Surviving the high-tech classroom

Posted: Friday, May 24, 2002

If you're a techno-terrified teacher, an average day can be fairly intimidating. As you watch kids sashay into your classroom with everything from wristwatch-size TVs to wireless computers that allow them to talk behind your back, you yearn for retirement. Then one day comes the "gift" you've been dreading: three hours a week in your school's computer lab whether you want it or not, allowing you to really show your students how little you know about the age you're living in. But, there's no need to panic. Just practice Dr. Ohler's three rules of surviving the high tech classroom.

Rule 1: "Don't be afraid of 10-year-olds who know three times as much as you do. They're an excellent source of free labor." Visualize yourself as a sheriff who can deputize all the kids you need to help you. This distracts your students while giving you the assistance you require.

Rule 2: "Be nice to your techies." These high-tech fix-it folks do have feelings, despite persistent rumors to the contrary. The nicer you are to them, the more computer bugs they will gladly hunt down and squash for you. Ignore Rule 2 if your school district hasn't had the foresight to hire techies.

Rule 3: "Practice Zen and the art of living gracefully with technology." This is a philosophical way of saying, "The only thing permanent these days is change, so practice detachment." This is itself a philosophical way of saying, "Your computer's embarrassingly obsolete the moment you buy it. Upgrades are forever."

Let me give you an example of how these rules work.

You are told you will have a "scanner" in the computer lab. You're thinking police scanner - perhaps to keep tabs on what's happening on the playground - or maybe one of those magical gadgets at the checkout counter that seems to know exactly how much your bag of potato chips costs. But no, this is a machine that works a bit like a photocopier connected to a computer: Place a photograph on the scanner, click the mouse madly while murmuring a few incantations, and shazzam, the photo shows up as a picture on the computer screen. Unfortunately, beyond finding the scanner's on-switch you're completely lost.

In the nanosecond before the kids can spot your helplessness and vulnerability, institute Rule 1 by deputizing students who are scanner savvy. It will be their job to manage the scanner station, which you didn't have the time or know-how to do anyway. They get credit, a complimentary letter home and the opportunity to learn how to teach others. Meanwhile, you get to pray for a time machine to transport you to sometime in the 1950s.

With a little luck, the scanner will work just fine and you won't need a techie. But if you do, remember Rule 2. Before actually asking the techie to fix anything, though, say something complimentary, like "Gosh, nice pocket protector. Did you make it yourself?" As the techie swoons, state your technical needs clearly and succinctly.

But your sanity lies in Rule 3. No need to worry about remembering all the clicks and tricks the kids and the techies are showing you because next year's scanner will be completely different. This gives you an opportunity to practice and refine Rules 1 and 2. Accepting obsolescence (yours and your machine's) is just part of the digital age dance.

Above all, don't let your incompetence with technology make you pessimistic about its value in education. It does have wonderful potential to forge real, creative connections between the worlds of school, work and personal fulfillment. But on a bad day when inspiration escapes you, just take heart and remember: The problem isn't that you're ignorant. It's that the little bit you do know is irrelevant.

Jason Ohler is professor of educational technology at the University of Alaska Southeast and can be reached at jason@jasonohler.com.



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