Are educator certifications — such as Google Certified Teacher and Apple Distinguished Educator — meaningful?

Yes Koh Herlong
Any type of training and learning is meaningful in both practical and philosophical ways.

Practically speaking, at the end of the day, educators who obtain a certification have increased their knowledge base. Even if the certifying body filled the certification with vendor bias, the course still contains data, tools and perspectives that can only add to the database of information informing future decisions. Once you are Google certified, for instance, you know at least what Google tools may or may not meet your needs. And if you are certified by both Google and Apple, you will have an even greater scope of the landscape, which will allow you to make more informed decisions based on diverse perspectives.

Another practical benefit: The bigger players, such as Google, Apple and Microsoft, can afford a high level of research and development. Why not take advantage of their time, effort and resources by learning what they have learned? Again, the value of any certification is a broadened knowledge base.

From a philosophical standpoint, how can we, as educators, frown in any way on encouraging educators to learn? A teacher who has made the effort to go, learn and walk away with additional knowledge shows initiative and desire. That’s why I would always choose an educator who took the initiative to earn a third-party certification over one who has not.

Professional learning is vital in any form we can get it. Ideally, our schools and districts would keep us up to date on every tool and advancement that might help us do our jobs better, but we all know that this is not the reality. The technology field advances so quickly that it is almost imperative for educators to constantly seek out learning opportunities just to stay abreast. Just last year, I saw a cartoon depicting two older doctors. One doctor said to the other, "What is this internet thing?" Would you want that doctor to treat your illness? And would you want a teacher with obsolete information teaching your students?

We have all participated in less-than-perfect sessions, trainings and certifications. And we always walk away with more than we had when we walked in, even if it is nothing more than what not to do. As with any certification, you must view third-party certifications in its frame. Having a highly recognized, generic, national certification does not necessarily mean that the bearer of that certification is highly competent, because it is up to the learner to apply the certification in ways that are effective. But I have found that the educators who take the time, effort and initiative to increase their knowledge are often just that type of learner.

Koh Herlong is a Ph.D. student in the Educational Technology program at Walden University. She holds a bachelor’s in education and a master’s in education with a technology specialization.

No Eric Patnoudes

Thinking about the value of corporate educator certifications, such as Microsoft Innovative Educator, Google Certified Teacher and Apple Distinguished Educator, reminds me of the age-old question about the chicken and the egg. Let me explain.

When I made the move from classroom teacher to instructional technologist in a 1:1 district, training and professional development was my bread and butter. Soon after, I became a Microsoft Innovative Educator Trainer and Expert Educator.

I mention both training and professional development for a reason. I believe it’s crucial to differentiate between the two. I view training as analogous to a “how to” guide or a user manual for devices, software, apps or websites: Click here to do x, share a doc by doing y, etc. Training is necessary because teachers must know what the tools are, how to operate them and what they’re capable of doing.

Professional development, in contrast, is all about the why. It’s focused on building the teacher’s capacity to shift away from traditional didactic teaching strategies and toward methods that fully engage students in the learning process. It concentrates on the importance of sound pedagogical practices and how to leverage the affordances of technology to provide learning opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

I look at it like this: Teachers want training because it makes them feel more comfortable knowing how to use the technology. But they desperately need professional development to understand why they are using it. However, understandably, it’s difficult to think about altering your teaching if you’re not comfortable operating the tech. Hence the chicken or the egg conundrum.

Not to take anything away from those who have earned a corporate certification — I have one myself — but for the most part those programs are examples of training. Are educator certifications meaningful? It doesn’t certainly hurt, but I think the more important question is, do these certifications make for better teachers?

What I fear most is that offering training without PD quite possibly means that bad teaching is being delivered faster and more efficiently than ever. While training is certainly part of the equation, it must take a back seat to professional development, because when it comes to ed tech, pedagogy is the driver and technology is the accelerator — or else it will simply end up being the brake.

A former teacher and instructional technologist, Eric Patnoudes has a B.A. in special education K-12 and elementary education and a M.Ed. in curriculum, technology and education reform from the University of Illinois. He works on CDWG's Education Strategy Team providing curriculum and technology departments with insight and resources to make sure that common goals are identified and pursued responsibly, cohesively and strategically. Follow him on Twitter @NoApp4Pedagogy.

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