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Are We Selling it to the Wrong People?

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I just got off the phone with a market researcher for a major (textbook) publishing company, and we had a wonderful conversation about innovation, learning tools, teachers,…  They’re asking some pretty interesting questions that I do not believe I’ve ever head from education vendors. 

The conversation got me to thinking, as I continued up my Gmail list of neglected messages (many of the “Will you blog about this?” variety).  What I’m noticing is that most of the classroom learning tools (technology) I’m reading about say that they speak the language of today’s students, teach them where they are, and overcome the distractions of Facebook and Twitter.  But the ad copy is pitched to teachers (educators) trying to convince us that these products speak digital native

I wonder how the pitch might be different if the companies had to sell their products to the natives instead of the immigrants.  Would their products be any different if they were selling them to the students?

I’m not suggesting that we turn purchasing over to students.  But one of the things that continues to irritate me in the conversations about education reform/restructuring/retooling (not to mention the spending of stimulus monies) is that so much of it is aimed, with the best intentions, at serving teachers and schools — serving education.  I’m much more interested in tools, content, platforms that serve student learners — that empower students do their job as learners, propelling them into a future where learning will be the energy that drives fulfilled societies.

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  • http://msmichetti.edublogs.org Adrienne

    I couldn’t agree more. We are not serving the students at all, then, are we? Where is the actual learner in all this? where are their choices? The fact is, they don’t get to choose the tools until after we have “presented” them. I wonder what it would be like if a department head were to sit down with the students and say, “Which of these tools do you think we should purchase?” At least some kind of input. We all know learning is more relevant when the learner has a connection to it — and textbooks, tech-tools, content platforms are no different. We must involve our learners. Otherwise, we risk trying to “fill them up” with stuff they may not even need, or care about.

  • http://theedublogger.edublogs.org/ Sue Waters

    Mostly I see it in terms of the absolute extremes. 1) Those whose education reform/restructuring/retooling are about imposing the maximum level of control and preventing access where 90 % of all web 2.0 websites are blocked because protection is their highest priority. 2) Those that empower and support student learning in an open Web 2.0 environment; where students are empowered by being allowed to make decisions on their learning and how they learn.

    I was at a conference earlier in the year where a company was explaining how they were developing a system so schools could impose the blocking of web sites in student homes. It’s sad to know schools are already doing this — I read a post by a student whose laptop blocked YouTube and she discussed while perhaps there may be valid reasons to block it at school why are they doing this to her in the home environment when YouTube also provides excellent educational resources. This type of approach makes me frustrated.

  • Dave

    It’s a good idea to aim to provide tools that will actually be appealing and useful, but it’s a fallacy to assume that typical users can tell from a brief demonstration which product will serve them best over the long term. It’s a good thing to include in the research phase, but it should not be the last word.

    The problem is when no one is aware that they aren’t equipped to make that decision. Seems like people who get promoted up a rank or two are so confident in their abilities that they never realize that their “research” is incomplete. Maybe we need some ground rules in place for sensible purchasing?
    - Don’t rely on data from anyone who would profit from the sale.
    - Don’t choose any tools that suffer from vendor lock-in.
    - Do the math: saving every teacher one second per day adds up to more than 3 full-time staff in our district.

  • http://carlanderson.blogspot.com Carl Anderson

    A few years ago I had to teach a class where I did not have a full class set of textbooks. Instead, I had enough textbooks on the topic for each student but they were all of 5 different varieties. This forced me to teach the content and not follow a textbook and in the end I believe this resulted in better learning for my students. Not only did they learn the content but they also gained some critical analysis skills. Having different publishers to study from produced some interesting discussions about why one thing was included here but not there. As we move forward I think our future curriculum development and purchases will need to reflect a similar situation. Especially since all aspects of our world are falling along ideological lines and are more and more influenced by special interests. Can we trust any one publisher to offer a fair and accurate account for our students? We need variety, we need open content, and we need a public curriculum option.

  • http://www.gael-lynch.blogspot.com Gael Lynch

    Agreed, David! I live in the technology…twittering, blogging and FBing all the time. But…I know this is atypical for many colleagues, even some of the young ones! We ordered a new social studies series two years ago and the online portal has been nothing but a pain to deal with. The face of the text book industry an immigrant population as well! I think we need to put natives inside the companies and let them steer that ship first! Just like the ‘Field of Dreams!’

  • AM Rowley

    Thank for the post. For years I have often been frustrated by reviews and ads written solely with the teacher or administrator in mind. My other pet peeve was mentioned in the comments (@Dave). Many of these reports, reviews and/or white papers either written or funded by the organizations whose products are being reviewed. So few by funded by organizations who have no “horse in the race”. This is nothing new. It’s been happening for years in business and has made its way to education.

    While working in business, we learned to create “test sites” where we test everything before putting it into production. If you’re smart you bring in all the players who would have to interact with the product daily. I have been trying to create a group of teachers and students willing to test new resources before they are brought into the classroom. Is it easy to use? Does it do what it says? Does it hold up to use? Anytime I have done this I have gained some real insight.

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  • http://jessicasideways.com Jessica Sideways

    Well, I feel as though most schools (not all) do their best to try to keep students out of decisions about technology that effects them the most. Growing up as a transsexual in high school, most of the websites about that topic were blocked and I could not get any information about it in the library.

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  • Tamara Wolpowitz

    Well said. Just as teachers have had to get used to involving students in the learning process (ie: student guided projects), so are we going to have to include them when it comes to technology selection. I do see a challenge in that not all technologies support (nor appeal to) all learning modalities thus we need to keep in mind that the software or online package is a tool to execute our plan, not the plan. I also wonder financially how to equip a classroom or entire school with everything needed to cover every learner. Will all software/technology be that adaptable?

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Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
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Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
Classroom Blogging
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