Sometimes people are too busy to actually hear what you are saying.

Start with a joke

Typically they tell you to start a lecture or speech with a joke. Sometimes I carry that a bit too far. Usually my entire lecture is one long extended joke – one with a direct relevance to the subject at hand, I have been assured. The following joke I truly love and believe to be very relevant to the state of education today.

One hot summer day a man is driving around in a station wagon with a flock of penguins in the back. While driving down the road he is pulled over by a cop.

The cop says, “What are you doing with all those penguins?”

Man replies, “Taking them for a ride”

Cop says “I want you to take those penguins to the zoo right now!”

Man “Yes, officer”

The next day the cop sees the man driving around again with the penguins in the back of the station wagon. Again he pulls the man over.

Cop says, “I thought I told you to take those penguins to the zoo.”

Man replies, “I did. Today we’re going to the park”

Obviously he didn’t get what the cop meant because he was so busy driving the penguins around.  This is kind of what it is like dealing with academics. They are so busy following curriculum and orders that they don’t realize what they are doing to the “penguins”.

What does this have to do with the use of technology in education, well kind of everything! Most of the time academics are so busy with their own solution to a problem they forget what is the actual problem. They are so caught up in the solution that they don’t stop to take a second look and say, if it is this difficult is it right? Instead they just think how hard they are working and think this must be worthwhile because it is taking them so long it must have relevant content.

After almost a quarter century in teaching I have come to realize that if you can’t explain something in ten easy steps it is probably too difficult and not going to work. All you will do is confuse students. Now I am not saying that students shouldn’t learn to keep a concept for extended periods of time what I am saying is do it in short digestible bursts. Then put them all together in one longer project or exercise. Of course we need a rubric. Paaleeease. Rubrics are for administrators who don’t get the concept of teaching.

It is very simple. If the student can get the answers right and understand the concept in a practical sense and can then apply that to other initiatives then they have learned something that day. We are making things too difficult in order to please the Paper Gods of administration and budgets. You know the ones that justify their high six figure salaries to whomever by presenting such a mound of paper no one has the time to actually check it for validity and worth.

This is what is happening when it comes to the use of technology in education. Companies are snowing administrators into thinking that the bigger the technology the better it must be? What I am telling you is, those theories are wrong.

Bigger isn’t always better…

Just try to keep it simple. Follow all the old criteria – it is valid – just do it in a new form of interactive (multi)-media. Use everything at your disposal. But you must use it appropriately. Video for performance, interactivity for testing, the Internet for research, Web applications for documentation. Make sure you have the ability to share the content at all times and allow for the ability to scale the content. Let the students add on their research for all to share – of course it has to be validated. This is the proper use of technology in a classroom.

Form follows function…

The structure that leads to determining the selection of proper technology is usually where the problem occurs. For example one would think that the acquiring of a career would be the goal of almost any education. That is a little bit of a reach. The development of critical thought skills is the real goal of education. However if those skills do not culminate in a useful person/career then do we not have to question the criteria that we use to determine the content of the course of study? It is great to study left-handed piccolo playing – lord knows the world has not focused properly on this discipline, but if there is minimal need – read that this skill provides no great service to humanity – then should we continue to offer it?

The question is who determines the value of that service to humanity? Does the free market? If so, are we then set to the whim and whimsy of the marketplace? Well hasn’t that always been the way? Engineering and law schools have shut down in the past? Curriculums have been changed. Why not change the entire model? Why not construct a model that is so flexible that it can bend to match the needs of the marketplace as it pertains to the advancement of society. Ah but there is the rub. Who determines the proper advancement of society? Is there always to be a lower level that serves the upper class? Isn’t automation taking those jobs away and replacing them with extremely low paying services jobs creating a working poor the likes of which we have never seen before, since the tenements of the 1900’s?

Have we already created a stratum that no longer has the potential for upward mobility? Was that the goal all along? You know “The Mushroom Theory” – keep them in the dark and feed them manure. Well what has that wrought?

Thomas Jefferson (you know the guy the Texans want removed from all American History textbooks) stated basically “what will we do with the poor?” – even he could see over 230 years ago that a separation of classes ultimately would lead to a major problem. Please review his letters to another socialist Benjamin Franklin. They were both concerned with the digital divide so to speak.

Slight of hand

The real question that comes from all of this is “was it designed this way”? I am not that bright and even I can see that the path we are administering is not a straight and decisive one. It borders on 3-card monte. “Who’s got the career skill sets, who’s got the career skill sets? Follow the technology, follow the technology”.

This isn’t the first time, either. Years ago when the typewriter was invented the developers found that the users were adapting so quickly that the speed at which they could type using an alphabetical keyboard was jamming the keys and making their product (read money) unusable. So they designed the QWERTY keyboard. This slowed down the typing to keep up with their machines capabilities. In so much as guaranteeing its place in industry but yet slowing industry’s capabilities to meet their needs. They got rich and the public got a substandard benefit from the product – the good of a few, over the benefit of the entire world. I guess they weren’t socialists. Is that what was and is happening in education? Slow down the growth of knowledge so that the current management could manage the structure to their benefit? Were we purposely driving the penguins around town so as not to get them to their natural habitat? How does it benefit the upper class if everyone was working to his or her potential?

Basically we are a nation of immigrants (sshh don’t tell McCain and Palin) and we tremendously respect education and educators. We find it difficult to challenge them like lawyers and doctors. But if we don’t then have all those years of developing critical thought been wasted? Have all those analytical skill sets been for nothing? What about the poor little rubrics?

The first question we might ponder is – how will we ever get those penguins to the zoo?