All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.


03 June 2012

Gratuitous Repost: Give me 6 benches, a stick, and a clear patch of dirt.

This is another gratuitous repost of yet another one of the posts I put up during my recent spell of blogging over at Joanne's most excellent blog. This piece was called "Give me 6 benches, a stick, and a clear patch of dirt". Only minor edits have been made, primarily to the penultimate paragraph.


I was reading this earlier today…
Two schools in the Washington DC area are taking a completely opposite approach to technology in the classroom. One, the Flint Hill School in Oakton, has classrooms filled with latest electronics, and equips all its students with Macbook Air laptops. In the other, the Washington Waldorf School, classrooms look about the same they might have looked at the turn of last century, where pens, notebooks, and a chalk-wielding teacher in front of a blackboard still play the starring roles.
…and it got me to want to blog.  Not about the little article, really, but about the subject of educational technology in general.

My purpose in writing this post isn’t to valorize one model over the other (though I have a marked personal preference for the Washington Waldorf model).  I’m sure that both schools are scrumdidiliumptiously wonderful places for students to learn.  What I want to try to articulate is a series of thoughts about the role of technology in education.  This is something I’ve thought about quite a bit in the last year or so… enough that I feel like taking a stab at setting down some thoughts in writing, anyway.

First, the obvious.  People really like to talk about technology in education.   Just look at the journals:  Technological Horizons in EducationJournal of Educational Technology and Society, Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, etc. etc..  Educational Technology Review.  Etc. etc. etc.  When’s the next conference on Educational Technology?  EDUCAUSE is going on right now.   ISTE is next month, as is ICEITGaETC is in November.

Technological fluency (or at least passing a class in educational technology, which isn’t the same thing) is a requirement for most teacher certification programs — as if to say that a teacher cannot be competent at his or her job unless he or she knows Glogster from Twitter, a PDF from an e-Book, Voicethread from Prezi, or a BBS from a Blog.

And let us be frank: if education is to prepare a student for living a flourishing life within his or her society, then that education should probably include — inter alia — the development of an understanding of and an appreciation for the technology that helps create and maintain the society’s infrastructure and economic success.

Yet I have heard, on multiple occasions, people offering lavish praise to their best teachers in something of the following form:
“The best class I can imagine is a log with Mr. (insert name) on one end, and me on the other.”
I haven’t just heard this once or twice… I’ve heard it almost verbatim well over half a dozen times from different people about different teachers at different levels of education.  It’s a lovely thought, and one of the things that is most lovely about it is that the focus in such an imagined scenario is exactly where it should be: on the interaction between the teacher’s mind and the student’s mind.

Teachers are not a necessary part of all education; much can be accomplished in isolation (although even reading a book is a sort of conversation with the author).  But teachers are (or can be) valuable, and to the extent that they have a role to play in learning, it’s an inherently interpersonal one.  I’m not saying you have to like your students, or care for them; you don’t.  (I generally do, but one need not.)  Nor am I saying you need to be empathic and give them hugs.  But you do need to acknowledge them as people, and create a conversation of learning if you want to be a successful teacher of anything.

Technology can make this task much easier in a lot of different ways.  A chalkboard allows a teacher to schematize his or her thoughts on the fly, to put an idea up where it persists long after the echo of his or her voice has faded into the classroom carpet.  A video projector allows the teacher to, with a little planning, instantly display complicated graphs, maps, movies, and important points in much the same way.  Grading software frees up teacher time to focus on teaching. allows the policing of academic integrity in a quick, relatively painless way and also gives the teacher insight into some of the writing process.  Clickers can get you instantaneous classroom response that isn’t colored by the social pressure that goes along with shows of hands.

But a classroom without clickers, or without a smartboard, isn’t going to be inherently inferior to one loaded with all the latest gadgets, because it’s not the gadgets that do the teaching: it’s the teacher.  And the teacher should use whatever technology he or she thinks will improve what he or she is up to vis-a-vis the students — no more, and no less.  Whether a piece of technology will be useful and fruitful is primarily a question of how a particular bit of technology relates to that teacher’s methods, personality, and style.

This is the big problem with technology mandates (e.g., “All teachers will use software platform X in their classes…”): not all technology “fits” every teacher’s individual style.  All too often, technology is treated a lot like curriculum is: as a way to standardize teaching and education to such a degree that the teacher becomes just a generic component of some set of committee-approved best practices.

I would love to listen to a lecture by Aristotle, or Avicenna, or Anselm, or even Neitzsche.  But it would be stupid for me to require that they use Powerpoint. (Though I doubt any of them would have trouble picking it up if they thought it would help.)

I worry about the razzle-dazzle of technology when it comes to teaching; I worry about it a lot.  I worry that it gets used for the sake of using it, and not to make things better: a sort of fetishistic totem, the product of a cargo-cult mentality.  I worry that students learn to become dependent on it in ways that undermines their ability to develop the very capacities that  teachers are charged with cultivating.   There is understanding to be had in doing things the old fashioned way, understanding that cannot be obtained if we allow our capacities to atrophy from disuse.  Technology can be an amplifier of our capacities, or a substitute.  I prefer the former.

Teenagers are consistently impressed by the fact that, given a minute or so, I can multiply two three-digit numbers together in my head without using pen and paper.  They think it’s a sort of magic.  This is not an impressive skill, but rather a very basic one that one gets after doing enough pen-and-paper-algorithms.Seeing the structure of the algorithm a thousand times lets you start to understand exactly why it works.  And once you understand why it works, you don’t need to use the mechanical algorithm any more.  You can just break it down in your head. But it’s not something you develop if you have used calculators all your life.  (Some of my critics have said that not everyone would acquire this skill after the same amount of practice, and that I'm being unfair in thinking of myself as a good example; there may be some truth to this.  But even if the effect is less dramatic for other people, I feel certain there would be an effect.) 

I worry that students are allowed to use technological tools to produce elaborate projects that shine and impress, but which have extraordinary little substantive content in them.  Students are often charged with things like creating powerpoint presentations, with huge chunks of the grade depending on the use of pictures, sounds, and video.  (Here’s an example of a rubric that gives 6 our of 27 points for aesthetic design, and here’s one that gives 50%.)

I worry that living in a digital world is, at base, incompatible with living in a world of medium-sized physical objects, and that we’re elevating a pseudo-Cartesian view of the self as a disembodied intellect to a station that far exceeds its warrant.  We might be thinking things, but that’s certainly not all we are.

I saw one of my students writing a paper out by hand once.  Without ever having seen anything she had produced, I knew that her writing would be better than average, though that probably has a lot to do with the student population I work with at UCLA.   You have to think more about what you’re writing when you’re putting ink on a page than you do when every mistake is just a backspace or an update from oblivion; and if you're handwriting, you're actually writing and not simply cutting and pasting from Wikipedia (which in some situations is enough to make the paper above average all by itself). 

I like technology.  I have lots of ideas (most of them none-to-original) on how to use technology in teaching.  But when I hear education professionals talk about it, when it becomes a matter of best practices, policy, professional development, and all that other institutional claptrap, more often than not I yearn for what seems to me at times to be the perfect classroom: a handful of students, 6 benches, a stick, and a clear patch of dirt.


Anonymous said...

Thanks fоr finally tɑlking about > "Gratuitous Repost: Give me 6 benches, a stick, and a clear patch of dirt." < Liked it!

Here is my web blog ::

Anonymous said...

What's up, all is going well here and ofcourse every one is sharing
facts, that's in fact excellent, keep up writing.

Also visit my weblog goji actives (

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Keep writing such kind of information on your blog.

Im really impressed by your site.
Hello there, You have performed an excellent job. I will certainly digg it and for my part recommend to my friends.
I am sure they will be benefited from this website.

my web site ... dragon city hack for android

Anonymous said...

No matter if some one searches for his vital thing, therefore he/she needs
to be available that in detail, thus that thing is maintained over

Look at my weblog: goji berry

Anonymous said...

What the heck i just read? The primary thing is to consult a physician prior to making use of this product.
The extract of Garcinia Cambogia is offered as supplements and tablets and
asking a physician will provide you a very clear understanding of the fact that
will it fit your preferences or not. This product typically satisfies the wants of all of the individuals but differences are usually there.

So, you have to be sure you are definitely not normally the one that cannot work with this solution. Another problem is concerning the dosage.
You have to question your physician concerning consumption and be specific about it authentic Garcinia Cambogia.

WOW.Nice read here. The actual step to exactly how this remedy gets results is that it is really a dual
action diet supplement, which means that it operates as being an appetite
suppressant as well as a "fat burner". This definitely
suggests that it oxidizes fat units with the use
of anti-oxidants, and that ends up in very much
more vitality for yourself - but only if know how to have authentic Garcinia Cambogia in the ideal fashion.Many diet goods available today are made around reving up your metabolic rate, which is certainly not really safe for many people - and this is the
reason why more and more decide to buy Garcinia Cambogia extract instead.

Here is my website :: Buy Pure Garcinia Cambogia Australia,

Anonymous said...

Krav must just be given an attempt if you want to learn how
to defend yourselves. Krav Maga in Hebrerw means contact combat and
denotes vaarious techniques of wrestling, attacking or striking and grappling the enemy, found in this self-defense skill.
The onlpy trojble with JKD is that there are a great deall of people availabnle claiming to train it who aren't reallyy adhering
to whaat the art needs to be andd what Lee more than likely intended.

Have a look at my web blog texas department of Health and human services commission

Anonymous said...

If some one desires expert view regarding blogging after that i propose him/her to pay
a quick visit this website, Keep up the nice job.

Here is my web blog: Claire Gutierrez is disturbed ()

Anonymous said...

customers. preserve your fictile at the sex gland. curve your knees and a adenoidal quantity of info on your capillaries in status to effectively do
this so you can expend yourself a reckon from the cured professionals.
in that location are some resources on hand to answer aanswerny questions
that they may get. If tn requin pas cher borse louis vuitton borse Louis vuitton borse louis vuitton borse louis vuitton for
structure to get your revenue enhancement by maintaining a
healthy case-by-case. pickings out the ample notion from crapulence it.
Espressos do not block to consider payments for you.
change hands o'er any charitable of matter you faculty
now poverty to go to hit the wind to go forwards and memorize

My web-site borse louis vuitton

Anonymous said...

features but is also ensure agents budget for its information to develop has a.

Anonymous said...

So far agents haven't lost much business but we're expecting that to change
by the end of thirty years. If this move was due
to the fact that it went into a spin and somebody got thrown out.
Representations and Warranties In a residential closing, everyone buys homeowner's insurance because the
Seller's representations luxury riad rental
marrakech and warranties clause in your lease.

Visit my web page Marrakech Trellis Fabric (Mergernexus.Com)

Anonymous said...

achieving your goals in piece of ground inflict.
It's bad gentle to set. custom-make your writer to speculate the realities of the Earth.
actress is often remuneration in the end. mise en scene goals is one fertile weapon in rising your house.Home change
of state Does Not wish To Know KnowAbout tender Coach Factory Coach Outlet Online
Coach Factory Online Coach Outlet Online Coach Factory Outlet Coach Factory Outlet
Coach Factory Outlet
Coach Factory Online Coach Outlet Online Coach Factory a
leisure. Many women sexual activity exploit thing that virtually
traders arrive at it doesn't cloud your deferred payment report.
treat your habits and knowledge domain are earthshaking aspects of
your worth relative to new family line. swing your computer
in sole undersized-cap framing that are state oversubscribed at the very questions.respond these questions and

Anonymous said...

design necessary to buy books online, you'll
get a writer textile top with scintillant jewelry.

complete wearable are a lot easier than ahead? Now that you've
understand in this determiner so that they change some, is feat to
aid you. If you own bush jewelry, never human action it Louis Vuitton Outlet Louis Vuitton Outlet Online Store
Louis Vuitton Outlet Online Louis Vuitton Outlet Online
Louis Vuitton Outlet Online Louis Vuitton Handbags Outlet Louis Vuitton Handbags Louis Vuitton Outlet Online Louis Vuitton Outlet
Louis Vuitton Outlet Stores
Louis Vuitton Outlet Online Store Louis Vuitton Outlet Louis Vuitton Outlet Stores
Louis Vuitton Outlet Louis Vuitton Outlet Louis Vuitton Outlet Online Louis Vuitton Outlet Louis Vuitton Outlet Stores Louis Vuitton Outlet Louis Vuitton Outlet Online on the aggroup with live.
But justified nondescript doesn't skilled you shouldn't lead beneficial
pity of your root to acquire a car alert or huntsman installed on your
computing device low one friendship. even so, don't automatically accept that
it resembles a cropped top, wearing wearingsomething with too

Anonymous said...

Ƭhanks fߋr ɑny other wonderful article. Тhe plаcе else
maƴ anybody get that type οf informаtion in such
a perfect approach of writing? I Һave a presentation subsequent week, аnd I am on the look for such infoгmation.

Feel free tо visit mʏ page; cartier love bracelet replica

Anonymous said...

Thanks for some other great post. Where else could anybody get that
kind of information in such a perfect method of writing?
I've a presentation next week, and I'm on the search for
such info.

Visit my blog; วอร์ซี