Jamie McKenzie takes students- and teachers- beyond cut-and-paste
Alan Zisman (c)
2009 first published in CUE BC Newsletter
- 20 September 2009
probably all seen education technology gurus- the sort of people (are
they all male?) who give keynotes at CUE-BC and other conferences.
the names change, they seem to come in a couple of basic types: there
are the folks with the big vision- technology will change education
(presumably for the better); techno-kids are different than previous
generations. There are the salespeople, out to hook us, our students,
and our schools into their product line- perhaps as the way to reach
those new generation techno-kids and change education for the better.
of them are good at what they do- we leave their keynotes pumped up and
inspired, even if they were a little bit short on details and fairly
quickly we realize that we can’t actually do it in our schools.
Jamie McKenzie is different. Over the past decade and more- in keynotes and articles in his free online From Now On (http://www.fno.org
) and The Question Mark (http://questioning.org
websites, perhaps because he has had a long career as a public school
teacher and administrator, he’s been a voice of reason in the too-often
rah-rah field of educational technology.
I’ve appreciated, for
instance, his discussion of the negative impact of technology ‘churn’
on our schools- how too often we’re called upon to integrate the
high-tech latest and greatest when we still haven’t integrated the last
generation- which is probably good enough for our needs, and while many
of our schools are short of more basic, low-tech tools and supplies.
(See for example: http://www.fno.org/nov03/churnartists.html
ongoing theme in McKenzie’s work has been how teachers can help
students use computers and online information sources as tools to
promote understanding, going beyond picking facts from a deluge of
undigested information and presenting them with multiple fonts and
Every reader of this column should probably subscribe
to McKenzie’s From Now On online journal. But if you haven’t, his
latest book: “Beyond Cut-and-Paste: Engaging Students in Making Good
New Ideas” is a good introduction. (US$20.00- http://fnopress.com
; ISBN 978-0-9674078-0-7. Get a copy for your school’s library).
of the material in the book originally appeared on fno.org or
questioning,org; as a result, it will seem familiar to anyone who has
been following McKenzie’s work. Also as a result- there is some overlap
between articles that is less apparent when they appear online one at a
Despite that, McKenzie’s basic themes are important ones;
computers and Internet access make it easier than ever for students to
get access to large quantities of facts and to present them in
attractive formats. Too often however, this can happen without much
thought. Our role, as teachers, is to help students learn to do what
McKenzie calls ‘managing the poverty of abundance’- to dig deep, and
synthesize facts creating new knowledge and understanding along the way.
uses practical examples that will ring true for teachers, showing how
assignments about Joan of Arc or Captain James Cook can move beyond
simple fact-gathering, and how students can learn from online images.
He even goes on to discuss alternate ‘classroom landscape’ for the
‘laptop classroom’. His suggestions are always grounded in real-life
teaching and learning experience, but extend to include media and other
A criticism: too often, the articles
use acronyms that perhaps make sense to a readership of American school
administrators, but aren’t spelled out or put into context for this
Canadian teacher. Eventually, I realized that NCLB is ‘No Child Left
Behind’- US legislation that mandated increased school-wide testing.
But there are also AASL, NCSS, and ISTE standards, NAEP, NETS, and
more. Most- but not all- are decoded somewhere in the book, but a good
editor would have made sure this was done the first time the acronym
appeared. Similarly, an editor would have (hopefully!) caught the
several mis-spellings and errors of fact that found their way into
print. (Louis XV was not the king brought down by the French Revolution
(p.24) for instance).
But this is just minor quibbling. McKenzie
has important points to make- timeless ones about the role of education
to go beyond fact gathering to help students become critical thinkers
and citizens. Along the way he offers practical suggestions to help
teachers empower students to make use of computers, the Internet, and
other new technologies.