About the Golden Rule for Ed Tech Vendors

Last week, I spent a little while doing the rounds, trying to drum up some advertising customers for the student paper. Ordinarily there’s a student who carries the role of business manager, but when we’re in between student workers, or outside of class time, I try to push things along.

There were twenty different things I’d rather have been doing at that time, but the money goes directly to support the school’s educational mission. We recently replaced our six-year-old hand-me-down computers with a couple of new ones, and over the years we’ve sent students to training workshops and conferences in New York and elsewhere.

So here I am, going door to door, mentioning that I’m trying to sell ads, and watching eyes glaze over.

“I can give you two minutes,” said a guy in an apron.

It was a humbling experience — being blown off like that. I didn’t even have two minutes of stuff to say — I just mentioned that his competition down the street just bought an ad of X size, and left my contact information.

But it was a good experience, too.

I’m used to walking into a chattering room full of students who immediately settle down and wait for me to start talking. A small handful of students who feel very comfortable around me will politely mime a wristwatch check when I’ve run over time; most just sit there and wait for me to finish. Of course, it’s my goal in the classroom to let the students do most of the talking, but on the first day of classes, the students are perfectly happy listening as I go over the syllabus. I also spend part of my week working on committees with other faculty and staff members, so it’s not as if I expect the world to revolve around me.

I wasn’t mad at the busy employees who didn’t even look up from their desk during my pitch, who didn’t give me their name or accept my card, who didn’t take the copy of The Setonian. Instead, I was feeling guilty for all the times I have blown off a sales representative, thrown a sales pitch directly into my spam folder, or avoided eye contact with someone wearing a “Vendor” nametag.

A recent article in Inside Higher Ed offers a gentle rebuke to the edupunk movement, which celebrates do-it-yourself technical solutions over the pre-packaged corporate products. If a few admissions and hiring decisions had gone a different way in the past, I might very well be peddling educational software or textbooks to busy professors.

The Golden Rule for Ed Tech Vendors

  • Many of the people in the for-profit world in fact come from the non-profit educational world. You will be surprised that their backgrounds, interests, and passions will so closely match your own. For this reason, they tend to identify too strongly with their customers, and will be unhappy when they think their companies actions are not in the best interests of the colleges and universities that they work with.
  • If you talk to your ed. tech. vendor representative you may be surprised to the degree that they believe in the profit-motive as a motivator for innovation. They have often left the slow and hidebound cultures of academia precisely because of the slowness of traditional institutions to change and innovate. They like that their success or failures can be measured by bottom line evaluations, in hard profit and loss numbers. They will believe, and they will be correct, that it is the for profit educational technology world that is responsible for much of the innovation in higher education. —Joshua Kim

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