Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update




« When your job is on the line | Main | Fair use scenario - Tony's podcasts »

Seven stupid mistakes teachers make with technology

stupid (adjective): given to unintelligent decisions or acts

Stupid is as stupid does. Forrest Gump

Stupid is not my favorite word. It sounds mean and harsh and ugly. But after reading that according to Newsweek that 25% of employees visit porn sites from work, and that the adult video industry claims hits on porn sites are highest during the work day*, it was truly the only term that seems to fit this sort of human behavior. I don't have any overwhelming objections to pornography per se. But perusing it at work? That's stupid.

I use stupid under fairly constrained conditions. To me, a stupid act has a degree of willfulness about it and is serious. Making an error once is ignorance; making the same mistake multiple times is stupidity. Unfortunately, I see stupid acts and beliefs related to technology in schools all the time.

These would be my nominees for the most stupid things** a teacher can do related to technology...

1. Not backing up data. "You mean having two copies of my files on the hard drive doesn't count as a backup?" The first time a teacher loses his/her precious data my heart breaks. The second time, well, stupidity ought cause some suffering.

2. Treating a school computer like a home computer. Teachers who use a school computer to run a business, edit their kid's wedding videos, or send tasteless jokes to half of North America (including that fundamentalist English teacher down the hall) are being stupid. Teachers who take their computers home and let their kids hack on them are being stupid. Teachers who don't own a personal computer for personal business deserve to get into well-deserved trouble.

3. Not supervising computer-using students. It is really stupid to believe Internet filters will keep kids out of trouble on the Internet. For so many reasons. Even the slow kids who can't get around the school's filter, can still exploit that 10% of porn sites the filter won't catch if they choose to do so. They can still send cyberbullying e-mail - maybe even using your email address. Or they can just plain waste time.

4. Thinking online communication is ever private. Eventually everyone sends an embarrassing personal message to a listserv. I've heard of some tech directors who get their jollies reading salacious inter-staff e-mails. You school e-mails can be requested and must be produced if germane to any federal lawsuits. Even e-mails deleted from your computer still sit on servers somewhere - often for a very loooong time. Think you wiped out your browsing history? Don't bet that that is the only set of tracks you've left that show where you've been surfing. Your Facebook page will be looked at by the school board chair and your superintendent and principal know who the author of that "anonymous" blog is. Not assuming everyone can see what you send and do online is stupid.

5. Believing that one's teaching style need not change to take full advantage of technology. Using technology to simply add sounds and pictures to lectures is stupid. Smart technology use is about changing the roles of teacher and student. The computer-using student can now be the content expert; the teacher becomes the process expert asking questions like - where did you get that information, how do you know it's accurate; why is it important, how can you let others know what you discovered, and how can you tell if you did a good job? The world has changed and it is rank stupidity not to recognize it and change as well.

6. Ignoring the intrinsic interest of tech use in today's kids. Kids like technology. Not using it as a hook to motivate and interest them in their education is stupid.

7. Thinking technology will go away in schools. The expectation tha "This too shall pass" has worked for a lot of educational practices and theories. Madeline Hunter, Outcomes-Based Education, whole language, and yes, some day, NCLB all had their day in the sun before being pushed aside by the next silver bullet. (I think that metaphor was a bit confused. Sorry.) But it is stupid to think technology will go away in education. It isn't going away in banking, medicine, business, science, agriculture - anywhere else in society. Thinking "this too shall pass" about technology is pretty stupid.

That was fun. What would make YOUR list of the top stupid mistakes you've seen teachers make with technology?

Oh, I am not above making stupid mistakes as well. Maybe this posting was one of them...

* And you wondered what those strange noises were coming from the next cubicle.
** While surfing for porn at work might qualify as THE stupidist mistake a teacher could make with technology, those CIPA-required filters that only the kids know how to get around are keeping this act off my teachers' stupid list. And here I bet you thought CIPA was about protecting kids.

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (38)

I'm retired so a bit out of touch. It was and still in stupid to use the school digital camera and print every uncropped picture that they took and tape them on the walls. 8 x 10's. In color. That ink is very expensive. The pictures that were unedited were uninteresting anyway.

December 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBob Anderson

If you need to send a personal email, use, but don't be stupid with that either. It's for friends, not enemies! The receiver of the email can still print it out. But it's great for sending short notes like, "Let's meet for lunch at the greasy spoon" that you'd rather not be read by some district employee down the line.

December 5, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterteacherninja

This is practical information, Doug. My experience indicates that a good many teachers are not aware of these issues or do not take them seriously enough. I'm glad that you've brought the matter to light.

December 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterClif

Great post! I especially love the notion that 'this too shall pass.' Um, aren't a lot of those students, using that technology, aren't they going to become teachers? And want to keep using that technology?

It's going to be an interesting next couple of years as the importance and necessity of technology in school explodes...

December 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay Price

We needed this post two months ago. Our main server crashed in October taking with it all student files that had been stored up to four years for some of them. At first we thought that all teacher files were gone as well, but luckily they were housed on a different server. Our problem was compounded by the fact that our technology director for the past five years left the district just two weeks before the crash. We're finally back together, and we have learned many lessons, especially 1 and 2 from your list. Now, if we could just get teachers to work on 5, 6, and 7...

December 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

Here's another bad move: Treat your tech support people like they're dirt.

December 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTim Staal

I would add:
*having a hotmail address like on your CV. As a principal I urge you NO ...NO .... NO!!!

*thinking that integrating technology will immediately be easy. There will always be what Michael Fullan calls the Implementation Dip when making any change. It will be hard work for a while but pretty soon things become easier and require less work/effort.

* adding too much. Keep it simple and focus heavily on PURPOSE. As I have said again and again if it is simply different and not better then why are you doing it? A precise purpose helps manage the workload too. Eg with blogging things can get huge if you let them but if you have a precise purpose for what you are doing then it is easier to resist the seductive "wouldn't it be cool to ..." urges that then take ages to follow up and maintain. Pick one thing, learn about it, explore and do it WELL.

* and the stupidest thing of all to do is .... NOTHING.

December 5, 2008 | Unregistered Commentergreg carroll

i guess you can add knee-jerk reactions to stuff--email especially. I had 2 this week myself. One was blogged about (thanks for the good advice btw) and the other, to a state listserv but intended to one individual from that listserv, while hugely embarrasing, has been a catalyst for a good conversation and potential for change. So while they were embarrassing and STUPID, i learned valuable lessons--once again. Just as change is hard, sometimes learning hurts a little too. Lessons learned--hopefully...

December 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Nelson

Here's a goodie: writing your usernames and passwords on post-its and sticking them to your monitor/CPU/desk. Just saw it last week - an administrator, no less - with the credentials to log on to the district's SIS, the state data warehouse, and more in plain sight in an office where he regularly sees students. Sigh...

December 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMike

I couldn't agree more and recently started an uproar with out local school board which was voting on BANNING the use of Social Network. The administration put forth for a vote and thankfully the board put it off only to vote a few weeks later changing the term ban to strongly discourage, wow.

I brought up several issues with both board and Administration that misuse of tech was not a tech problem but a HR problem only to have the Superintendent of the schools say that Mississippi was banning it so we should as well. Mississippi? What the heck does that have to do with anything and does anyone really want to model themselves after that states education system?

Thankfully enough people jumped on board and we got them to remove the "ban" but even then they have shown they don't know tech, fear tech and have no clue as to the future of education.

December 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJamesB

It's an excellent list. I would, however, suggest a change in number five. Yes, certainly if your teaching style is lecture-oriented, I agree you should change it in the way you suggest (actually, please do whether or not you use technology). However, I believe that many teachers now incorporate that kind of inquiry strategy into their teaching now -- and some use technology and some do not. I don't necessarily think good teachers need to change their style to incorporate technology.

December 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLarry Ferlazzo

I agree with you Larry that good teachers need not change their style to incorporate technology. Also, technology by itself does not necessarily make learning happen. It can be used as a tool to motivate learners. Using tech might produce the opposite effect if teachers don't watch out their students.

December 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMoussa Tankari

Our district is like almost all other ones - lots of filters which blocks online games, email, anything that even hints of an online community. A very small group of teachers wanted greater access to the resources on the internet. So of course, a committee was formed. But an interesting discussion/initiative emerged. There appears to be an assumption that teachers know HOW to use the internet. Given the list of mistakes specified in this post, it is obvious they do not. So what the committee discussed was developing an internet safety and awareness training. It would be voluntary and those teachers who completed it would receive a code to unblock sites. Teachers would sign a contract for safe usage - and could still be monitored by IT. I loved the idea but too bad the discussion occurred several months ago and nothing has moved forward,

December 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJackie Gerstein

Agree with most of the list but how do you see 3. Not supervising computer-using students being used in the future as schools use more devices with individual students?
As for teachers not changing. I think teachers should always be reflecting and adapting their practice to make best use of all tools that are available to them.

December 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterIan Stuart

Add this to the list: Requiring students to do a project using software the teacher is not familiar with. I've seen way too many teachers assign a movie, PowerPoint presentation, and several other projects assuming the students knew how to use the software. When the students needed help the teacher couldn't provide it.

I love this list! I suggest that once you get some more suggestions you make a poll where we can vote on the worst mistakes and then post another list. Well done.

December 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSteven Katz

I plan professional development for teachers and with the amount of technology currently available to enhance classroom instruction we offer a lot of professional development opportunities in the area of technology. I am always amazed at the amount of people who tote their laptops to trainings to learn how to use technology tools in the classroom and instead spend their day checking email (both professional and personal) and using their computers webcam to take stupid videos and send them to their colleagues (with something so specific you can tell i speak from having seen this particular action). When cell phones became the rage, people spoke about cell phone manners (turning your phone off or on silent, etc.) now i think the time has come for some laptop manners too - the behavior is disrupting to those who really want to learn.

December 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey Smith

This list is wonderful. One thing I would like to add is assuming students know how to do everything on the computer. Most (generally) of our 21st Century learners are competent in their computer use. But, there are many students that need assistance with the "basics" many teachers assume students know. For example, many teachers of Middle School students think their students know how to format a document correctly in Word. Surprisingly, many students do not know how to locate information about margins, tabs, etc. I believe the adage make no assumptions is appropriate for computer users. Students need guidance and instruction even in the "simple" things.

December 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAlice

Nice list!

I especially like #3. I have trouble keeping myself focused while using a computer. It's critical, both from a pedagogical standpoint and from a student safety standpoint that teachers monitor student computer usage.

I'd also like to build off of Alice's point. I've heard many comments that "kids get enough technology at home". While that might be true for some kids, many kids get little to no exposure to technology to school. Even the majority of the kids who spend significant time on computers during the day often are in need of fundamental computer training.

Lastly, I've seen so many times where "technology" equals two things, and two things only: PowerPoints and/or web searches. Time to move beyond those two thing. We can do more.

Great blog! Keep up the good work!

December 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMike Smart

Hi Bob,

Stupid uses of color printing is one of my pet peeves. Were I to rule the school, we would only have B&W laser printers and magic markers.

Thanks for the comment,


Hi ninja,

I've not heard of I think I will stick to sending only nice emails.


Thanks, Clif. I appreciate the kind words.


Hi Lindsay,

Thanks for the comment. You make a great point about today’s students being tomorrow’s teachers. Too many of our new teachers aren’t well-versed in tech use either.

All the best,


Hi Denise,

Uh, servers need to be backed up too. Good reminder. Maybe I need a list of the 7 Most Stupid Mistakes Tech Directors Make. I could write from personal experience!



Hi Tim,

Yup. I’ve even written about this a couple times:

I think most teachers have learned that along with the secretary and custodian, it’s wise to keep on the tech’s good side.

Although it is still permissible to abuse the tech director.

All the best,


Hi Greg,

I especially love your last point.

It is difficult to get teachers to see the downstream benefit of some upstream pain.

Hope you are taking good care of my son in Wellington!

Thanks for the comments,


Hi Cathy,

I think we can all remember a few emails that would have been better left unsent. But ya know, humans make mistakes.

Thanks for the comment,


Hi Mike.

Or teaching your students to log into the student information system for you. We’ve had that happen too!

Sigh again,



Yeah, I always wondered why some states' education initiatives are held up as models when by all measures, their schools are worse than our own.

Thanks for the comment,


December 10, 2008 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Larry,

You are right, of course. I just wish more of our teachers used a discovery, child-centered approach to teaching that technology seems made to support. And I know plenty of excellent teachers who don’t use much tech at all.

All the best,


Thanks, Moussa. Good comment.


Hi Jackie,

Your plan reminds me of when our district once required students to pass an Internet Driving Test before they were allowed to use the Internet. Maybe we DO we need one for teachers as well!

All the best and thanks for the comment,


Hi Ian,

You make a good point about it becoming increasingly difficult to monitor student Internet use with a proliferation of small, individual devices. I still think a physical presence of an adult in a room where such devices are being used is a deterrent to dumb and dangerous behaviors.

Thanks for the comment,


Thanks, Steven. I like the idea of a poll!

Another way of looking at a student/teacher disparity in software knowledge might be to make teaching the teacher a part of the assignment. I know whenever I teach any app, there is usually at least one “stump the chump” question that I can’t answer. So it becomes a contest to figure out who can find the answer first.

But there is no excuse for total unfamiliarity with the software.

All the best,


Hi Lindsey,

Uh, I'm a little guilty of checking my email during meetings too.



Hi Alice,

Wonderful point. I also think we forget that kids don’t always see the bigger tech picture. Yes, they can create a PPT, but does it actually help communicate a message and can they give the effective speech it should support?

Appreciate the comment,


Thanks, Mike, for the observations and the kind words!


December 10, 2008 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>