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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Tech-savvy teachers build their brands

Tech-savvy teachers are building their brands and forging relationships with edtech companies, reports Natasha Singer in the New York Times, which worries that “teacher influencers” will sell out for technology, T-shirts and maybe free travel to a convention.

Kayla Delzer, a third-grade teacher in North Dakota, uses Twitter, Instagram and Seesaw, “a student portfolio platform where teachers and parents may view and comment on a child’s schoolwork,” reports the Times. She also runs site called 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. . . . More than two dozen education start-ups have enlisted teachers as brand ambassadors. Some give the teachers inexpensive gifts like free classroom technology or T-shirts. Last year, TenMarks, a math-teaching site owned by Amazon, offered Amazon gift cards to teachers who acted as company advisers, and an additional $80 gift card for writing a post on its blog, according to a TenMarks online forum.

Public-school teachers aren’t supposed to promote a product in exchange for perks. But do we really think teachers will promote bad technology in exchange for T-shirts and gift cards?

When Nicholas Provenzano taught To Kill a Mockingbird at Grosse Pointe South, a public high school in a Detroit suburb, he gave students a choice: Do a class presentation or use computer-assisted design software

Teacher Nicholas Provenzano posted a picture of this student-designed gavel on Twitter, crediting the donated 3-D printer used to create it.

Thanks to his side business, called The Nerdy Teacher, Provenzano is a brand ambassador for Dremel, which sent him a $1,299 3-D printer to test. He used it to turn one student’s gavel design, representing justice, into a three-dimensional gavel, then posted it on Twitter.

I question whether designing a gavel shows understanding of To Kill a Mockingbird. However, there must be other ways to use 3-D printing to actually teach something (maybe not English).

Checker Finn also thinks the ethics issues are overblown, noting that there’s “nothing new about educators promoting commercial products — and getting compensated in various ways for doing so.”

That’s what happens when salesmen for textbook companies treat school superintendents to golf games and nice lunches, after which the district buys their textbooks. That’s what happens at every education conference I’ve ever attended when attendees are given lots of time to wander through vast halls full of promotions, freebies, and come-ons by the dozens (or hundreds) of conference “sponsors,” i.e., the firms that are underwriting the event itself.

The NEA website includes leads to commercial products that are recommended to teachers by other teachers,” Finn concludes.

Is it an ethical problem if teachers become “brand ambassadors” for themselves or for edtech companies?

A teacher can “sell her soul or her personal integrity for not very much in return,” writes Nancy Flanagan of Teacher in a Strange Land. She draws the ethical line at representing a brand or program.

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