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Book review and a reflection on criticism

I appreciate it when someone takes the time to write a real book review, especially when the book reviewed is my own. And especially, especially when the review has both praise and criticism. J, the teacher-author of the book Educating Zombies and blogger, gives both:
“My love of technology is conditional, and that is what this book reflects.  You will find my ideas informed, practical, and perhaps even a little skeptical.”

He had me at skeptical.  Doug Johnson’s newest book, The Classroom Teacher’s Technology Survival Guide, is a true gem of resources for the majority of teachers that find the term “blog” threatening. He has a folksy tone (not Sarah Palin folksy) that is easy-going.  Johnson walks you through the book as if you are a good friend thinking about joining a cult and he is already a member.

Some specific passages that caught my eye:

Maybe it’s just my love of hierarchical pyramid graphics (I used to hang them in my room as a teenager right next to the Tawny Kitaen posters), but Johnnson’s Hierarchy of Educational Technology Needs really makes sense and provides a framework for much of the lower-level details that come later in the book.

It seems like no matter how many times this is said, people still do not back up their data.  Pages 42 and 43 should be hanging above the copy machine in every faculty lounge.  The personal productivity suggestions will help move the Luddites forward much faster than mandatory in-service days.

The section on “Teaching 21st Century Skills” was exciting as it focused on the craft of teaching, something many educational technologists overlook.  And on page 134, Johnson lays it out; if you want students to learn 21st century skills, you have to model them.  He picks this thread back up on page 176, giving teachers a nice framework for their “New (School) Year’s Resolution”.

However, I did want to kill Johnson for a few suggestions, such as the survival tip on page 29 where he recommends purchasing the same computer as a savvy friend or relative owns.  Thanks for all of those informal, late-night, tech support calls from my relatives, Johnson.  Also, the “classroom of the future” segment is dicey (and Johnson admits up front that it will be) mainly because I think interactive white boards will be obsolete very soon (see tablet explosion, circa 2011).

Johnson weaves analogies throughout the work to help make his points and he does so with a wink and a nod.  For example, I’ve already sent the proposal to ban pencils to my state congressman.  That is technology we don’t need in our schools.

In conclusion, I must admit that I am not the audience Doug Johnson is trying to reach.  And in all fairness, the title states that it is a survival guide for classroom teachers, not disgruntled instructional technologists that continue to eye roll their faculty.  That being said, I am already looking through my budget for money to buy this for as many of my teachers as possible.  If they follow the advice and it doesn’t work, I can put all the blame on Johnson. 
Thanks, J. For the review, but also reminding me of Tawny Kitaen. I went right out to Netflix after reading your post.
Oh, I mixed praise and criticism of J's book a while back as well. Perhaps the best thing we can offer others is our honesty. And when it's mutual, all the better.

Criticism is a funny thing. Communicators both desire and fear it. Praise does litle to help us improve our craft, yet a complaint, a disagreement, or a calling out can dampen one's spirits for days. This week I received an e-mail from an attendee from MACUL who took me to task for using this photo, accompanied by a lame joke (How can you tell if your cat is male or female?) that she felt was in poor taste:
Granted, its use had little "educational" value other than to simply get the participant's interest. But tasteless? I found myself wondering why I ever used such a silly image if it kept someone from getting the "real" message of the session. Have I learned nothing in doing years and years of professional speaking?

In speaking with other workshop presenters, I find that I am not the only soul who can get 98 positive comments about a session, but focus on the one or two negative ones. I still remember one comment I received after giving a commercial day-long workshop in Utah 15 years ago. It went something like:
I spent all my school's staff development money, drove four hours over two mountain ranges in the dark to get to the seminar, and today's my birthday. Your seminar was not quite what I had in mind.
I don't know who wouldn't feel guilty not reading that lament. Seth Godin wrote just this morning:
If you're hyper-aware of what others are thinking, if you're looking for criticism, the unhappy audience member and the guy who didn't get the joke, you will always find what you're seeking.
Yup. But he also adds,

For it to be any other way, you'd either have to be invisible or performing for a totally homogeneous audience.

Invisible is an option, of course. You can lay low, not speak up and make no difference to anyone.

That's sort of like dividing by zero, though. You'll get no criticism, but no delight either.

Is it worth suffering a few slings and arrows to think you may be making a difference? Is it worth making a few mistakes in order to make some gains?
Praise with the criticism is like Swiss chard with a little vinegar pour over it. The tart makes the sweet all the sweeter. 

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Reader Comments (4)

Well said, sir. And I'll never forget the Whitesnake video for "Here I Go Again".

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ.

I am glad that the critic made the distinction between you and Sarah Palin. I don’t believe that you can see Russia from your deck and I don’t believe that you fancy state fair food like Sarah.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGary Ganje

Great point about accepting criticism. Listen to the negative comments, but focus on the positive.

Really, all I want to know is what was the punchline to the joke about male or female cats?

March 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Hi Gary,

I can see Iowa from my deck.


Hi Tim,

I am afraid the picture is the punchline to the riddle "How do you know if your cat is male or female?"


March 16, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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