There are No Shortcuts

A little bit of a rant or maybe it’s a sermon. Either way . . .

  1. Using “fun” fonts to make boring content exciting. – For a long time I’ve wondered why comic sans was so prevalent in educational material. My final idea is that people make content, then at the end they look at it and think “Man, this is pretty dull. I know how to improve it! I’ll use a fun font!” Bam. Instant solution. This type of use may explain my deep seated hatred for comic sans (See Jim. It’s not font elitism. It’s deep seated emotional scarring.).
  2. Adding technology to make a boring lesson exciting. – Technology will not save you. Adding technology to a bad lesson is kind of like those people who drink gallons of diet drinks while eating doughnuts and watching TV. Then they wonder why they haven’t lost weight. You might get a quick burst of interest from students out of novelty, like you’ll get a minor weight loss from shifting to diet drinks, but to get anything sustainable, anything long term, you’re going to have to do some hard work.
  3. Labeling – I’ve been looking a lot at the digital native label lately. I see this as one of the more harmful shortcuts. It’s an easy way to dismiss thinking about your students as individuals. We’ve got a lot of different students with a lot of different skills. Lumping them together is a mistake. You can also excuse yourself from what are at times inexcusable lapses in professional skills if you label yourself a digital immigrant. Hell, why not? You can’t speak the language. You can’t keep up with these ninja kids.
  4. Faking it. – You see it in lots of ways. Teachers pretending to like the same thing as their students. Administrators latching on to the newest buzzword. It always shows through.

So what should you do?

Work on your content first. Design don’t decorate. Thing about how presentation helps you. Look at other people’s work and steal good ideas. Note what doesn’t work and then remember to see if you do it.

Consider your lesson. Do you really think it’s good? Really? If you’re happy a lot, your standards probably aren’t high enough. What kind of results do you get?

Remember there is a difference between engagement and entertainment. Don’t confuse the two.

Apply technology when it make sense, when it helps you do things you want to do, when it makes things better. Don’t use it otherwise.

Think about everything- concepts, people, ideas, labels etc. Get to know your students, get to know them for real. Have actual conversations with them.

Think about yourself. Analyze your weaknesses and work on improving them. Reanalyze and refocus your improvement. Get others you trust to help you do this. Real, honest and helpful feedback is a rare thing. Value it.

Finally, be real. Use your real interests and energy. Your life will be much happier. If you can, surround yourself with others who do the same thing.

Comments on this post

  1. Dana Huff said on September 25, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    Really well said.

  2. Catherine Moore said on September 26, 2008 at 2:49 am

    I totally agree, I’ve seen far too many wordprocessing lessons, spending twice the time on creating a piece of work for no good reason. I disagree with you on Comic Sans though – I use the font a lot in materials for primary pupils and those with special needs, as the letters are close to how they learn to write, in particular the ‘a’.

  3. Jim said on September 26, 2008 at 4:03 am

    Tom,

    Those four points are beautifully made. You nail the root of the issues of how most people think about technology and presentation as an after thought, and a way to dress up a corpse. It’s good to have you back on the bionic, the internets were getting decidedly less exciting.

  4. Jenny said on September 26, 2008 at 5:12 am

    Not to make excuses for any of this, because I completely agree, but primary grade teachers use comic sans because the letters look like we want students to draw them. Most fonts have the letter a and maybe g or t look very different than we are teaching the students.

    That said, I have found a least one other font that works for this purpose. Comic sans makes me cringe.

  5. Tom said on September 26, 2008 at 5:23 am

    Good to hear from you all. It has been too long.

    Ha! I am properly chastened for criticizing comic sans (although the hate still burns bright). I do wonder if that same rationale holds in high school and middle school or college (!)- where the use is pretty common.

    I should probably add blanket statements and list posts to the list of shortcuts. That’d be a double whammy on this post.

    @Jenny and Catherine
    Out of curiosity- are you explicit with your students in pointing out they should mirror the font in their writing when you use it? Do you use it in material that’s for parents as well? I do believe there’s probably some vicarious pick up of information from exposure but wonder if it would impact their writing more if it was explicit.

    @Jim
    You’ve just inspired a great video theme- “Dressing Up the Corpse: Adding X to your dead lesson won’t bring it life” and you do it either from the perspective of an undertaker, Dr. Frankenstein or a voodoo priest. Any of them would be so fun to do. I’m not sure how we could work it into the ed survivalist. Maybe we just need a TV channel.

    Tom

  6. Jenny said on September 26, 2008 at 5:56 am

    @Tom
    I don’t use it. It drives me nuts so I found another font that mirrors how I want my students to write: TW Cent MT. I don’t explicitly discuss it with them. I use it simply because I don’t want to confuse them with letters looking different when they are trying to read. I do use it with parents, but I think TW Cent MT is a reasonably classy font so I don’t worry too much.

  7. Tom said on September 26, 2008 at 7:22 am

    @Jenny
    Very true. TW Cent MT is not even close to Comic Sans (I had to look it up). Much classier and professional looking.

    Tom

  8. Tricia said on September 26, 2008 at 7:49 am

    I love this post! I’m sending it to all my students and telling them to think hard about it.

    Glad to see you here. Hope all is going well.

  9. pete reilly said on September 26, 2008 at 9:30 am

    Tom,
    Great post! Good to see you’re back.
    pete

  10. Bea said on September 27, 2008 at 8:06 am

    And here I thought a 30-second flashy transition between Keynote slides would get students to learn… Haha.

    Great post. And great mullet in the video, too.

  11. Tom said on September 27, 2008 at 8:45 am

    @Tricia and Pete – Thanks. I’m the most erratic blog poster I know but at least lately is because of lots of good things (new house, new-ish job (Henrico P.S. take 3) and and a new baby).

    @Bea research has shown that transitions need to be at least 45 seconds for true educational impact. 🙂 You can also double the learning if you add sound effects.

    I’ve had that mullet hat since high school. It’s amazing how often it has been useful.

  12. Jerry Swiatek said on September 27, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    Excellent! I see this all of the time with PowerPoint. It’s so frustrating to me to see a teacher showing a PPT preso to his/her students that contains all of the cheesy clip art, animations, crazy transitions, and sound effects they can fit. It’s distracting, annoying and, worst of all, completely ineffective. I always try to emphasize to the teachers when I show them new tools, that these tools are only as good as their lessons…I’ll be sure to show them your post. Nicely done!!

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