Today’s huge front page NY Times article from the “Education Disrupted” series may be of interest to those eagerly anticipating the Sept 18th EdLab seminar from the team developing a special issue of TCR on teachers' use of social media as professional development.
"Teachers Promote Their Brands, Drawing Fans and Controversy" (online title Silicon Valley Courts Brand-Name Teachers, Raising Ethics Issues) spotlights Kayla Delzer, a third grade educator in North Dakota. Ms. Delzer has her own brand, Top Dog Teaching, and is co-founder of a teacher training conference called Happy Go Teacher.
She remodeled her classroom as a Starbucks to foster the kind of independent work habits she thinks her students will need in life. She wrote Why the 21st Century Classroom May Remind You of Starbucks for EdSurge in 2015 and Flexible Seating and Student-Centered Classroom Redesign for Edutopia in 2016.
Ms. Delzer is followed by thousands on social media, and is among a growing group of “teacher influencers” regarding education tools in America. The stakes are high for both the technology start-ups and giants courting her, as these companies have the opportunity to “woo students as lifetime users of their products.”
I wonder what the EdLab community thinks about the conflict of interest that the intersection of commerce and education may pose for our public schools. It parallels longstanding conflicts in the medical marketing and pharmaceutical industries. As the article points out, teachers have many good reasons to embrace free classroom technology, including scarce resources, not to mention the personal attention it garners them. Ms. Delzer declares that she is “in this profession for the kids, not for notoriety or the money,” though I would interpret this to mean celebrity rather than notoriety per se.
I’m also interested to know whether the EdLab community agrees that little rigorous research is currently available showing whether or not new technologies are improving student outcomes significantly, as asserted by the New York Times. In companion article "A Reporter Takes to the Classroom" (online title In Her Family’s Footsteps, a Reporter Takes to the Classroom), the author Natasha Singer reports that some of the "most raucous discussions" among high school students in her tech-innovation ethics summer class at the School of the New York Times broke out after she "assigned them to present evidence-based arguments on whether using laptops and apps had improved their learning." Some tech companies were disparaging when she asked them, similarly, about the potential consequences of their education initiatives.
While I endorse teacher Delzer’s annual social media boot camp to teach her students to run the class Twitter and Instagram accounts, I’m not altogether happy to read that she encourages them to post daily. While I agree that there is a time and place for social media, I find it somewhat disturbing to learn that it is playing so active a role in a third grade classroom. On the other hand, she’s teaching them that social media is more than the child’s play that some rather prominent public figures currently seem to consider it. A sign on the classroom wall reminds everyone that “I am building my digital footprint every day.” A wise reminder, indeed.