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Blog: Wednesday, April 5th, 2017
Reflections of a Luddite
At the recent Long Term Service Banquet, the Board honoured our employees who have served in the district for 20, 25, 30, and 35 years (We occasionally recognize some who have been with us for 40 years!!). For those of you who have attended the event in the last few years, you will know that I take the honorees on a little walk down “amnesia lane” and look back at what life and school was like 30 years ago when many of these dedicated staff first started working for the district. It is done in good humour, but also as a stark recognition of the fact that school districts in general, and classrooms in particular, have changed significantly over the last three decades. For instance, one of the things I present is a picture of a Gestetner machine, which has been (thankfully) replaced by the very slick photocopying machines you see in our schools today.
Most of the recent innovations in our profession have come to us as a consequence of the computer age. The old school calculators, telephones, and projectors that we used in the 1980’s have all been replaced with computers and ubiquitous apps that are at our fingertips. For some people in this generation It must be occasionally terrifying to know that we have students who are far more adept at using these tools than we are, or will ever be. While I can navigate my way around social media, I have come to realize that I will always be two steps behind my kids. Just when I figured out Twitter, they migrated to Facebook. Just when I thought I got the gist of Facebook, they moved to Instagram and Snapchat. As we have rolled out our IT Roadmap 2.0 and I witness more and more technology in our classrooms, teachers have had to get used to the fact that many of their students will be ‘ahead’ of them in terms of their facility with new technology.
As a technology luddite myself, one who marveled at the Apple IIe we got in our school in 1987, I would offer some advice to those who are now faced with the daunting task of teaching a new curriculum, empowered by technology that is changing faster than we can sometimes imagine.
If you think about the vast number of new tools and apps that are released on a yearly basis, you will quickly realize that you can’t possibly keep up. So don’t sweat it; you don’t have to master all of them. I visited a classroom recently where the teacher told me her focus was on mastering the Google Classroom Apps, and that she was going to let her kids teach each other about the others. The rest of the tools she would learn on an as needed basis. Over time she will learn a few platforms to assist with her instructional program and add more formal options for students.
Teachers will tell you that most students are fearless when it comes to taking on and troubleshooting technology. They are okay with being stuck, can ask a friend and know how to access tutorials on Youtube. If you think about the communication, problem solving, collaboration, critical thinking skills they use to get around these issues we would see this as a golden opportunity to connect the dots for them.
Use Students as Mentors
We have to learn to be okay with and take advantage of the fact that there will be kids who are far more skilled than we are with technology. I received “guided tours” from students in three of the classrooms I visited this year. One of my observations about each of these students (from very different schools) was that the teacher had selected them because they had some pre-existing expertise in the use of various technology tools. It was interesting to observe that they had become “tech mentors” for their peers.
I think we will find that, for the most part, there is less stigma among students associated with asking questions about a technology tool versus about a math problem, for example. The fact is, our students have been asking questions about their apps, tablets, and laptops since they first came into contact with them. They have no problem with asking their classmates for help, so it makes sense to appoint two or three helpers who can moderate the network among their peers.
Don’t be Afraid to Let Go
Remember Nexopia? Ten years ago, Nexopia was going to be the next social networking tool to revolutionize our communications. I can recall my daughter helping me figure out how to use it to communicate with her soccer teammates, whom I coached at the time. You will now know that Nexopia went the way of the dodo bird because the company was bought out and Facebook took over the scene. I know it is frustrating to learn a new tool only to discover that it is no longer useful, but who among us continues to use an oven to heat up our lunches, when you have ready access to a microwave?
That's why it's important to keep all this in perspective. Technology tools come and go, so we need to take the time to decide where we want to spend our energy and be prepared to let go when it’s time. This is an important skill also. Our students today are growing up in a world filled with websites, programs, apps, and tools that are readily available to them. They are willing to let go of one tool when they find a better one and we have to feel comfortable doing the same.