only be Apple advocates to earn this title. The individual that would think it necessary to promote Apple at every opportunity. In their minds, Apple never made mistakes. To that fact I think Apple has been a great marketer. Now that technology is embraced by the masses, it isn’t just Apple that marches with a battalion of Fanboys, but now Google and Android and others as well. I’d like to say that anyone that thinks their device or brand is infallible, is a Fanboy. I am using Fanboy as opposed to Fanpeople, because this is the historical term. Fanboyness doesn’t discriminate by gender.
While being a Fanboy in your personal life is ok, it has no place in education. Choosing devices is about what is the best device for the job (currently, or in the future.) When photocopiers were introduced I’m sure that there were teachers complaining about them being more complicated (maybe the phrase “new-fangled” was used) than their current mimeo machine. But I doubt that anyone defended the purple colour and alcohol smell of the mimeo because they identified themselves with the machine that an attack on the machine was an attack on themselves. And that is what we now face every day. People identify themselves with a brand. When someone points out that it would be nice if my Chromebook had a camera on the lid, I agree. That’s the appropriate response. Fanboys will deny any deficiencies exist, claim that the feature isn’t necessary, or attack your device. All of this will a healthy dose of snark. This closes dialogue and prevents teachers from coming together to share ideas that go beyond the device and have the potential to improve learning. People, let’s leave the badges at the door – you are more than your device.
There are two types of EdTech Snake Oil Salespeople: the amateur and the professional. The amateur will show you something cool and shiny on the web that you could do in the classroom. They will try and dazzle you with an app that will replace your current classroom activity. Not enhance, improve, or transform, but replace. They will show you as many apps and features as possible. They will switch screens quickly and talk even quicker. The better ones will throw in some jokes that subtly attack their competitors. Their EdTech linaments will cure all your ailments, for a reasonable cost of $15,000 for your class. But can you really put a price on learning? The key to their pitch is to overwhelm your senses and not allow you to form a deep thought or question. They also like to present to groups. If everyone else is nodding and smiling, you’re not about to question the ingredients are you?
The professional salesperson is an evolved animal. He knows there are some in the crowd that have their doubts. She knows that at least some in the crowd will question the app or device. Someone in the audience will say it’s about pedagogy, and the device needs to support it. The best ones will even claim that the device doesn’t matter. They need you to believe that education is at the top of their list. Make no mistake, your students are at the top of your list, sales are at the top of theirs. By telling you that the device doesn’t matter, they are trying to gain your trust. I once had a mechanic tell me “Yeah, if you want, you can wait and get it fixed somewhere else.” He was put off when I did just that. He was trying to put himself on my team, we’re looking after what is best for me and my car, if he profits from it, it is a pleasant side effect. Once the salesperson has you believing that you both have the same interests and that the device doesn’t matter, the pitch of the device is that much more believable. She is after all, a trusted advisor that gains nothing right?
The truth is, more and more corporate reps present at PD events. This makes sense. They get to set up a salesperson who showcases a device for a living. It is their job to make using the device look easy to use. They know all the bells and whistles. They (now) are also well read on education so they can throw around some education buzzwords. More often, they are often former teachers. So now your salesperson has some street cred. Think all former teachers have only your students’ interest at heart? Ask former teacher turned Ontario Premier Mike Harris. Our school boards continue to bring these people in for a few reasons. First, they are good salesperson. Not just of a device, but they sell the idea of being an innovative teacher. They get people excited – get some butts out of the seats. Second, they are free. They are paid by the manufacturer/corporation not the school board. Third, they are readily available. There is no need to ask a teacher to take on the extra work of presenting to staff. I think those reasons are not good enough; I think this creates…
I often think about the enormous responsibility we have to ensure our students think critically about the world around them. It is far too easy to present a one sided argument so that students pick up your world view. But students need to learn to think for themselves, and promoting one viewpoint to students is contrary to this idea. But this is what happens in school boards all the time. Someone brings in a representative from their company of choice to talk to teachers new to EdTech. These teachers, newly exposed to the technology, see this company as their saviour. Far too often these teachers consume what a salesperson says as perfect honesty, that will cure their teaching maladies. School board staff has the responsibility of properly researching options before they buy, and certainly before they promote a device or technology to their staff. Unfortunately, too many teachers are sheeple. They will blindly follow a certain tech mantra without questioning if their are better options. Researching options can be a daunting task for a teacher, that’s why they rely on school board staff that is supposed to specialize in this area. But if these staff are Fanboys that are buying Snake Oil, sheeple arise.
I’m all for devices of different shapes and sizes – let’s question what we want to do, and critically assess our options.
If you are against BYOD, you are either someone in the Gary Stager camp with real concerns, or you are a device salespersons. The Gary’s have real arguments that may or may not be true in how you plan on using those devices. If you are a device salesperson, your argument is that it’s so hard to manage all those devices. The reality is that your pedagogy and your content should be device independent. Otherwise, you will probably find yourself in a cycle of redoing things for a new platform. If I use web based apps, they work with an iPad, laptop, Chromebook, desktop and I don’t care which one I use. Apple would try and tell me that a student made iBook is revolutionary. “Look! Text, images, video all together!” Yes, it’s like a website. Except you have to package it as a file to share it (and until recently) Apple kind of owned your content, and it’s not collaborative, and is more limited in the content you can bring into it. But it has a page turn animation – game changing. Every company, including Google and Microsoft have their own rhetoric. But let’s try to cut through all that.