The Curse of… “Default Settings?”

This post begins with a bigfat pointyfinger toward a recent post on Dean Shareski’s blog: “Ideas and Thoughts.”  The title was so fitting that I couldn’t bring the idea without it somewhat as well.


Nuts & bolts

Though I took the post pretty lightly through the first paragraph, I then started seeing the relevance of this in my world.  The post rants away at the fact that so many people take technological tools at face value-  rarely digging down beyond default settings to see what all the tool might actually be able to do.  By actually changing each potential setting to fit the needs of the user, the device becomes a much better tool in the hands of the owner.  Always seemed pretty simple to me.  In fact, at one point in the post he describes working with students who were all using smartphones.  He noted that the students in that setting who were familiar with the customization of the device were much more satisfied users.

“I told them to start thinking like hackers. I asked them to think of their devices in terms of what it should be able to do rather than only what it does.”  ~Dean Shareski

These stories made my brain go in two directions, really.  One was a nuts & bolts connection where I realized how purposefully I take teachers new to the MacBook Pro (our weapon of choice) almost directly to the System Preferences pane before beginning any real work.  In my comment on Dean’s blog I spoke of this in a bit more detail.  Towards the end of my rather lengthy comment, I took the idea of defeating default settings (much as Dean vaguely suggested at the end) to its other destination in my brain.  That is, when we as teachers immediately jump purposefully and directly into a new world with new possibilities that we truly feel control over, then we can move into new dimensions.

Up there -- somewhere

And beyond

The next pointyfinger goes here.  By the time I read this post, Will Richardson had just dropped a post that seemed to take the seeds of that idea into full-blown question.  Entitled “If We Could Start Over, What Could We Build?“, the piece references a 2000 CITE article and looks at how nearly true reform is when it is retrofitted over the top of what we are currently doing.  To me, the difficulties of this are immediately apparent.  In fact, a book I am reading right now speaks, at least metaphorically, to the problems with building cumbersome entities on top of existing ones as a quick fix for the immediate moment.  While the book, (Kluge by Gary Marcus) speaks about the human brain’s construction and modification throughout evolution, school leaders at any level will likely be able to draw parallels with their situation.

Again, repeating my deeper connections to some of these ideas here seems silly when reading the referenced post/commentary in context makes better sense.  So therefore, I won’t do a repeat here.  But suffice it to say, I state my quite practical belief in finding ways to make this sort of “system redo” possible.  To me, the only practical way to hit reset and start anew within your own complex system today, is to build a pilot.  Pilot programs that are allowed the charge of innovation can truly create a fishbowl of study in your neck of the woods.  Do it differently.  Do it now.  Think hard, set something up…  then set about doing it.  Don’t just talk about what it would be like if you followed another approach, actually find out.  In science, we call this a controlled experimental setup.  In the rest of the world, we just call this smart practice.

“Pilot programs that are allowed the charge of innovation can truly create a fishbowl of study in your neck of the woods.”

Read both posts/comments.  And if you’re really adventurous, get the book.  Think of starting from scratch.  Think of rebuilding your system.  Think of rewiring your brain.  Hey…  if that all seems a bit much to you, at the very least think of changing the settings on your iPhone.  You might be surprised what all it can do!


*Point by Sarah G on Flickr
*Up there — somewhere by Adrian Black on Flickr

Sean Nash

Biology teacher in the great state of Kansas. Back at it in the classroom after a 30-year career in Missouri. Former District Curriculum Administrator, Instructional Technology Coordinator, and Instructional Coach. Biology instructor since 1993. Find more about my passions and my work at


  1. I read Will’s post () and commented that I am faced with trying to figure out how to conduct a “system redo” in our district. I am not sure that is exactly what the powers-that-be had in mind when they made be technology integration coordinator but now that I am in a position to have some influence (maybe), I intend to have some influence. We need to get away from looking at technology installation as being the same thing as integration. Even the term integration may not be appropriate because it still focuses attention on technology rather than instruction. Will spoke of a school chief learning officer in one of his recent posts, and (not to get caught up in semantics) the idea is that technology, communication technologies, the Web, etc. represent a method or process to a desired outcome rather than the solution or desired outcome itself. Too often we put “technology stuff” into our schools and classrooms and expect some sort of change. Nash, one of your replies in the comments section to Will’s latest post was about beginning a pilot program to introduce changes into existing structures. This is an interesting idea. One of my first thoughts in this new position was about developing a program whereby we target teachers inclined to be innovative in the classroom and create sort of a hyper-support system for them as a way to get a foothold into the campus culture; stuff like greater individual attention from me and our other facilitator, fast-tracking technology needs for their ideas, etc. This is not as formal as a pilot program but what do you think? Also, could you talk about how your pilot program came into being, how did you get the existing teaching/power structure to participate?

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