This is Not Amazing

Amazing (adjective) astonishing, astounding, surprising, stunning, staggering, shocking, startling, stupefying, breathtaking; awesome, awe-inspiring, sensational, remarkable, spectacular, stupendous, phenomenal, extraordinary, incredible, unbelievable; informal mind-blowing, jaw-dropping

Sometimes I find myself dealing with people in circumstances that are completely unconnected, but which seem to have some kind of bizarre synchronicity that causes them to mirror each other.

The other day, I found myself in one of these situations…

Firstly, I was asked by a colleague to help edit some video footage from a recent school trip.  I don’t mind helping with such requests because I quite enjoy the process of video editing, so I attached the camera to my MacBook Pro, sucked the footage onto the hard drive and began dragging clips together in iMovie. My colleague looked on as I dragged clips around the timeline, clearly never having seen non-linear video editing before, and, with a little gasp of wonder in her voice, she remarked “That’s amazing the way you can do that with video!”

Later that day, I got a call from another colleague who needed help with a mail merge of some spreadsheet data into a letter she was writing.  She was aware that such mail merges were possible, but wasn’t sure exactly how to do it.  So I dropped by her office to lend a hand, and in the process of trying to sort it out I noticed that some of the data formatting in the spreadsheet was a little inconsistent. One of the columns had data with stray spaces in the text… no problem, I hit ctrl-F to call up the Search and Replace command, typed a few characters into the search field, replaced them with the characters I needed to fix the problem, clicked OK, and the changes rippled through the sheet fixing the problem in less than a second. As my colleague looked on, she remarked “That’s amazing the way you can do that with a spreadsheet!”

The last example was from yet another colleague who wanted to assemble a short end-of-year slideshow of her students to send home to their parents.  She was envisioning a PowerPoint full of pictures set to music.  Because I know how much work that can be to create, I suggested a better solution. I asked her to give me all the photos she wanted to include and I uploaded them to, selected a piece of royalty-free music from their online collection and pressed the Make Video button.  A few minutes later I downloaded the finished video, an impressive little piece that took me about three clicks and near-zero talent to actually produce.  Her response to the final slideshow was, you guessed it… “That’s amazing the way you can do that with digital photos!”

Can we get something straight here?  NONE of these things were “amazing”.

Having these three events happen back to back like that made me stop and think about how often I hear the “that’s amazing the way you can do XYZ!” comment.  (And just to be clear, it wasn’t that they thought it was amazing because I was the one doing it, they thought it was amazing simply because it could be done). They were amazed at what computers make possible…  editing video, fixing numbers, manipulating sound and pictures, etc… these things are still amazing to many people and I got to thinking about how often I hear the “That’s amazing!” line from people who observe technology doing things they didn’t know were possible.

I’m not for one moment suggesting that it’s good to be completely blasé about the things that technology can do.  There are plenty of totally amazing things that technology enables these days.  Separating conjoined twins at the brain with complete success is amazing. Ditching a passenger jet in the Hudson and getting all the passengers off safely is amazing.  Crashing a rocket into the moon to stir up dust and rocks to discover water there is amazing. And the fact that the law allows a Japanese man to marry an Anime cartoon character is, well, kind of freaky, but I guess still amazing.

The point is that, yes, there are plenty of amazing things that happen in our world, and its important to retain our sense of wonder and amazement at them.  No question about that.

But seriously people… editing video, fixing some numbers in a spreadsheet, or making a slideshow from some photos is NOT “amazing”. We, and by we I am particularly talking about the teaching profession in general, need to stop being so “amazed” at things that really are quite mundane. We need to stop seeing the most trivial, mundane tasks as being “amazing” simply because they were done on a computer. Being amazed that a spreadsheet can work with numbers just makes you look a bit silly.  Worse than that, being clueless about what technology can really do just sets the bar of expectation ridiculously low for students, letting them believe that they can produce any old rubbish and yet still impress their teacher, who thinks that the PowerPoint their student made is simply “amazing”.  I haven’t even seen that kid’s PowerPoint, but trust me, it’s probably not amazing.

The reason this irks me so much is that personal computers have been around for over 30 years now, and have been a significant part of most schools now for over 20 years.  Most schools and school systems have been trying to provide some level of professional development, training and support for teachers for most of these 20 years.  Even if a teacher resisted technology back in the early days of the PC, there’s absolutely no excuse for not having embedded the use of a personal computer into their daily work over the past 10 years.

It’s time to stop being so “amazed” at things that are just part of the technological and cultural landscape of life in the 21st century.  It’s not “amazing” that computers can edit video, manage numbers or manipulate digital images. It’s not “amazing” that mobile phones can stream live video or GPS your current position.  It’s not “amazing” that you can make phone calls to the other side of the planet at no cost. None of these things are really “amazing” any more… they just “are”. To be “amazed” at this sort of stuff is to fail to recognise the invisible role that technology plays in all our lives these days. To anyone working in education, working with young people, you need to realise that simple tasks performed with technology are not something to be “amazed” at, marveled at and gushed over.  For our students, the use of technology as the enabler for such tasks seems as natural as breathing air.

I was in another meeting with some students and a teacher the other day, and the teacher was trying to show the kids about a Ning they’d had set up for a class project.  The teacher was all effusive, gushed about the Ning’s “amazing” features and wanting to show the students all the “amazing” things it could do… “Look! You can use it to leave messages for each other!”, she said excitedly.  One of the students confided to me later “I can’t believe how worked up she was getting about that Ning… it’s just a blog. It’s like Facebook. Of course we know how to use it.”  It reminded me of that wonderful line from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, where the people of Earth were considered a bit of a joke for being “so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”

Don’t get me wrong, technology provides as with some incredibly useful tools. The rise of Web 2.0 and the read/write web has changed the world forever. Mobile technologies just keep getting more and more impressive.  But let’s keep things in perspective.

Save the “amazement” for things that truly ARE amazing, and realise that technology is not some kind of unexplainable black magic voodoo… it just “is”.

Image: ‘iPhone Glee
iPhone Glee

CC BY 4.0 This is Not Amazing by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

24 Replies to “This is Not Amazing”

  1. I think it is important to realize that everyone has their own personal journey into this computing age. As change agents it is important to realize that just because something isn’t amazing to us does not mean that it is not amazing to another person. I think the reason more people don’t jump into technology is the condescension of those already in technology.

    If someone thinks it is amazing, the first thing to do is to put their hand on the mouse and then let them try it. Then it travels from amazing to “I can do it.” And when it becomes non-amazing and part of what they do on a daily basis, then, we have enacted positive change and helped people transform.

    We have to help these things move from amazing to normal for people and as long as people are thinking these things are amazing we aren’t making it real enough for them to think that they can do it!

    Please be kind to the others you work with – they are probably great people who just aren’t there yet and need some encouragement. And when the light bulb goes on, we all gush on and get excited and then we move on and just use it. Newbies need some kindness and grace from those who know more and not made to feel like dummies. How will those you help feel if they read this post – will they feel appreciated and accepted or will they feel like you’re on the inside looking down at their stupidity? They aren’t stupid they might just be newbies and that, in itself is a HUGE accomplishment because each person needs to start somewhere.

    It is also amazing that we have the ability to build our own social networks and do it for free and that we can set these things up. There are a lot of amazing things computers can do — does it mean that separating conjoined twins or the stars in the sky aren’t more amazing. I guess it is sort of like how the Eskimos have so many words for snow — perhaps we need more words for how it feels when something is really really cool.

  2. Hi Chris,

    I think you are confusing amazement and deeper meaning. Amazement is a reaction to something that a person might not have previously thought was a possibility. For some people editing video, in a simple way, is beyond their schema of what they thought was possible. For others it is a mail merge. Just because our schema includes these concepts, doesn’t mean everyone’s does. We have all been amazed when reality exceeded the scope of what we thought was possible.

    Deeper meaning, on the other hand, is what I think you are really talking about. The meaning of a mail merge might be to save time. Landing a plane in the Hudson river, without casualties, inspires deeper meaning as human lives were saved. I might even wonder about the deeper meaning of crashing a rocket into the moon. This is an amazing feat, beyond my schema, but it really isn’t full of deeper meaning to me (yet).

    I hope we are all able to lead a life that embraces amazement toward the pursuit of deeper meaning.

  3. This goes hand-in-hand with the deplorable habit my students, and a good many adults, have of saying “awesome” when really they just mean “that’s interesting” or “I’m impressed.” They could use “cool” or as we used to say when I was a lad “fab!” But “awesome” ought to be held back for those things that are truly awe-inspiring: God or majestic mountains, for example.

    We have an elaborate, long-running game at Island Pacific School. But the pertinent part is that whenever kids (or I!) use what we call f-words, that is words that will get you an “F” if you use them, they owe my five push-ups, on the spot. The list includes among other words “like” when not used for comparison, “got,” “huge” when it doesn’t refer to size and “awesome.”

  4. Having been comfortable with technology from the start of my career, I agree that it can be frustrating at times when teachers who have been around for a while haven’t embraced tech on all but the most basic level. I have realized lately, though, that I am partly to blame for the people who stay at a very basic level, because as their support person I have done things for them for so many years. There is usually a time crunch and it is usually faster to just do it for them. But I have enabled them to stay at their basic levels by opting for the faster solution. All three of your examples – the movie, the spreadsheet, and the Animoto – reminded me of this tendency in myself.

    I’m learning (and it’s HARD) to keep my hands behind my back and away from the keyboard and mouse even with the most basic of computer users. The other day I helped several folks in a workshop copy a URL from their web browser into a spreadsheet so they could revisit good lesson plans they found online. I talked them through it instead of doing it for them. They thought it was the coolest thing in the world. For them it was, and that’s ok. And now hopefully they have the skills to do it again on their own.

    I’m learning to make appointments with people and teach them HOW to do it themselves. Talk them through the find and replace or the Animoto. When they see they are capable, they start to try more on their own. Or at least the question changes from “Can you do this for me?” to “Can you show me how to do this?”

    As far as the amazement factor goes, I am still amazed when I edit a video or create a web page or I can easily take part in a conversation by posting my thoughts on a blog such as this one. When we look at where computers and the web have gone in the last 20 years, we SHOULD be amazed. There is nothing wrong with amazement and wonder. Amazement and wonder are closely linked to curiosity, which is the doorway to learning. They create opportunities to say, “You think this is amazing? You want to know what’s really cool? You can do this. Let me show you how.”

  5. Thank you for this Chris! I couldn’t agree with you more! I’m only wondering how to GENTLY get these ideas across to colleagues who still resist it all so much. Or maybe we should just be a bit ‘cruel to be kind’ – isn’t that what you suggesting here?

  6. Chris,

    I’m in the same boat as you: the school’s default tech guy. I get the same sort of reactions as well.

    We have a university in out city, and every year or so I work with university students who are nearly as clueless about many aspects of the computer and Internet as the teachers who’ve been teaching 30 years, with maybe the exception of Facebook and Twitter, so it’s not just a generational thing.

    You said, “Even if a teacher resisted technology back in the early days of the PC, there’s absolutely no excuse for not having embedded the use of a personal computer into their daily work over the past 10 years.”

    Older teachers and preservice teachers all seem to have integrated the PC into their lives, however, they just don’t realize what the computer is capable of. They use the thing almost like a glorified typewriter. They completely ignore all the icons, buttons and menu options available. Why? I have no idea, but it sure is frustrating!

    Is your school doing anything to combat the problem? We’re having 60 min. workshops twice a week and trying to introduce teachers to as much technology as we can, hoping something will spark their interest and get them moving widening their horizons.

    Anyhow, it’s good (not really, it is actually very bad) to know that it’s not just my colleagues who seem stuck in the dark ages.

    -scott c

  7. Chris,

    While I concur with you in the fact that I am not amazed at many of the things we are able to do with current technology, I still find myself at times thinking about how amazing it can be. I am writing a same day response to a post by someone who could be anywhere in the world and, as I look to the “Live Traffic Feed” on the left, I see that people from at least five countries have visited this page in the last few hours alone. That may be commonplace these days but I still find it amazing.

    As teachers we ask our students daily to be amazed at the content and ideas we have to offer. Sometimes, it is several times a day for the same thing. That takes enthusiasm, conviction, and extreme patience to pull off. While it is in no way new to me it is many times new to them. At the same time, I must be careful of too much “pre-hype.” How often do you read a book or see a movie and end up disappointed because of an overly favorable review. If I tell my students that something is going to be (or is) great, they tend to react the same way. It is their way of saying “Don’t tell me, show me.”

    I think at times we need to approach the teaching of teachers in a similar fashion. This summer I ran a technology institute at my school for fellow teachers and would explain how “easy” it was to use each tool. At one point one of my colleagues stopped me and confessed that it was not easy. Not at all. By saying it was easy I was making the fact that she had trouble following even worse. It was nice to get that feedback because my students aren’t always so honest with me or themselves. I just needed to show her that it was easy (or amazing, or important, etc.) instead of telling her.

    When my children were younger I found great pleasure in their ability to point out everything that was new to them. I had forgotten how many planes, helicopters, flowers, bugs, etc. there were in the world until they pointed EVERY one of them out to me. It was a great reminder to me of how many amazing things I had learned to ignore. We should approach those new to these incredible tools with the same patience. It can’t be all bad to stop for a minute and consider how truly amazing it can be. That added enthusiasm may rub off on our teaching these tools and their willingness to use them.

  8. Having used technology from when dir/w/p would get you a list of what was on your hard drive, I am still amazed by what technology can afford us. Time is so precious that I rarely get enough of it to do more than dabble in even a small portion ofo the amazing applications so I don’t have time to become blase about the amazing power of technology. When someone demonstrates the true scope of a program, I am amazed – and will openly admit it – what amazes me doesn’t stupify me, it inspires me. If we cease to be amazed by what technology has to offer, perhaps the inspiration will fade as well? And then where will that leave us?

  9. Amazing teaching always trumps “amazing” technology. What amazes me know is when I walk into a room and the technology is a tool – a tool to stretch the classroom and its students beyond where they normally would be able to go. You wrote of the classroom teacher using Ning – great tool – but if all she is doing is transferring her lectures online, she has neutralized its “amazing” capabilities. If she is using it to stretch the curriculum through conversations, if it helps students make real-world connections, and if it helps students find their voices and passions, then, well, that can be amazing!

  10. I agree with what you are saying Chris. Like many of the authors of previous comments, I am the tech guy around school, and get similar comments. Personally, I’m getting to the stage where I’m not amazed anymore – I tend to expect the amazing. With so much going on ‘out there’, why wouldn’t we be able to do all these things. When a new gadget, application, service comes out, I’m thinking ‘oh yeah, that was a good idea…’ I don’t really want to feel this way, but….

    Another comment along a similar line is the gratitude for doing a task for a colleague. Often a fellow teacher has asked me to help with a task, which has been completed with a few clicks. Half a dozen thank-yous and a couple of expressions about my great intelligence later, they’re off again happy. My reply is usually something like “I didn’t really do anything – it’s easy. I’ll show you how” but they’re off.

    One of the comments above admitted feeling guilty that people feel this way because it has been their job to get people above these basic levels. I also feel this way and understand exactly how they feel. I’ve been trying for years, but in the end, you can spend all your time trying to improve their skills. It’s ‘them’ that needs to want to get better as well. We can teacher them all day, but will they learn it. There’s a two-way street.

    I’ve only come to terms with this over the past few months or so. I’m not feeling quite as guilty anymore, but I want to make sure I am still as contagious as possible with this enthusiastic-for-technology virus I have. I just need to be careful that I don’t spend all my time trying to infect those who have been ‘fully immunised’ and focus on the ‘vulnerable’ ones.

    Sorry for the rant, and the inevitable spelling and grammatical errors.

  11. I agree with Chris, regardless of someone’s personal schema teachers shouldn’t conisder technology ‘Amazing’. I think its a teachers role to be aware of the world in which our students operate. To at teacher things may seem amazing, to our students it is simply normal.

    Just the other day a teacher was introducing a Ning at a nearby school and was suprised when none of the students were all that excited about it. The students said ‘yeah its like facebook’ I think teacher’s need to realise that to our students technology simply isnt amazing, it just is….

    Great Post Chris

  12. I can relate to your post Chris (well articulated as usual) and the comments (above). What ‘amazes’ me though is the increasing number (albeit gradual) of colleagues who are now embracing learning technologies and are doing some great stuff with it. We need to acknowledge and recognise our roles as true pioneers and trailblazers of contemporary learning and rejoice in the achievements of those who follow in our footsteps – and ignore those who are trapped in the past.

  13. Chris,

    I think the most significant part of this whole post is the end–

    “I was in another meeting with some students and a teacher the other day, and the teacher was trying to show the kids about a Ning they’d had set up for a class project. The teacher was all effusive, gushed about the Ning’s “amazing” features and wanting to show the students all the “amazing” things it could do… “Look! You can use it to leave messages for each other!”, she said excitedly. One of the students confided to me later “I can’t believe how worked up she was getting about that Ning… it’s just a blog. It’s like Facebook. Of course we know how to use it.” It reminded me of that wonderful line from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, where the people of Earth were considered a bit of a joke for being “so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”

    I think the danger is that students discredit us, and we don’t provide the leadership in evaluating their products, if we think everything done with a computer is great.

    We need to bring the same critical habits of mind as teachers to everything we evaluate.

    That being said, and I totally get your point, but I also think all of us apply that statement to things we don’t do with ease but others do easily (I think of things like painting an oil painting or a student swimming in the junior olympics, etc.) I suppose it’s human nature to express amazement when you don’t know how someone gained the skills they did and when you feel far from achieving that ease yourself.

    But in relation to technology and to students, you are right that we need to help teachers focus on the evaluation and analysis so that projects lacking substance are still treated accordingly.

  14. I do agree somewhat to what you have said Chris…thinking to self what a much abused word ‘amazing’ is. What I find is a reluctance to know about technology and it’s worth to our classrooms and to our students needs. Take the case of a school Moodle site, 85% of teachers haven’t made any effort at all to use it, even with help offered in after school training sessions. The DER Notebooks are going to be in our midst very soon if not in most schools already, and many teachers are going to find themselves so far behind expectations of the students that it is going to be virtually impossible to catch up sufficietly to satisfy our need to be on par with technology so we can keep up with today’s students. I still have this self centered thought that the student is the client and we serve them information, and if today that information is ICT, Web 2.0, digital and an everyday occurance for the students, sorry, but we must forget our hesitations and take on board all we can to meet those needs of our clients.

    If is sounds like ramblings, it is, it’s late at night and I’ve a migrain the size of Sydney Cricket Ground…oh the Summer of Cricket, bring it on … 🙂

  15. I was asked the other night that ‘Surely there were no longer luddites in the teaching profession.’ I try to be patient and gentle when working with teachers. I still struggle at linear presentation when there is so much other tools including web 2 tools that could be used to stimulate our learners. A well timed article for me to share. Thank you.

  16. I have returned to this post several times since you published it because it encourages me as I work with teachers. This bit never fails to make me smile because I recognise it “But seriously people… editing video, fixing some numbers in a spreadsheet, or making a slideshow from some photos is NOT “amazing”. We, and by we I am particularly talking about the teaching profession in general, need to stop being so “amazed” at things that really are quite mundane”.
    However, I have been guilty of my own ‘amazement’ episode and wrote about it on the Rock Our World Ning… For me it is the ability to make connections so easily and quickly that still amazes me. Some of this is a result of may age I know. Growing up on a dairy farm on a ‘party line’ telephone has ensured that I will never take for granted someone on the other side of the world instantly responding to my Tweet etc etc
    All the best for your ITSC presentation.

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