The Invisible Hand


There’s an episode of Futurama where Bender encounters and chats with a being who seems to have God-like powers.

God Entity: Bender, being God isn’t easy. If you do too much, people get dependent on you. And if you do nothing, they lose hope. You have to use a light touch, like a safecracker or a pickpocket. 

Bender: Or a guy who burns down a bar for the insurance money. 

God Entity: Yes, if you make it look like an electrical thing. When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.

Teachers are, of course, far from gods. I’m bringing up this quote because I feel that many of the best teaching practices can be like this. It seems to fit some of my thoughts regarding technology integration / transformation in particular. Good guidance while students are learning should be unobtrusive, on-demand, just-in-time, and should meet students at their current level and help them improve and expand their skills without seeming pushy, restrictive, or too open-ended.

It’s a balance in terms of both course content and technology I think I struggle with every day, and the requirements of this approach change from situation to situation and moment to moment.

In one class the best approach might be to stop everyone and give a lecture on how to use a certain tool, or design a whole formative activity just for demonstrating that skill, but in another class, or on a different day, or even at a different time of day, it might work better to just tell everyone to try using the tool on their own and ask for help if they have problems.

Some assignments with tech components might require me to individually check that certain students are keeping up throughout the whole time they’re working, while in other cases (if the task is structured right), the proof of the pudding will be in the eating – successful finished work won’t be possible unless they’ve asked for enough help and/or figured out enough things on their own. Often, part of the solution can be appointing student experts as peer resources, and sitting back while the students teach each other.

I think one of the reasons this is a particularly important approach to take with tech in particular is that successful self-directed tech problem-solving is such an important skill for students to have for all classes and life in general, and it’s a passion that can be easily stifled, soured or turned to non-academic pursuits. The last thing I want is to make motivated, tech-savvy students sit heavy-lidded or impatient through tutorials on how to attach something to an e-mail or change font size. Then on the other hand, I never want to leave any less tech-adept students feeling frustrated or left behind at any point. I think it just involves trying to have a light touch. I’m working on it.


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