A short note on the technology of running and teaching.

I saw a fat, middle-age man running yesterday, gut bouncing up and down as he strode past me. He was wearing a button-up-the-front dress shirt that looked like a cheap blouse and some type of khaki pants. I had on the usual panoply of high-tech plastic and wool that is the rich runner’s sartorial norm today. As the fat man ran past, going the other direction, I thought “damn, that guy is awesome.”

No, he wasn’t running fast. No, he wasn’t noble or stoic or anything hidden (that I know of). He was just fat, and dressed for casual Friday, and running. That is, he was doing the exact same activity I was doing.

There are some who might read this story as a “see, triumph of the will” paeon to grit in the face of resource scarcity. I find arguments that anyone can accomplish great things if they put their mind to it to be ahistorical, and blind to issues of structural access and empowerment.

Individuals do succeed in the face of scarcity, but as a teacher, I do not want to design to my courses around superlative dedication in the face of lack of resources. Poor kids with average motivation to access resources should be able to succeed at the same rates as rich kids with average motivation to access resources.

That said, I saw this guy, twice, on each side of the lake and it got me thinking about what is necessary and what is sufficient when teaching with digital history. There’s a conference going on right now called HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) and I’m following it on Twitter. A number of the presenters attend to issues of poverty, a number of them don’t. But this guy got me thinking, what do my students need to learn history and what is nice, both in terms of historical thinking and in terms of technology. You need athletic shoes to run on asphalt. The tights, jacket, special gloves, hat, undershirt, those are great and help me feel better. But I need my shoes.

So, tonight I’m thinking about (again) about minimal computing, and wondering if I need to beta test all my digital lesson plans with an underpowered, 11″ Chromebook. Because that guy is awesome.

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