NECC… Buyer Beware

When at NECC, you know that the minute you walk into the exhibit hall, you will be overwhelmed by the sheer number of vendors, all selling educational technology products. The lights, noise, free t-shirts and hats all signal that this is a place where vendors are working hard to gain your attention and your money.

On the other hand, attending sessions and keynotes at NECC is supposed to be an educational experience, since the sessions were submitted and reviewed by independent reviewers for their educational significance. They support the goals of educators using technology to improve education. Right?

Let’s take a look at one session in particular on this year’s program:

Assessing Students’ and Teachers’ Technology Skills: NETS as Benchmarks
Mila Fuller, ISTE with Don Knezek
Monday, 6/25/2007, 10:00am–11:30am; GWCC B211
Join ISTE’s CEO, Don Knezek, and other national leaders as they highlight various approaches to assessing technology literacy and ISTE’s National Educational Technology Standards. (Commercial Content) (Exhibitor-Sponsored)
Blog Tag: n07s909

Ah, it’s a session given by ISTE itself, the sponsoring organization of NECC. ISTE, a non-profit membership organization, has created a set of standards for student, teacher, and administrator technology literacy called the NETS. So this is a session about how to use those standards to assess these skills. Sounds great! But wait… what does it mean, “commercial content” and “exhibitor-sponsored”?

This is where the “other national leaders” come in. Who are these national leaders? In the extended explanation (found online, but not in the NECC program book) it says that executives from Certiport, Learning.com, Microsoft, and PBS Teacherline comprise the panel. All of these companies are ISTE 100 members, which means they pay an annual fee to ISTE. Each company has products for sale that assess teacher and student technology literacy. Each company has also paid fees to ISTE to have these products receive a “Seal of Alignment” to the NETS standards.

So, is this in fact, a session that helps educators sort through the issues of technology literacy, what assessment means, and offer educators a wide array of research-based alternatives? Or is the purpose to promote products of particular companies who pay ISTE?

While it is noted in the program that there is commercial content in this session, the implication is that since ISTE and “national leaders” are hosting the session, any commercial content will be presented fairly, with other alternatives noted. And what will be said, if anything, in the session to fully disclose the financial relationship and incentives for ISTE to promote these particular company products?

In the spirit of full disclosure, you should note that I work for a company that also works with schools to help them address student technology literacy, and we sell an alternative, project-based model of assessment, with materials for students and resources for teachers called TechYES.

The session I submitted on technology literacy was not accepted. Hey, that’s fine, I know that it was reviewed fairly (I hope, anyway) and I’ve had other sessions accepted in other years. And I was accepted for a Problem/Solution panel on Wednesday (Connaghan, Karen: ‘Assessing Student Technology Literacy’ in B213 at 8:30 on Wednesday (also: Kate Kemker, Sylvia Martinez, Mia Murphy, Nicole Piggott)).

But my panel does not have Don Knezek, CEO of ISTE, at the head of the table. This panel is more like what NECC is supposed to be, presentations of multiple viewpoints, multiple alternatives, without access sold to the highest bidder. Unfortunately, I expect the ideas discussed in our humble session will be bigger and the audience smaller.

Being fair is not hard to do. Several states have done extensive analysis of student technology literacy products and created toolkits to help schools deal with the issue of student technology literacy assessment. These states have worked hard to avoid any conflict of interest and not endorse or favor any one intervention over another. In both these cases, TechYES is the only project-based assessment on these lists.

The Georgia Department of Education created a comparison chart of approaches to the NCLB 8th grade technology mandate.

The Connecticut Regional Educational Service Center (RESC) Alliance created a report describing a variety of assessment formats and products meant to address student tech assessment.

Generation YES is not an ISTE 100 member. It’s very expensive to join ISTE’s program. We also have not submitted TechYES for the ISTE’s NETS Seal of Alignment; it’s also very expensive. We’d rather keep our products affordable. We have correlated TechYES to the ISTE NETs standards for students, and that correlation, along with the 40 pages of research supporting the methodologies of TechYES is freely available on our website. The correlation documents for the products blessed by ISTE are not publicly available.

When I presented about TechYES at NJECC a few months ago, one attendee came up to me after my session and said she was aware of a panel at NECC about tech literacy, and that she strongly felt that TechYES should be presented as an alternative. She gave me Mila Fuller’s name and suggested I email her. I did, and Mila responded that she would be happy to talk to me at NECC (of course, after this session is over). Since Mila is in charge of the ISTE 100 program, I’m guessing she’s going to “invite” Generation YES to become a member once again, and once again, I’m going to tell her that we’d rather spend our money on making great resources for students and teachers.

We have a booth on the exhibit floor, where commercial products are supposed to be. We feel like we’ve played by the rules, and this just doesn’t seem fair. Worse, it’s a misrepresentation by ISTE, and a disservice to their membership base. Educational technology educators pay their dues to ISTE with an expectation that their interests are first and foremost, that ISTE is not simply selling them out. I pay my dues to ISTE too, and I expect ISTE to promote a vision of educational technology that improves the lives of teachers and students, not one that improves the bottom line of companies who write the biggest check.

3 Replies to “NECC… Buyer Beware”

  1. Time for a reality check. We’re behind the 8-ball. It’s only going to get worse. One year from today there may not be an NECC or an ISTE.

    Put down the computer and go buy 7 years worth of food for the famine that looms over the world.

    $ 100 laptop? How about some world leaders that are honest. Maybe we can start there. Otherwise we’ll be looking at a planet that will be on fire. Wifi may not work when we reach that point…

    Sorry to burst your bubble of positive energy. Now go stock up on some food before the new world order jams you on a train on it’s way to an internment camp.

    Seriously.

    Now go.

  2. Fabulous commentary Sylvia. I remember coming away from NECC Chicago a few years back absolutely disgusted at how NECC has been sold out – I made the point of walking the entire vendor area, standing separate from each booth and listening to the rap – it quickly became clear that the vast majority of the vendors had little if any understanding about teaching and learning – their primary focus was boxes and their solutions. Of the more than 3000 tables I walked by, less than 2% were promoting products and/or ideas that were related to critical thinking, problem solving and information/media fluency.

    Thanks for taking the time to make an absolutely necessary comment. Keep up the good work!!!

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