Recipe or Approach

by Jean Tower

People often ask me for help solving technology problems. Sometimes they can’t get the program to do exactly what they think it should do or what they want it to do. Other times, they have an idea of something that “might be possible” and want to brainstorm making it a reality. Regardless of what kind of problem solving is required, there are those people who want ideas about how to approach it and others who want an exact step-by-step recipe. For the most part, I am trying to get out of the recipe business.

Even though it seems like technology has been with us for quite some time already, the shape that it currently takes in schools is relatively new, and will remain “relatively new” because as quickly as we learn one thing it is being replaced with another. We are constant pioneers. The rule of thumb in techno-circles is that the computer you buy today would cost half what you paid in 18 months (or, you could get twice the computer for the same money). Web technologies, software applications, and information peripherals (scanners, cameras) are changing just as quickly. We can let this speed of change paralyze us into inaction or we can meet the challenge in a way that reinforces our image as educators. We can develop a “recipe” that means that when there is an operating system or software upgrade we are near tears with the thought of having to change. Or, we can become lean, mean learning machines, never afraid of taking on a new technology because we have practiced our approach, our learning stance.

The best educators are constantly teaching, learning and relearning – they refine their pedagogy, hone their practice, and reflect on their students and curriculum all the time. Educators need to add another learning dimension to their repertoire. They must become adept at confronting and taming new technologies – rather than learn a recipe-like approach (push that button, click this icon) teachers must build a foundation of skills that will serve them when the next technological advance comes. They need to know how to approach new technologies and to feel safe to take some risks using them. Teachers need to help students do the same. Economists predict that 80% of the jobs that our current third graders will have available when they graduate from college do not even exist now. Surely, the technology and software to do these jobs doesn’t exist yet either. The important skills they will need, therefore, do not revolve around specific platforms or applications, but around a strong understanding of and approach to technology in general, as well as a solid foundation in understanding what technology can do for them.

The task of figuring out new technologies and software applications isn’t going to go away – as soon we learn one application or one way of doing something, we could already be learning the “next best thing.” We must equip ourselves and our students with the skills and the mindset to approach new technologies rather than depend on recipes. We should expect to be in constant learning mode, modeling that for our students.

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