Integrating Technology: Lessons from the Amish

The Amish are a unique group of people. They focus on church and family and seem to welcome a degree of separation from the non-Amish world. They’re famous for their simple lifestyle, plain dress, and overall reluctance to adopt the conveniences of modern technology. However, as (non-Amish) school districts continue to invest time, money, and resources in educational technology, there are valuable lessons to be learned from Amish society. While the Amish rely on a simple agrarian lifestyle, the principles they follow are exactly what schools need to effectively integrate instructional technology. 

Community is Necessary.
A sense of community is not a random occurrence; it’s an intentional creation. It begins with a vision and continues with a commitment to its core values. The Amish have a unique set of beliefs that bind them together as a society and schools need to replicate the Amish model.  By establishing a core belief that technology will drive academic instruction, schools can begin to establish a commitment that fosters and sustains that vision. But, before technology can be utilized as a meaningful form of engagement in schools, teachers must have ample opportunities to build a learning community by collaboratively planning, sharing, and holding each other accountable to the fulfillment of their shared vision. It can’t be just words, it must involve action.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All.
There are currently Amish populations in twenty-eight states. While their overarching ideology is the same, there are vast cultural differences between existing Amish sects. In effect, they personalize their communities. In education, the personalization of learning is a common practice. Whether its through an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) or another form of academic counseling, schools design an educational path that best meets the needs of a given child and their unique style of learning.  When building a sustainable technology plan, schools can’t expect to borrow the model of another school. It may have been very successful and the core beliefs may be the same, but the methods of realizing that vision will vary greatly. Personalizing technology for a specific learning community is essential. When teachers and students feel a plan addresses their specific needs, they are more likely to be support the integration process. The increased desire to learn how to use technology ultimately leads to greater active involvement.

Needs not Wants.
The Amish avoid the use of modern technology. Many believe they see technology as evil, but that’s not entirely true. The Amish see modern technology as a mere vanity. They embrace technology if it is truly needed, not simply desired. In classrooms, technology can aid in the acquisition of vital skills. But for technology to be used in a meaningful way, it must become seamlessly routine and practically transparent.  If instruction focuses on the tool, then it simply becomes a distraction. Technology has to support academic standards and learning objectives in order to deepen understanding and enhance learning. If technology is not employed to drive instruction, then questions will arise as to its value in the learning environment.

No Rock Stars.
Trying to find a list of famous Amish people is impossible because the idea of “celebrity” goes completely against their way of life. The Amish rarely even pose for pictures and photographing them is considered disrespectful.  While some of their reluctance has biblical origins, it is also a recognition that their community exists for a greater good. In their eyes, success comes from a shared vision rather than individual ambition. The same is true in an educational environment, connections must be built for the benefit of all involved; big personalities and self-promotion interfere with interaction. Integration strategies and sample project ideas are only a web search away, but a long-term commitment to utilizing technology to move a shared vision forward requires trust and interdependence. The Amish have no need for rock-stars, and neither can schools. Each member of an Amish community has a role to serve; each member of a learning community has a responsibility to their collaborators.

Real World Learning.
An Amish education ends after eighth-grade, but learning still continues. It just becomes hands-on. Boys work with their fathers in the fields and girls work alongside their mothers in the home. While non-Amish students benefit from access to technology, it is still essential for them to develop those real world skills that technology will never be able to do for them. Working with others as they hone their critical thinking faculties makes learning a collective endeavor that has a greater meaning. As Amish youth see their community’s hard work, they strive to be a productive part of it. If students are actively involved in a school’s vision and feel they have a specific purpose within in, they are more likely to feel a sense of responsibility for the outcomes of their participation.

For the Amish, their success has hinged on a united obligation to their beliefs. For over three hundred years, their descendants have felt a sense of necessity in carrying on the shared values of their society. Making technology work to enhance instruction isn’t about the tool; it’s about good teaching. That’s why the Amish are a good model, they know success isn’t based on technological proficiency; it’s about being committed to the realization of a dream.

Thanks to the following articles for inspiration:

A Community of Learners: Building a Supportive Learning Environment – Bob Lenz
http://www.edutopia.org/envision-schools-learning-community-respect

Editor’s Note: One Size Fits None – James Daly
http://www.edutopia.org/editors-note-one-size-fits-none

Collaboration: No Rock Stars Please – Paul Backett http://core77.com/blog/education/collaboration_no_rockstars_please_by_paul_backett_20547.asp

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1 Comment

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One response to “Integrating Technology: Lessons from the Amish

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