Technology integration, looking forward to the past

by | Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tom Johnson’s Adventures in Pencil Integration is the smartest, sassiest blog I have come across in a long time. This is how the sidebar describes the blog/author.

The year is 1897 and Tom Johnson works for a small school district. This is the story of the journey to move into the twentieth century with paper and pencil integration initiatives.

Yes, this is entirely fictional and any relation to “real life” is entirely coincidental.

What is amazing about API is not just how funny it is (it can be absolutely hilarious), or how intelligent it is (we’re talking IQ and EQ!), how scathing it can be (Ooh! that must have hurt) but how it manages to still have a strong humanistic core. At the end the teacher’s voice rings true, speaking to us across the decades. The blog is written tongue firmly in cheek, inspired by  current discussions about technology integration.

But API is not a one trick pony. If it would have been just that (replace computer with pencil and repeat) this blog would get boring very fast. But API is much more than a simple one-note satire. What I have come to appreciate and love about this blog is that I often find it difficult to pinpoint the exact position the author will take next. For instance, if you read “Sorry but you need to learn to use the sharpner” I took it to be a biting piece of satire poking fun of non-tech teachers. This is how it starts

“Hey Techno-Tommy, when you’re on prep I need you to come by and sharpen my pencils,” a math teacher mentions.  She turns to another teacher and says, “I know he loves working with pencils.”

Wrong.  I love to write with pencils, because I love words.  I love to draw with pencils, because I love creativity.  I take good care of my pencils, not because I have a special affinity for pencils, but because they are my tools.  It’s called stewardship.

What I want to say is, “Sorry, but you need to figure out how to use the sharpener.  I know it looks dangerous and it’s made out of metal, but I assure you that you can figure it out.  I’ll walk you through it the first time and then you do it on your own the next time. You have to run an update on each pencil and keep them sharp or eventually they won’t work. It’s a simple crank.  You can do it!”

Now if every post were along the same lines it would get predictable and boring. But just after you have snickered over that one, comes this, sensitive, ruminative post about what we lose to technology: Do we need a phonograph in my classroom? This is how it ends:

A century from now, we’ll probably have moving pictures at the palm of our hands.  We’ll have instant messaging and we’ll probably have a way to plug a tiny phonograph into our ears to hear thousands of songs. Life will be so compressed that people won’t even have a reason to stare out into the stars or watch the son fall into the horizon or sit around a fire and tell stories.

And there is this two part story regarding a little dust-up between the author and another teacher, that again, refuses to let the reader slide into an easy pat answer, demonizing one teacher (or perspective) over another.

But more than anything else read the blog for just the pleasure of it. Here is the ending of a post titled Trouble makers still need pencils.

Sometimes trouble-makers don’t even get a chance.  A teacher will say, “Timmy’s just not mature enough for a pencil yet,” meaning “I don’t trust him and I’m scared he’ll snap one in half.”    If spoken with just the right calm, condescending voice, even Timmy begins to believe that he is not entitled to use a tool designed for his own education.

Nor should we reward a student who is done with slate-work to go to another table to “play with the pencils.”  As long as teachers use this approach they will perpetuate a myth that pencils are toys rather than tools and are meant for amusement rather than learning.

USB Pencil image credit LivBit | Pencil iPhone stand image credit Geeky Gadget

A few randomly selected blog posts…

Profesor 2.0, blurring the boundaries

I am in Chicago to give the Keynote address at the 2009 DePaul University Faculty Teaching and Learning Conference. The conference theme this year is Engaging Minds: Pedagogy and Personalism. I was invited by Sharon Guan (she was part of the AACTE Innovation &...

Using AI to digitally clone myself (AKA creating a Puny-Punya)

Using AI to digitally clone myself (AKA creating a Puny-Punya)

Note: The photo-manipulated image of me holding my own head was created almost 20 years ago by Paul Kurf, a student in my learning by design, class! Image design & layout, Punya Ethan Mollick is a professor at Wharton and he has been doing some of the most...

Exploring Organizational Creativity & Mindfulness with Ravi Kudesia

Exploring Organizational Creativity & Mindfulness with Ravi Kudesia

Recently our on-going series on creativity, technology and learning for the journal TechTrends has focused on the relationship between mindfulness and creativity, particularly in educational contexts. Our first article set the stage for a deeper dive into this...

The role of Vitamin D in beta-cell function

Who says scientists can't have fun. I just discovered a series of videos on (where else) YouTube about scientists expressing their doctoral research through dance!!! What can be cooler than that? Check out one of the winners: The role of Vitamin D in beta-cell...

Research to practice : 3 articles

Matt Koehler and I are co-editors for an ongoing series of articles "From Research to Practice" for Education Matters, an educational magazine published by Educational Technology & Management Academy (ETMA). ETMA is non-profit organization based in New Delhi...

Creativity, Technology & Teacher Education

Danah Henriksen and I recently edited a special issue of the Journal of Technology and Teacher Education (Volume 23, Number 3, July 2015) devoted to Creativity, Technology and Teacher Education.  This special issue is organized thematically around eight articles...


There is an absolutely dull and pointless story in today's NYTimes on creativity. Though it is titled Eureka! It Really Takes Years of Hard Work, this story clearly did not take much time to write. I agree not all articles in the Times are (or need to be) hard news......

David Jiles plagiarism issue, update

An update on the ongoing saga of David Jiles, Ph.D. For context see this. (Please note the David Jiles referred to in these posts is NOT Professor David Jiles of Iowa State University and Cardiff University.)  I have heard back from some of the websites that had...

Teacher knowledge for 21st century learning: New article

Click on diagram to download a hi-res version This article has been a while coming... but our paper on an analysis of 21st century learning frameworks and implications for teacher knowledge is finally in print. A previous version of the paper can be found here. Here...

1 Comment

  1. James Leveling Guide

    Great information about adventures in pencil integration. Was somethnig that I was looking for.

    Thank you!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *