Horses, Buggies, and Trendy Sheep: Appropriate Technology and Modern Times

Approximate Reading Time: 3 minutes

Do either of these descriptions fit you? (be honest now – no-one is looking)



Horse and Buggy Educators

Are you one of these?

At one time you were at the top of your game. You are a good teacher but the rapid advances in technology over the last 10 years (and especially the last 5)  have gotten ahead of you. You know your teaching skills are still sound. That should be enough. You aren’t convinced that technology makes a difference as long as you are a good teacher. You feel you have no time to learn these new tools. Besides, your style of teaching doesn’t require anything beyond an overhead and the occasional posting to BlackBoard. After all, the technology is simply the medium for the content – you are what makes the learning happen.

You should know this: Good teaching is not enough. Yes, I know it is really hard to keep up – and even harder to know which new technologies are worth investing the time to learn. Problem is, at some point, your lack of technical savvy will overshadow your teaching talent. You will loose credibility and become ineffective in spite of your ability. At some point, sticking to your old familiar tools will make you look too old to understand your students and you will loose that vital connection to your students that is essential to learning. They won’t learn from you if they don’t respect you, and they won’t respect you if you don’t make an effort to understand their world.


(a.k.a. dedicated followers of fashion)

Perhaps you are more like this?

At the other end of the spectrum we have the trendy sheep: bandwagoners who try to be currant by effusing over every new technology. You never tire of repeating the phrase, “The medium IS the message.” (By the way, if you haven’t done so lately – go and read the rest of the chapter that contains that quote. It really isn’t quite as simplistic as all that.)

You pride yourself in your ability to blog, tweet, digg, cast, share, crowdsource, and social this-and-that. You buy anything made by Apple and think everything they have is groundbreaking (and original). More and more items on your desk and in your house and yard start with the letter ‘i’ or the word “smart” (even though most of them actually aren’t).

No-one can tell anymore if you are a good teacher or not because most of what you do is connect to other people’s stuff. Some of it is probably brilliant, but understand that 90% of what’s out there is crap. Always has been and likely always will be.

You should know this: your students, for the most part don’t respect you either. It is one thing to be “with it” and know what’s going on, but at some point it goes beyond that and you become a groupie. Yes, you can impress those who know less than you. That’s not really anything to be proud of.

The Solution

Oddly, the solution for both problems is essentially the same. Sadly, it’s going to cost you time. And some humility. Both groups of people tend to display peacock sized pride over what they do. Neither group typically understands the technology (yes, even those dedicated followers rarely understand how anything really works – just because you know how to use something doesn’t mean you understand it.)

Take it slowly. Choose some technology or approach to explore and find out more about it – and that includes finding out what people who use it are saying AS WELL AS finding out what the detractors are saying. Think about ways to use this tool in your teaching. Then try it. Give it a decent try. Keep track of what you like and don’t like about it as well as what your students think. Don’t be afraid to let them know you are ‘experimenting’ – ask them for help and opinions. And, learn about the tool you are using so you are more than a mere ‘user’.

There are only two industries that refer to their customers as ‘users’. (Edward Tufte)

The tricky part is to be able to look critically at each tool you try. Horse-and-buggiers (HaBs) tend to be overly critical and quick to judge, whereas bandwagonners (DFoFs – dedicated followers of fashion)  are rarely critical at all, and often don’t get around to evaluating whether or not this tool is actually helping.

Some tools will end up being useful for you and others won’t.

There are some very useful tools out there amidst all that din. Very few are good for the range of things their flatterers claim they are. Some may take years before they are polished and truly reliable. There is a very broad happy medium. Find it and use it.

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Horses, Buggies, and Trendy Sheep: Appropriate Technology and Modern Times — 3 Comments

  1. Solidly in the horse-and-buggy camp here. I do most of my classes at the whiteboard (and I wouldn’t mind a chalkboard instead). I do maintain a web page for each class (using at least 10-year-old HTML styles) and I have had a class produce all of its work as a wiki, but 95% of what I see teachers touting as must-have tech is just fluff.

    • There are times when a blackboard is exactly the right ‘technology’ to use. I also agree with you that much of what teachers claim is ‘now’ or the latest greatest is indeed fluff. OTOH refusing to try or even look at 21-st century technology because of a sweeping condemnation of anything one doesn’t already do is the very definition of parochial (or at least one of them) and to my mind no longer acceptable.

      • It has always struck me as ironic that computer scientists, for the most part, don’t use the computer as a tool for teaching. Writing programs doesn’t count.

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