"Dog Ate My Homework," and Other Excuses Killed By the E-Classroom


The more modern American classrooms would be hardly recognizable to a teacher of the 19th century. Gone are the one-room buildings, the long benches, the pieces of slate, and the sticks of chalk. The most modern classrooms have SmartBoards, some even have personal iPads for each child. And along with the classroom gadgets, has come a wave of education technology.

This technology is revolutionizing education, but it is also throwing a wrench in many time-honored canonical classroom excuses. Here are just a few well-used excuses that will have to be retired:

1. The Dog Ate My Homework:

For years now the proverbial "dog ate my homework" excuse has garnered decreasing respect in the classroom. Putting aside the seemingly statistically disproportional frequency of paper consuming canines, the truth of the matter is that fewer assignments are materializing in physical form. Blackboard might be one of the most prevalent forums, but there has been a recent influx of similar sites that allow students to submit work online.   Unfortunately for students such sites also effectively take the wind from the sails of another well-worn excuse...

2. I Didn't Get the Assignment: 


Just check the online class syllabus.

3. Of Course I Did ALL The Reading:

Few students can truthfully swear that they have done all reading ever assigned in their classes. In college, where professors will routinely assign an entire book in a week or less, it is practically given that you will skim … or resort to Sparknotes, gleaning a list of "observations" from which to B.S. your way through class. Not anymore. The digital textbooks of CourseSmart track students who skim or skip or fail to lift the covers of their virtual books at all. Still in its infancy, the technology has its glitches – students have figured out ways to game the system. But nevertheless the technology will likely throw a wrench in the work habits of slews of students.

4. I Practiced At Home For A Whole Hour!

It's one thing to encourage a student that practice at home will help them nail a math concept and its another to actually ensure that discipline when the student is no longer in the classroom (I should know; I've faced this problem for years). But for at least some classes there is now a solution. Khan Academy began when Sal started tutoring his cousin in math. Within two years it evolved into an enormous online database of 4,000 micro lectures on a wide range of topics targeted at K-12. But Khan Academy goes farther, integrating lectures with target practice questions – tracking both the time spent practicing and the level of proficiency. Now I know exactly which students put in an hour of needed math practice …and which did not.

5. I Just Couldn't Get Out Of Bed:

Whether it's that 8:00 a.m. class you are wondering why you signed up for, or a phantom cough that keeps you under the covers, leaving your room no longer inhibits you from fully participating in some classes. With the increasing array of on-line courses the classroom comes to you. There is Coursera with over 1.75 million users and 62 contributing universities, Udacity founded by computer science Stanford Professor and edX powered by two of the world's leading universities: Harvard and MIT. All provide free online courses on everything from "Comic Books and Graphic Novels" to "Intro Bio: The Secret of Life."

 Education technology is increasing exponentially, forever altering the landscape of the classroom. In most respects the technology is revolutionary – personally, as a practicing teacher, the implications for personalized learning and targeted study and support are extremely exciting. True, as a nation we have a long way to go before the technology can reach the most needy students – low-income students who can't yet rely on internet at home to supplement their study, and poorly funded schools that can not afford costly technology for their classrooms.

But amidst the flurry of online courses and practice sets and forums, it's amusing to ponder how education technology will affect excuses. Students can be just as ingenious and determined as start-ups, and I have no doubt that while the venerable "the dog ate my homework" might have to be shelved, new cyber savvy excuses are just a few clicks away.