Friday, 6 May 2011

Monty Python as an Analogy of the Poor Use of ICT in the Classroom

This blog post may initially seem a little off the wall, but stick with it and it’ll eventually make sense. With the TeachMeet at the National Marine Aquarium next Thursday night, I thought back to PELC11 and the TeachMeet that was held there. While I was thinking about the presentation i gave, I realised that although TeachMeets are ideal places to share and flesh out ideas, they’re still somewhat limited to sharing ideas with the attendees. As you may well know by now, I think sharing and collaboration is one of the most valuable techniques that teachers, especially trainee teachers, have to grab hold of, so why limit my presentation about Monty Python to the attendees of TMPELC11? Here it is, in full textual glory!

Over the course of this year, I’ve had many an ICT lecture from Pete Yeomans (@ethinking). Thankfully, for the purposes of interest and engagement, Pete occasionally breaks his lectures up with a video clip. One of the videos he showed was completely unexpected, however. But then, nobody expects the Spanish inquisition! Pete showed several Monty Python clips to us over the module, managing to somehow relate them to what he was talking about. As a fan of Monty Python myself, I was entertained, but left wondering why one of my favourite scenes wasn’t used, because I thought it was incredibly relevant to ICT.

So I asked Pete, a week or so before TMPELC11, why he’d never used it, explaining why I thought it was an incredible analogy. His words were ‘Present this at the Teach Meet’.  Here I was, my first Teach Meet, following from some great (and very educational) presentations, when my name comes up on the random generator accompanied by the title of my 5 minute slot... ‘Monty Python as an Analogy of the Poor Use of ICT in the Classroom’

Firstly, I’d best include the clip so that you can see what I’m blabbering on about. The scene is taken from the opening of Monty Python’s ‘The Meaning of Life’, entitled ‘Part 1 – Birth’

‘But how on Earth does that link to bad ICT?’ I hear you ask! Well, let me explain.

(0:46) ‘A bit bare in here today isn’t it? ... Get the machine that goes ‘bing!’ – This line, to me, represents one of the common mistakes made by teachers using ICT. It seems like the doctors here are using technology for the sake of using technology. As @ethinking mentioned rather quotably in his first EICT350 lecture this year, ‘ICT is a tool for learning not a ‘silver bullet’ to cure the ills of the education system’. In other words, if you don’t need it, don’t use it!

(1:02) ‘Get the most expensive machine, in case the administrator comes!’ – In a world where you can find almost any application to do any task for next to nothing, this line brings up an interesting issue. This happens all over the world in consumer goods – price relates to quality. In teaching however, I don’t think that this is the case. Sure, with the costlier products comes a wider range of features,  more support, flashier graphics, etc, but more often than not it’s the simpler, cheaper, things that are more effective. It also makes me think about the number of schools that have bought expensive software or hardware as a ‘showing off’ tool. Again, this defies the purpose of buying it. In a world of limited budgets, teachers need to focus on what they really need and use it effectively.

(1:22) ‘Still something missing though... Patient!’ – One of the strongest points that can be taken from the clip. The doctors have brought in so much machinery that they’ve literally lost the patient. I think this is analogous to a teacher trying to bring so much ICT into a lesson that they’ve lost sight of the objective. ICT needs to be implemented in a way that it supports an objective, not hinders it.

(1:38) ‘Mind the machine!’ – Linking nicely back to the last point, the doctors seem more concerned about the machinery than the patient. Pupils should always come before equipment. After all, the equipment is there for the pupils to use!

(2:05) ‘What do I do?’ ‘Nothing, dear! You’re not qualified!' – This one made me chuckle. Who is better qualified to take control of a situation than the person it’s happening to. In other words, who better to steer the direction of the learning than the children themselves? Children should be allowed to explore technology, as Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall project demonstrates effectively.

And finally, (3:50) ‘OK, show’s over!’, is a line right at the end of the clip, before the doctors, staff and random members of the public leave. I can almost imagine a teacher taking the children away from a piece of technology once they’ve ‘taught it’, never to come back. ICT is often used as a ‘wow’ device, as a ‘look at how exciting this is’ trick than a constructive part of a child’s learning.

So there you have it. Share it with every Python fan you know. Monty Python was 30 years ahead of its time. I just hope it’s not too late.


  1. To use another Monty Python quote, 'Nice one Centurion'

  2. Thanks! I was wondering if there were any other clips I could use somewhere... Life of Brian as an Analogy of Poor Teaching of RE perhaps?!

  3. JC Sheffield - you could definitely use the scene from LOB when the centurion catches him doing the graffitti! Reminds me of my language lessons!

    What does it say?
    Romans go home!
    No it doesn't. It says "Romans they go the house!"