02 February 2019

An Undistinguished Educator: Why I'm not an ADE

Why after over twenty years working to integrate digital technology in classroom K-12, I'm still not an Apple Distinguished Educator, or a Google Certified Educator. I'm happy to remain an undistinguished educator. 

So having an Apple logo appended to my signature makes me 'distinguished'? Passing a multiple choice test means Google will 'certify' my teaching efficacy? 

These ‘certifications’ have more to do with huge corporations influencing educators into a form of brand loyalty and in turn using those educators as 'influencers' than it does about genuine continuing professional development.

Now it could be said that it’s okay for me to take this position as I am fortunate to be working in an amazing school; if I was seeking employment I might have to swallow my pride and get me 'some o dat certification', just to satisfy the naive expectations of administrators and schools who should know better. And that may be true, however I’d also have to seriously question whether that the kind of school that values that kind of certification is the kind of environment I would like to work in.

Many moons ago, at the beginning of this branding exercise, I kept an open mind and attended sessions at tech conferences dedicated to both of these qualifications and was absolutely appalled at the focus they outlined; clearly designed by both parties to foster an exclusive focus on their tools to the exclusion of any others, no matter what they might say. Because creating a video and writing a letter is the gold standard in determining educator efficacy?

That sounds like the kind of process that would be dreamt up by a corporate marketing team than anyone serious about improving education to me.  

When I attended the Google certified educator session it was even worse, the admission criteria included taking and passing a multiple-choice test, one where the questions didn’t even match the current iteration of the Google Apps suite that was being used!  So candidates were informed that they would need to answer the multiple choice questions (yet another ludicrous way to determine teaching talent) in a way that aligned with the way the tools used to work... even then what precedent does this set? Based on sample questions we were shown, the sign of a skilled educator is that they have memorised the locations of commands in the menus of the tools they use? That’s not how I operate, if you were to ask me where to find a certain command in Google docs I couldn’t tell you from memory, I haven’t memorised them,  but I know where to look for them when I need them. The criteria for appraising the efficacy of educators in Google is fundamentally flawed, not built on skilful pedagogy but on a naive surface level assumption that memorising the location of functions in software is of paramount importance?

I can tell you that when the institution where I work seeks to recruit coaches/teachers, whether or not they have one of these superficial qualifications is not a consideration.  I’ve encountered many educators who are clearly very poorly skilled and have a very dubious understanding about how tech can be integrated effectively (nouns over verbs, tech viewed more like toys than tools), and their naive display of their certification just served to further undermine their credibility.

The aspect I find most difficult to accept is the way these titles facilitate a kind of exclusivity or 'club', how do people expect to effectively engage in effective professional development if their first criteria is exclusion? Even more ridiculous, you could, like me, be a teacher who has many many years of experience working with tech integration, or/and have a Masters degree in this area, but that will still not permit inclusion to this inner sanctum. When a community values a superficial label over a rigorous professional qualification that takes years to acquire you know there must be something wrong.

So, if you were considering pursuing this certification, my advice is to forget it. Use the time to focus on designing better lessons for your students, and if you’re seeking a qualification, pursue something like a degree, or masters degree instead.

Poor Pedagogical Practice

If you’ve read this far, you might be presuming at this point that I have nothing but criticism for Apple and Google, but that could not be further from the truth. I have the upmost respect for the power of the technologies they provide, in particular Apple’s hardware and operating systems, and Google’s incredible app suite. But if I’ve learned anything in the last 20+ years of tech integration it's that you cannot trust either of those companies (or Microsoft) to provide you as an educator with any useful support in terms of the application of their tools effectively in your classroom. They have amazing software engineers but they are useless when it comes to encouraging ways to effectively and creatively repurpose their tools—that are not, and were never designed for use in classrooms—in ways that can transform teaching and learning.

A Case in Point

Recently I had the misfortune to attend a workshop provided by Apple for teachers, in this case there was no requirement for me to be a 'distinguished' educator in order to be attend, it was acceptable to use just be an educator, so thank you Apple for catering to those of us who undistinguished educators. So I went to keep an open mind, but the travesty that unfolded defied belief.

The session was clearly primarily designed to enable Apple to promote the use of their “Apple Pencil“ in schools, clearly not designed with anyone who is serious about encouraging the use of digital technology in classrooms with the sole purpose of improving teaching and learning in mind. The main focus appeared to be persuade us all that providing every students with a $150 glorified stylus is going to be AWESOME MAGICAL AMAZING, talk about technology for the sake of using technology.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I have been and I am a huge advocate for the effective use of digital tools in classrooms—in particular the use of Apple devices. From my perspective the ultimate win-win is Apple hardware with Google software, it's just ludicrous that their respective teaching certification mitigates against this kind of non-partisan approach.

I am and was largely responsible for the facilitation of our entire primary school away from non-Apple products, and now under my guidance every student in the school has their own iPad or Apple laptop, so to presume that I am opposed to Apple devices or tools would be a very poor assumption to make.

The session that unfolded was remarkable only in its irrelevance. 

Several demonstrations followed where the focus was clearly contrived around ways to 'round peg, square hole' incorporate the use of the ‘Apple Pencil’ into the classroom in ways that are the definition of ‘replacement’ or ‘substitution’ technology, at worst could be described as the very epitome of technology for the sake of using technology with no pedagogical gain whatsoever.

Examples like finding an Apple Shape (AKA clipart) that approximates the silhouette of a human face and then use the Apple Pencil to scribble over it to describe the qualities of your own character? Like asking students to create a GarageBand audio musical accompaniment to the recording of a JFK speech; what understanding of the sciences does this facilitate? None!

Then they proudly demonstrated the ability for teachers to use the Apple Pencil to mark up student word-processed work (more replacement tech), showing that you could move marked up passages around the screen with the annotations attached... but if I am the student and I am acting on feedback from my teacher why would I need to move the text on the screen and still keep the teachers annotations attached? Surely I would address the feedback and remove the annotations before I moved the passage around the screen?

This is just technology viewed through the lens of a software engineer not through the lens of a skilled teacher. 

To add insult to injury of course the devices were never designed with a classroom in mind as is painfully obvious when you actually try to use them in a classroom of students in a primary school, these devices are ridiculously expensive, easy to lose, easy to break, very difficult to share, and even more difficult to charge.

A note of hope...

So, by all means rely on these corporations and companies to provide you with powerful hardware and software. But trust me, the only people who can help you use if effectively in a classroom are the people who have always been the most helpful and transforming teaching and learning—your teaching colleagues. Refuse to exclude them because they don’t play into these corporate games of brand certification. Embrace and collaborate with any teacher who is interested in taking the most powerful digital tools the world has ever known and helping to put them in the hands of our students in ways that enable teachers and students to amplify and transform the ways they learn and the ways we teach. 

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