Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Teaching with Technology and Robin Williams

In honor of Robin Williams consistent impact on my life, from childhood to 40yrs old, I wanted to post some of his fun commentary on computers and teaching and learning, circa 1982.

In the show, Mork and Mearth (love Jonathan Winters!) build a home computer called MILT that winds up controlling their lives.  Sure, the computer can order your groceries and pay bills for you, but the net effect is negative in this episode of Mork and Mindy, as the computer becomes a tyrant.

This negative theme regarding technology and innovation is common, although unbalanced (2001, anybody?).  It's not a far-fetched analogy for the arrival of computer-based instruction in the field of adult education: computers as things to be avoided or endured grudgingly. "You're nothing but a mechanical dictator. We'll never stop fighting you.  And we will win." Mindy's proclamation sounds a little like the participants in many technology trainings I've facilitated for adult education teachers over the years.

But what is the cure? Enter Robin Williams' super-human comedic abilities (for which I'll be forever grateful and in awe of the man). The antidote to the stifling effect of technology is humor.  The computer's control can be overcome with irony, irreverence, laughter.  Whereas  technology is supposed to have enormous utility for its users, it can also enforce artificial parameters. But what if it could be your assistant, your side-kick, the Abbot to your Costello?  

"MILT is dead, because he had a lousy sense of humor," says Mork as he eulogizes the computer.  In education, we need to cut that technology product with some personality, some levity, and some lighthearted interaction.  In other words, make an effort to teach like you're channeling Robin Williams.  Or find ways to bring some fun and excitement through the computer to encourage exploration, discussion and (gasp) fun.  Use technology as more than a drill-sergeant, but as a chance to put a lens before your eye or stand on a desk and look at things differently.

Update: And for all you doubters of gamification, Robin Williams even named his daughter after Zelda, the princess in my favorite Nintendo game series (this video interview with both of them is adorable).


  1. Glad you liked it, Kelly! I think Robin Williams was one of our greatest teachers. He's gone, but he's a gift that will keep on giving.


Your comment will help build a community of practice (and everybody will love you for it).