Sympathy for the Vendor: Building Bridges for Effective Ed-Tech Partnership

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

We often complain about “vendors.” Their tools and platforms often don’t fit our teaching philosophies. Their business models don’t make sense for our budgets. This session enables participants to share cautionary tales of vendor practices while at the same time imagine more effective models for ed-tech partnerships.


Jeremy Dean, Director of Education, Hypothesis Jeremy was previously the Director of Education at Genius where he facilitated educational applications of their interactive archive of literary and historical texts. Jeremy is a scholar-educator with fifteen years of experience teaching at both the college and high school levels. He received a Ph.D. in English from the University of Texas at Austin where he worked as a Project Leader in the Digital Writing and Research Lab for four years developing units and lesson plans around a variety of digital tools. He also worked as a Program Coordinator at the University of Texas Humanities Institute, overseeing their education initiatives.
Adam Croom is a faculty member in the Strategic Communication area of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Croom also serves the university in a separate capacity as the Director of the Office of Digital Learning. Croom completed his Masters at Pepperdine University where he studied education and learning technologies. His research focused on networked approaches to online learning in public relations design courses.
Veronica Armour is an educator and learning designer interested in the interdisciplinary connections between people, knowledge, and information, human centered design, and innovation that inform face-to-face and digital environments for 21st century learning. She is an instructional designer in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University where she also teaches part-time for the Information Technology and Informatics program.  Her current work involves designing the student experience for the Innovation, Design, and Entrepreneurship Academy at Rutgers University. She is also exploring the potential of the design thinking process and mindset to interrupt cognitive bias and develop new models for equity in learning experience design. Her research questions include the interconnectedness of design thinking, entrepreneurship, and 21st century skills. She has served on the Executive Board of the Emerging Learning Design organization and is currently involved with the NJ Makers community.  She has experience with developing online courses, workshops, and events related to teaching and learning with technology, active learning, and maker activities.  She is a frequent presenter at conferences and workshops at the local and national level.  As Raspberry Pi Certified Educator she enjoys tinkering with technology and hosting workshops to inspire interest in STEM activities.

Extended Abstract

But what's puzzling you

Is the nature of my game.

- The Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil”

In “Sympathy for the Devil,” Mick Jagger sings from the perspective of Lucifer, politely cataloging his evil accomplishments throughout history from the crucifixon of Jesus Christ through the Holocaust to the assination of the Kennedys. Introducing himself as a “man of wealth and taste,” he asks the audience to show him “courtesy” and even “sympathy” despite these atrocities for which he admits culpability. Part of the lesson of the song is that the devil is an easy scapegoat for why there is evil and suffering in the world, but a poor explanation of it. Jaggers’s Lucifer demands we think more deeply about “the nature of [his] game” and our own complicity in it.

Like the devil, it’s easy to cast blame on ed-tech vendors for everything that is wrong with technology in higher ed. It’s true that their often  aggressive marketing and sales tactics are at odds with the intellectual environment of our schools and sometimes just simply obnoxious. Their pricing models often don’t fully take into consideration the budget constraints at colleges and universities or the financial burdens most contemporary students face. And sometimes their tools and platforms, while marketed to education, are not clearly connected to educational philosophies and practices. 

And yet, as purchasers and practitioners of ed-tech we have to deal with vendors on a daily basis. They are key stakeholders in our attempts to innovate the use of technology for teaching and learning on our campuses. If we want to change our relationships with ed-tech vendors, we need to understand where they are coming from, indeed, show them a little “sympathy,” as well as demand that they do the same and make an effort to respect the values we hold and the pressures we face. The goal of this session is not to exculpate predatory business practices in higher ed. Rather, it is to more deeply understand the “nature of the game,” and the roles we all play in it, so that we can disrupt that traditional “game” in favor of building a radically different, less exploitative ed-tech culture. In this discussion we will work together to reimagine what effective partnership might look in an effort to “build bridges” between our colleges and universities and ed-tech companies. 

Engagement Strategy


We will begin this “Conversations Not Presentations” session by asking participants to share cautionary tales of negative experiences they’ve had when dealing with vendors. We will then guide the group to share examples of positive relationships we’ve had with vendors, focusing on what worked well specifically. The discussion leaders will come prepared with their own examples of both. Finally, the group will work together to draft an Ed-Tech Purchaser “Bill of Rights” in which we will attempt to codify some of the principles and best practices for establishing more effective relationships between technology providers and institutions of higher ed, using previous, similar efforts as a foundation for discussion. After the session, we will share this “Bill or Rights” more widely in the OLC community for further discussion.

Session Goals


Participants will come away with new ideas about how they and others at their institution can work with vendors to procure and support educational technology more effectively. Participants will also contribute to a resource that can provide ongoing value to their peers.