Smartypants’s Dead Fly

Once upon a time in a small town, there was a smartypants who was very quick at taking other people’s ideas and using them before he even thought through them. One day, Smartypants learned (or he thought he learned) how to get away without paying for lunch at a local eatery. So he went in, ordered jeri-swari and when he finished eating, he called the waiter and asked, “Now, what do I do with this dead fly?” Smartypants had not listened properly to his friend’s story where the friend had secretly put a fly in an almost-empty plate so that when the waiter was alerted about the dead fly, he would quietly let the customer go without paying! Smartypants got in trouble.

I’m reminded of the above joke very often these days. Quite a good proportion of the many educational technology folks that we see on and offline–celebrities at TedX events, number crunchers at national conferences, blind proponents of this or that tool at teacher training events–get way too excited about their fancy new applications without actually thinking through the educational side of the their deal. Oh, look at how grannies can replace teachers (oh, really?), oh, look at how everyone in the world is on MySpace (who knew?), oh you should totally make a Facebook movie of yourself (not like this one!). Some of them will show you how to use the apps without telling you why, others seem to believe that you can teach all subjects by using objective tests and computerized feedback as the primary mode of assessment. And yet others will talk on and on about “new” technology as if earlier inventions were not “technology” at all.

Smartypants in the field of education don’t realize that exactly like the overuse of blackboards in those old days (I mean the black walls or slabs on which teachers wrote with chalk) could undermine effective teaching and learning, the overuse of Blackboard these days (the learning management system) can also erode pedagogical/educational effectiveness. I remember a teacher in college who did nothing but copy notes from his tattered notebook to the blackboard at a crazy speed–and it turned out he was drunk most of the time, didn’t have better ways to engage students, and had mostly likely borrowed the notes from someone! The equivalent of that teacher on Blackboard today keep throwing resources after resources at students (they post all kinds of texts and media in the content folders), they take no time to build a community of learners and collaborators, and they don’t care how many students don’t have access to the Internet and how many are struggling to use the many applications.

There are smartypants in the field of business, smartypants in the field of politics, smartypants in the field of science and technology–just too many folks who clearly don’t think about the purpose of doing things. They don’t listen to people very well. They don’t look back to recognize how societies have always been less and more technical-minded, less and more productive and thoughtful at using technologies: they look at history as always moving “forward” (from darkness to light, always having “better” tools!) rather than ups and downs in the degree of understanding, communicating, working . . . and striving for fairness and justice for all.

It can get frustrating when smartypants gain enormous amounts of power, and when they do, serious professionals in any field should call the bluff on them.

Hey, hey, no, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t tell the waiter that you brought the dead fly! That’s stupid, Smartypants!

And, by the way, it’s also dishonest–if you didn’t know. 🙁

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