Sunday, July 5, 2009

Why I Was at NECC09

After reading this post and this post about vendors at NECC, I thought I would offer my perspective to the mix.
I was a first-timer at NECC this year. When you add up plane flight, hotel room, conference fees, food and other costs, especially in an expensive city like DC, an experience like NECC is a pricey proposition for a private school teacher like me. In other words, I might have spent another NECC reading tweets and blog posts instead of writing them, if not for a lucky break.

You're thinking I won the lottery, right?
I wish.
I was at NECC this year because of my relationship with a vendor.

This vendor-teacher relationship has been building for a few years now. It was something that happened naturally, yet, in my experience, was anything but common. I understand now that this is just how Tech4Learning operates. Yes, they are a commercial organization. They exist to make money, and I sincerely hope they make boatloads of it.

I don't think any of us begrudge anyone else for making a living. I think the tension, if any exists, between vendors and teachers is that teachers, by the nature of what we do, are usually not business-minded. We are often not in the position to decide where money is spent, and many of us regularly spend our own money on supplies for work. There are stereotypes and bad experiences to contend with- the sleazy salesperson, the hideous customer non-service with companies who sell a product, then run and hide. It can get in the way of our pure-minded notions of education. But, let's face it-everything costs. Educating kids well costs money. Putting on a conference like NECC costs money. And I've never yet attended a conference where anyone was forced to enter the exhibit hall.

I thought this comment, by Dean Shareski, on Lee Kolbert's blog, said it quite well-

An important post. You clearly distinguish between vendors who truly want to make a difference and provide meaningful products and those just interested in a sale.
Kinda reminds of the divide we currently see in education between those really wanting to make a difference, recognizing there has to be a different/better way and those who just want to collect a check.

I completely agree.
It has been a transformative experience for me being involved with a company like Tech4Learning. First of all, they make great software. They seek student and teacher feedback as they develop their products, and it shows. If that's not enough, check out their website to see the free resources they provide including a lesson library, a ning for teachers to share projects and the high-quality, non-software-specific Creative Educator magazine.

I considered it an honor to be able to represent Tech4Learning at NECC and to have the opportunity to share some of my students' work in their booth. I found myself hanging around to watch the presentations of fellow teachers. I certainly didn't have to spend my time in the Tech4Learning booth with so much to see and do and experience at NECC. I was drawn there, quite simply, by the quality of the presentations. After each presentation attendees were given a full-version CD of Tech4Learning software. No hard sell.

I'm about to wrap up, but I'd like to share a story. This, to me, says all there is to say in answer to the question of whether companies can care about anything other than profits.
I teach at a Jewish school with a dual-language curriculum in English and Hebrew. We have trouble finding software for the macs that supports Hebrew. When I first purchased Pixie, we used it to make Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) cards for some students in Israel. Through her own network (which at the time did not include me) Melinda Kolk, Director of Professional Development at Tech4Learning got a look at those cards. Can you imagine my surprise and gratitude when I received an email from her asking if it would be helpful if they added the Hebrew alphabet to the Pixie sticker library?
Small private schools do not wield the big-dollar contracts of large public districts. I'm sure it would be easier and more profitable to ignore us. Unless, of course, you really care.


scmorgan said...

Thanks, I actually didn't know anything about them. I'll check them out!

TJ Shay said...


This is a great and thoughtful post. It's no wonder that the company you mention and the one I represent are in alignment...they treat teachers the same way. I made a suggestion for Stationery Studio add-on based on my experiences in the classroom and, as of last month, that product is on the market.

So, I think the answer for us is to not care what the other bloggers think about vendors. We can just enjoy those precious relationships we have. So glad to have read this post and found a like minded friend.

Unknown said...

Well stated. I can't imagine anyone attending an education conference - especially one focused on technology - and not expect there to be an impressive vendor exhibit hall. That just comes with the territory.

I have a similar relationship - mine with a non-profit - that allows me to attend the major social studies conferences.

I'd welcome sponsorship form a reputable vendor to make a trip to Denver happen for me next year. More power to you, and to the vendors that make events like NECC happen.

Joe said...

Good post, ideally there is that notion of education being pure work that shouldn’t be contaminated with commercialism. The reality is that vendors and businesses (just like government and private interests) are a part of every education system and that wise educators leverage everything to bring their students the best learning experiences they can have. It is good to know you are doing everything to help your students by attending high-quality PD like NECC.

Students School said...

I'll check on Tech4Learning, I didn't know much about it before. Thanks for letting us know. It seemed like such a great experience.

Students School