Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Teachers for Sale? Part One

Where's the line between getting some technology freebies in the classroom and a teacher pushing a particular product to students and school?  Who owns that property - the teacher or the district?  Is a teacher pushing the limits of contract restrictions by promoting products, either in class or on free time?

Teaching, by nature, is a helping profession. And educators have a long tradition of sharing ideas with colleagues.

“Vendors offering free technology to teachers for their personal or professional use in exchange for teachers promoting it to students or other teachers is a very questionable activity,” Professor Reidenberg said.
Recent articles have examined these questions which, yes, are going to grow ever-large with the advent of more and more technology in the classroom AND teachers wanting to increase their salaries.  In short, the much heralded, personalized learning.

From the New York Times - Silicon Valley Courts Brand-Name Teachers, Raising Ethics Issues
One of the tech-savviest teachers in the United States teaches third grade here at Mapleton Elementary, a public school with about 100 students in the sparsely populated plains west of Fargo.
Her name is Kayla Delzer. Her third graders adore her. She teaches them to post daily on the class Twitter and Instagram accounts she set up. She remodeled her classroom based on Starbucks. And she uses apps like Seesaw, a student portfolio platform where teachers and parents may view and comment on a child’s schoolwork.

Ms. Delzer also has a second calling. She is a schoolteacher with her own brand, Top Dog Teaching. Education start-ups like Seesaw give her their premium classroom technology as well as swag like T-shirts or freebies for the teachers who attend her workshops. She agrees to use their products in her classroom and give the companies feedback. And she recommends their wares to thousands of teachers who follow her on social media.
Ms. Delzer is a member of a growing tribe of teacher influencers, many of whom promote classroom technology. They attract notice through their blogs, social media accounts and conference talks. And they are cultivated not only by start-ups like Seesaw, but by giants like Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft, to influence which tools are used to teach American schoolchildren. 
Just in those three paragraphs, I see a host of issues.  In a nutshell:
Their ranks are growing as public schools increasingly adopt all manner of laptops, tablets, math teaching sites, quiz apps and parent-teacher messaging apps. The corporate courtship of these teachers brings with it profound new conflict-of-interest issues for the nation’s public schools.

Moreover, there is little rigorous research showing whether or not the new technologies significantly improve student outcomes. 
For me as a data privacy advocate, I'd have to see exactly what is being said in that class Twitter and Instagram account.  How are the kids IDed?

That Starbucks idea is intriguing and as long as she doesn't refer to it that way to kids, fine by me.
So she ditched the standard-issue desks and rearranged the room to look more like the place where she goes to work on her conference talks: her local Starbucks. Today, her third graders sit wherever they please — on cushions, rocking chairs, balance balls.

Some non-tech companies, too, are eager to harness her star power by providing their products at no charge.
“BIG THANKS to our friends @TradeWestEDU for the new chairs, bean bags and tables!” Ms. Delzer tweeted in January after Trade West Equipment, an office and school supplier, furnished items for her classroom. “We are loving our new #flexibleseating options!”
And, isn't it better for teacher-tested tech to be hailed by teachers rather than non-educators? Or does the profit motive negate that teacher background?  Did I mention that Delzer gets free clothes as well and promotes the clothing store that gives them to her?

District policies or state laws?
Public-school teachers who accept perks, meals or anything of value in exchange for using a company’s products in their classrooms could also run afoul of school district ethics policies or state laws regulating government employees.

“Any time you are paying a public employee to promote a product in the public classroom without transparency, then that’s problematic,” said James E. Tierney, a former attorney general of Maine who is a lecturer at Harvard Law School. “Should attorneys general be concerned about this practice? The answer is yes.”
I see benefits for teachers and schools that might otherwise not afford some of these technologies.  I see real benefits for companies.
The benefits to companies are substantial. Many start-ups enlist their ambassadors as product testers and de facto customer service representatives who can field other teachers’ queries.
And what about the students?  They get to be free testers for these products and that's it?  What about the kids who don't have savvy/motivated teachers or have teachers already overwhelmed by their duties? 
Apple, Google and Microsoft, which are in education partly to woo students as lifetime users of their products, have more sophisticated teacher efforts — with names like the Apple Distinguished Educators program, Google for Education’s Certified Innovator Program and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert program. 
Oh, and about those students?  Meet GoEnnounce.

Building A Student's Digital Brand

Start a positive Digital Image program at your school with our student portfolios + integrated digital citizenship curriculum.

To note, "branding" is a HUGE issue for today's students and young adults.  Ever heard of Kim Kardashian?  She has no real talent - save her looks - but has built an empire on her brand.  Many young people today want this kind of notice in order to build relationships with companies that can support their interest/work.  Several years back I attended an evening forum at UW on creating your own brand.  The biggest lecture hall at UW and it was packed.  (The number one piece of advice?  Start a blog.  I smiled.  But Charlie and I never built this blog to be a brand but if I had, I would have done it differently.)

Don't think this kind of brand-creation/maintenance won't matter to kids in the future?  It will.

But where have we seen this before?
The medical profession has long wrestled with a similar issue: Can pharmaceutical-company gifts like speaking fees or conference junkets influence physicians to prescribe certain medications? A recent study of nearly 280,000 doctors concluded that physicians who received even one free meal promoting a specific brand of medicine prescribed that medication at significantly higher rates than they did similar drugs.
I think the different is - again - branding.  If a teacher is using a certain software and prominently displays it in the classroom in order to get it for free, that's just trying to get free software. When it is attached to the teacher's name in order for the teacher to heighten their profile, that's more a gray area.
Unlike industry influence in medicine, however, the phenomenon of company-affiliated teachers has received little scrutiny. Twitter alone is rife with educators broadcasting their company-bestowed titles.

“If medical experts started saying, ‘I’m a Google Certified Doctor’ or ‘I’m a Pfizer Distinguished Nurse,’ people would be up in arms,” said Douglas A. Levin, president of EdTech Strategies, a consulting firm.

For some teachers, corporate relationships can be steppingstones to lucrative speaking or training engagements. Schools often hire company-connected educators to give training sessions to their teachers. And technology conferences for teachers often book influential teachers as speakers.
More legal issues:
Another issue: The Federal Trade Commission considers sponsored posts to be a form of advertising. It expects people who receive a product, a meal or anything else of value from a company, in exchange for promoting a product, to disclose that sponsorship when they endorse the product.

“If you are receiving any sort of incentive to promote the company’s product, that is what we call a material relationship,” said Mary K. Engle, associate director of the trade commission’s division of advertising practices, “and that has to be clearly and conspicuously disclosed in the endorsement message.”
How about an upside?  

One that I see is that many teachers don't have the time or inclination to master new technologies but would probably love for some other teacher to test and tell. 
At a time when many teachers feel constrained by curriculum requirements, Mr. Provenzano said digital tools provided a creative outlet. The design software assignment also took advantage of his side business, called The Nerdy Teacher. Mr. Provenzano consults for education technology companies, and his basement is chock-full of the electronics they send him to try.

Mr. Provenzano also blogs and gives conference presentations to teachers, sharing interesting ways that he uses the 3-D printers. “I feel comfortable saying teachers have bought Dremel because of me,” he said.

Mr. Provenzano said he did not see a conflict of interest between his teaching and industry affiliations, noting that his blog prominently listed his company affiliations. He added that school districts often hired him to train their teachers precisely because his industry relationships had helped him become an expert.
But Mr. Provenzano owns the 3-D printer that a company gave him and it's in his home where he prints out student work but could the district argue they own it?  

On that note, who owns what?  Here's a story out of Vancouver:
Amy Johnson, a third-grade teacher at Evergreen School District's Riverview Elementary School, has used the crowdfunding site Donors Choose since 2010. The site allows people from across the world to help fund public school teachers and their projects.

“Thanks to Donors Choose, I have a library of over 2,000 books for my students and enough math manipulatives for all of my students,” Johnson explained.

But this year, the Evergreen School District has put a moratorium on all teacher fundraising.

The Washington State Auditor’s Office advised the district that a policy needs to be put in place to ensure that the money is properly handled, and that the items are designated as district property and put in the district inventory.
Some other education bloggers have spoken out about teachers and technology.  From GadFlyOnTheWall blog:  Dear Teachers, Don’t Be Good Soldiers for the EdTech Industry
Corporations want to replace us with software packages. They want to create a world where kids sit in front of computers or iPads or some other devices for hours at a time doing endless test prep. You know it’s true because your administrator probably is telling you to proctor such rubbish in your own classroom so many hours a week. I know MINE is.

You are piloting a program that means your own redundancy.

You are engaged in an effort to prove that they don’t need a fully trained, experienced, 4-year degree professional to do this job. They just need a glorified WalMart greeter to watch the kids as they push buttons and stare at a screen. They just need a minimum wage drone to take up space while the children bask in the warm glow of the program, while it maps their eye movements, catalogues how long it takes them to answer, records their commercial preferences and sells all this data to other companies so they can better market products – educational and otherwise – back to these kids, their school and their parents.

It’s about replacing the end-of-the-year standardized test with daily mini stealth assessments that are just as high stakes and just as effective at providing an excuse for the state or the feds to swoop in and steal control, disband the school board and give the whole shebang to the charter school operator who gives them the most generous campaign donations.

They call this trash “personalized learning.” How can it really be personalized if kids do the same exercises just at different rates? How is it personalized if it’s standardized? How is it personalized if it omits the presence of actual people in the education process?
From Curmudgucation:
Good morning,children, and welcome to today's classes in the Mr. Edbrand Fifth Grade Room, brought to you by Exxon here at Apple Elementary School. I'll remind you that all Samsung devices and Microsoft Surface tablets must be placed in the big box just outside the door. As usual we'll be recording and webcasting today, and only properly sponsored materials can be shown on camera.

Oh, Chris-- you brought in your signed clearances from home? Excellent-- you can finally move your desk out of the cupboard and join your classmates on camera.

And while at your work stations, remember not to slouch so that the new DataGrabber Mining Module can track every part of your facial expressions. 
I'll also remind you that part of your class requirement is to post a picture from class on Instagram or Twitter; remember, you only get credit if you use the hashtag #MrEdbrandTeaches, because every day what...? That's right-- "Every day I'm increasing my digital footprint."

Which reminds me-- I'm very cross about yesterdays video footage, We had to scrub several spots because somebody decided it would be funny to hold up a Microsoft logo in the background. Look-- someday when you're a grown-up professional, you can develop your own personal brand, but right now, the only personal brand in this room is mine, and we are not a Microsoft classroom.

What, Pat? No, I told you. We'll start studying history when and if we find a sponsor. 
Boy, when people back in the day said that education would be transformed by the free market, they had no idea.


Co-op not Co-opt said...

I would love to see schools use more of a co-op/open-source approach to a lot of things. There is no reason why a country of 320 million people couldn't have some public domain early readers. Right? We could hire Neil Gaiman or Dan Gutman or someone awesome to write them. They could be multicultural. And they could be available for free to all schools. The co-op approach works for PCC and BECU and Ace Hardware and Group Health and Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company and Land O’Lakes and Associated Wholesale Grocers and so on and so forth. It's so sad that the early readers in public schools are produced by publishers in Australia or England. Or massive for-profit publishing behemoths like Scholastic, all charging for-profit prices to get fiddly reading materials into the hands of young children. We can do better.

Jet City mom said...

Shouldnt the curriculum first and foremost be developmentally appropriate?

If I had young kids in schools today, I likely would feel forced to homeschool them. Or else move to a district with common sense.
If companies want to give money to a school district, I guess it is up to the district.
Are we so desperate for shiny that we ignore what our embracing of the corporate is teaching the students?

Jan said...

I agree with Co-op, and I think that school districts will need to be firm and clear o policies here. There is a lot of educational "stuff" out there -- and I get why teachers might want to use some of it. But there have to be clear rules -- disclosure (including disclosure of money or other perks being paid to teachers so parents and administrators can monitor conflicts of interest), items bought with taxpayer money need to belong to districts (or children -- not teachers), items solicited through district websites (library books, manipulatives, science kits, etc.) need to belong to the schools, not the teachers, student/parent/family privacy and confidentiality must be preserved when using digital sites, recordings, etc., and teachers/administrators need to be able to override a teacher's selection of materials if it is educationally inappropriate, requires consent to the release of otherwise private or confidential information, etc.

I suspect this may become a bigger issue in private schools as well -- it is a much smaller "market" for big ed, but it is not totally inconsequential. And charter school laws should be revised to curb abuses in this area as well.

Jet City mom said...

We should be giving our children less screen time not more, if we want to safeguard their health and help them build social skills.

z said...

This teacher, Ms. Delzer, is thumbing her nose at COPPA laws and children's safety.

Directly from Twitter's Terms of Service:

Rule #1!
You may use the Services only if you agree to form a binding contract with Twitter and are not a person barred from receiving services under the laws of the applicable jurisdiction. In any case, you must be at least 13 years old to use the Services.

Directly from Instagram's Terms of Service:

Again, rule #1:
You must be at least 13 years old to use the Service.

There is no ambiguity in either of those two statements. Unless she has a room full of 3rd graders who are all over the age of 13, she is putting herself and her district at risk of a lawsuit. Perhaps she got some permission forms for parents to sign, but even in that case, does anyone think she got 100% return rate? And even if that were to be true, has she considered why COPPA laws exist?

This teacher is assisting and encouraging young children to post their pictures online, open for the world to see, including names. WTH is she thinking?! Yo, there is no Undo button on the internet!