July 5, 2008

NECC, Hats, and Invisibility Cloaks

Filed under: about me,necc,necc08,personal learning network — Candace Hackett Shively @ 10:11 am

Apologies to any readers who may not have been at NECC or even know what it is. This post is part of my personal reflection/debrief on the National Educational Computing Conference, my biggest annual opportunity for formal professional development.

I have concerns about the hats we wear — or the choice of invisibility cloaks — for the many forward-thinking educators who come into NECC  with more than one role.

Feeling the Tension

When I arrived at NECC this year, it was with a sense of regret that scheduling had prevented me from attending this year’s EdubloggerCon (EBC), my favorite part of NECC ’07 in Atlanta.  I followed enough of the blogflak about video and gleaned between the lines of ISTE’s policies about recordings, though,  to know that Pearson’s videotaping at EBC was a hot issue.  I also read and commented on pre-conference discussion on the NECC Ning regarding “commercial” postings there. A conversation with friend Jim Gates on NECC day 3 was the third time I felt it: there is a stigma attached to any role or affiliation that makes a NECC attendee or presenter “unpure.”


As a  27 year teacher who went over to the “dark side” two years ago by switching my moonlighting  job to a full time job, I am aware that no modifier I can include in the description of my role running TeachersFirst can erase the stigma; “free,” “ad-free,” “service,” “non-profit,” “noble,” even “saintlike” would be inadequate.  If I choose to don my TeachersFirst hat publicly, I am tainted. Even worse, my ideas and contributions become suspect.

I would maintain that many respected contributors and organizers at EBC, NECC, and the most respected educational technology/ education reform collaborations have additional “hats.” Many individuals moonlight outside of their classrooms as consultants. Others have relationships with publishers, tool developers, or hardware/software companies. I have no problem with that. Teachers need the money, and the good ones have good ideas to share. Many in the “inner circles” at EBC or NECC are aware of the consulting/training  that others do. I would suspect that there are quite a few other “hats” would show if everyone engaged in complete disclosure.

So what to do?

The dilemma: is it better to don an invisibility cloak  (and remain quieter) or wear your hat? Aren’t we, as teachers forever (for that IS what I am– a teacher — no matter who pays me) , just as entitled to learn and grow out of genuine interest in the topics at hand? If NECC is a part of my personal learning network, what is the best way to participate: hat on head or invisibly? Are my ideas less valuable because I changed jobs? Should I refrain from speaking because I come from the dark side? I don’t think so.

I wear my name badge with job title. I tell people what I do when asked. I share ideas that others seem to value. But I must “be careful.”  At what point do my ideas become suspect as an agenda instead of the honest contributions to the conversation they are meant to be? And at what point does the suspicion prevent me from learning as well?

I am frustrated at Pearson for raising the suspicion level of everyone by showing up to “document” EBC. I will admit that I am also suspicious of them, given the fact that they are not participants or teachers, just a commercial company videotaping. They recently launched a “foundation,” and that raises my antennae, too. Will their “foundation” status end up throwing more suspicion on genuine David (to Goliath)-sized non-profits such as my employer in the long run? Is their foundation an intentional invisibility cloak?

So I throw these question out ot the twitting-blogging-Ninging-gadgeting crowd from NECC and beyond:

1. Where and under what circumstances are teachers who wear multiple hats allowed to go for fully-engaged professional growth?

2. How would you prefer to see the hats that these teachers wear?

3. Is there a difference between moonlighting educators and those who retire and take that second career?

What are your thoughts?


  1. Great questions. As one of your reviewers, people here at school (who used to hear me preach regularly) do not have much to say about my being a reviewer. I think it is nothing. Is it because they think that I should be telling them about all the cool things only? or that I think I have too much free time? I think we all wear more than one hat. Why do we need to hide it? Vendors at conventions are needed. There is a lot of overhead. Also, there are a lot of people at different levels. Each company is unique in what and for who they offer. We are not that homogeneous.

    What if another company were to have taped EBC? I do suspect Pearson. After all, these are the teachers (were there teachers there?) who have shunned traditional learning, don’t use books, etc. (I being one of them). I would suggest their motive is about cornering markets but I don’t know that and really should not speculate. Instead: ask and converse.

    There has been some disconnect lately which is actually off topic, but has probably not helped the situation. I am confused about what is really going on here.

    Comment by Louise Maine — July 7, 2008 @ 7:48 pm

  2. I agree that many of us wear many hats, including many, many teachers who moonlight doing education-related work. Even terminology carries a lot of baggage. Is there a difference between “vendors” who have something to sell and “educational non-profits” who do NOT sell or advertise anything but need traffic to support their services (for grants, etc)? Is the bottom line the separator between “OK” and “suspect”? Or is it the person himself/herself? What about “consultants” who have a wide audience and have not been in the classroom for years (or ever)? Are they “Suspect,” “OK,” or “featured speakers”? The lines are SOO fuzzy.

    Teachers are generally suspicious of the commercial education industry — and for some good reasons. Evaluating the motivations and genuineness of a multiple-hat-wearer is as challenging as evaluating web sites — and probably just as important. I believe we must use the same critical eye and then trust what we judge as good.

    Comment by Candace Hackett Shively — July 8, 2008 @ 2:30 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.