How to Drive a Model T: Hope for Open EdTech

How to Drive a Model T: Hope for Open EdTech

I learned to drive in a Model T.

No, I was not born in the early part of the 20th century.  My Dad rebuilt Model T’s and we would drive them in the parades.


1925 Model T Depot Hack with singing group early 70's

Dad’s 1925 Model T Depot Hack ready for the parade, no idea of the singing group’s identity


It was a beautiful autumn day and we had just finished riding in the Homecoming Parade. I was so excited that Dad was going to let me drive the 1925 Hack down the street in front of our house. He was careful to instruct me.

“Bring the lever for the gas up, match the spark with the other lever.  That is good.  Listen to the Motor.”

“Now, put the hand lever in the middle position to let off the parking break.  Slowly push the left petal to move it forward.  Increase the gas with your right hand.  Let her get up to speed.”

“Now drop the hand lever all the way forward as you take your left foot off the clutch petal.  Good we are in second.  Advance the spark with your left hand.  Increase the gas.”

“We’re running out of road. Pull the hand lever up to the middle and push slowly on the right pedal to put on the break.  You forgot to decrease the gas and spark with your hands.  Quick the engine is racing”

Wait, you look confused.  Oh, that is right.  You likely have not driven a Model T.



The controls on a Model T look totally foreign to someone who has driven today.  The gas was increased and decreased with the right hand,spark on the left.  The right pedal is the break.  The left pedal is the low gear when pushed down and high gear with all the way up and hand lever is in drive.  The hand lever on the left was parking break, neutral, and drive.  The only things that really resembled modern automotive controls were the steering wheel and location of the break pedal.

When was the first car with modern control produced?  1916.  To be specific, a 1916 Cadillac  Type 53.  With the exception of the starter button, on the floor, the Cadillac had the controls in locations that anyone who learned to drive today would recognize: right pedal = gas, middle pedal = brake, left pedal = clutch, gear shift to the right of the driver, parking break next to gear shift.  If you have driven a modern, standard transmission, car, then you could drive a 1916 Cadillac Type 53 with just knowledge of the gear shift pattern.



So, what does this have to do with edtech or open edtech?



The thing that I really dislike about renting a car at the airport is the three hours of workshops necessary to learn to drive the car I am renting before I can have the keys and get on my way.

Of course, that is not what happens.  You walk up, verify your identity and method of payment, and drive off.  Your prior knowledge of driving  a car transfers to driving this new car even if it is not a fourteen year-old Camry you have at home.  There is no need for training.

Why? Because the user experience in modern automobiles are almost totally identical.  Except for the starting button location and audio controls, they have been for years.  Once you know how to drive one car, you are pretty much ready to drive any other car in the world.  Well, as long as you know which side of the road to drive on.

Educational Technology is still in the early stages of its development.  Well, at least computer based, chalk and blackboards have been around for a while as have other forms of educational technology.  Computer based education technology has been around for several decades, but it is still at a stage when the standards of user interface and experience have not been standardized or synchronized.  The Model T had the same controls from 1908 to 1927 even though Cadillac developed the modern user interface in 1916.  It took time for all of the manufactures to start to align on the standards.  It took time for all of the manufactures to understand that having the same user interface was beneficial to the user and their sales, not to mention safety.  I believe that Educational Technology has started heading toward a common user interface as designs for consumer sites have started to standardize to improve the user experience. This will continue.

Be wary of any software that requires extensive training.  We may not be in the 1950s, when the controls were pretty standard world wide except for a few flirtations with push button transmission controls.  But we are moving past the debate over tillers versus steering wheels.  The goal of technology should be to head in the direction of a common user experience.  The goal for those that recommend educational technology is to select technologies that follow good design principles and empower the users, without training.

The golden age of technology will be when we can say “have you used a computer? Oh, of course you have. Good, then you know how to use this”.   The age of “no need for any training”, is not quite here, but it is getting close.  If you have used an Learning Management System (LMS), there is a good chance you need little training to use the new one.  If you need extensive training, maybe that was not the right ‘new’ LMS. But imagine that there is really no need to provide any training on the tool, what could we do with that time to engage in learning about Open Pedagogy or Critical Instructional Design.  Imagine just…well, just handing instructors the keys and letting them drive off.

I am a dreamer.  So, I also dream of the day when the Learning Management System is not needed.  When we all become our own system admins and build our own hot rods from parts our friends share with us.  We will no longer need Ford or Cadillac to build out cars for us. But that sounds like another post.

For those in a place to recommend EdTech tools to others, ask this question before you make another recommendations: “Is this a Model T?”


Open EdTech

There was a number of conversations and sessions at OpenEd16 discussing the need for tools to develop Open Educational Resources (OER) and to enable Open Education Practices (OEP) or Open Pedagogy.  Some of the tools are out there, but some of the user interfaces have a high learning bar or require skilled duct taping of a few things together.  The idea of a Choral Explanation and development work from Lumen is wonderful.  But could similar things be accomplished with groups on Could we use a Github type Open Source Software concept as Brad Payne and others have suggested? Do we use a Federated Wiki or fork GitHub?

We are still in the early stages of development.  Tinkering in the garage to create collaborative tools.  There are many perspectives.  From the chorus of garage mechanics experimenting with steam, gas, kerosene, or electric engines will come an idea that sticks.  From the debates about controlling the gasoline with a hand lever or a foot pedal, will come a consensus.  It will take time and it may take time for technologies to be built that allow for a better way.  Just like battery powered cars were abandoned due to the pesky problem of spilled sulfuric acid when driving on dirty roads and a range of a few miles have been over come with better battery technology, the current limitations of collaboration with peer review and quality control that still hamper a true choral explanation will be solved with new strategies and technologies.

The Open Community needs tinkerers working on multiple projects.   The user experience will not be the same on each.  But imagine if everyone stopped thinking of different control systems for automobiles after Henry Ford developed his.  We would still be controlling the speed of our cars with our right hand.  How would we answer our phones?  What we need is more IndieEdTechers recording new rifts in the garage. As with most innovations, it may come from our colleagues in education, our students.

The hope is that with API Nirvana, Design Thinking Sprints, and goal of sharing effortlessly that the tools developed in the future will allow Open Education Resource development and implementation to be like going to the airport and picking up a rental car.  History says that technologies will become more standardized which will enable more Open behaviors with less difficulty.


Look down the Road

I still remember learning to drive a Model T that autumn day with my Dad.  There was one more instruction that my Dad gave me that comes to mind when I am driving or thinking about the future.


“Keep your eyes up, Look down the road”


ford model t in front of nursing home

Dad driving 1926 Model T Touring


Feature Image by Alan Levine – Open as a New Mexico Road


2 Comments How to Drive a Model T: Hope for Open EdTech

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *