Business-like, isn't he?




    Jamie McKenzie takes students- and teachers- beyond cut-and-paste

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2009 first published in CUE BC Newsletter - 20 September 2009

    We’ve probably all seen education technology gurus- the sort of people (are they all male?) who give keynotes at CUE-BC and other conferences.

    While 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.

    Most 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 ( and The Question Mark ( 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:

    Another 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 graphics.

    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-; ISBN 978-0-9674078-0-7. Get a copy for your school’s library).

    Most of the material in the book originally appeared on 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 time.

    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.

    McKenzie 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 non-traditional literacies.

    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.


Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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