I had an interesting read and reflection on Peter Skillen’s blog yesterday. A recent post “Deep Understanding & the Issue of Transfer” really resonates with me and I’ve been mulling over his words ever since I read the entry.
In one posting, Peter has been able to convey to me the essence of successful use of technology. Now, I don’t use terms like constructivism or connectivism for a couple of reasons. First, just the terms seem to polarize people and their thinking. Secondly, I see people using them in all kinds of scenarios that just don’t make sense to me. “In my constructivist classroom, we skyped with so and so”. And, the point to this exercise is… “Well, my students are connected to other…” And, the point to this exercise is… I keep waiting for the answer. Did we learn something new? Did we compare cultures? Did we exchange anything other than a couple of minutes for the sake of doing something? Seriously, is the fruit hanging that low?
Later on, there was a response by Colin Jagoe to Peter’s original post “When will I use this again?”. I answered, “Never, but that’s not the point, you’re working your brain to make it better able to solve problems that you WILL encounter later on.” I love it and says so much.
For me, I fear the effects that the point and click world can have. I shiver when I hear some of the tripe that passes as wisdom. “It’s not about the technology; it’s about the teaching”. Who are we kidding? It’s about the understanding. It’s about applying concepts in new contexts without having to learn something new. It’s about connecting the dots. If you’re bringing technology into the learning, then it needs to be a dot that is just as critical as any other component.
Case in point — yesterday morning was a particularly high moment for me. @kellypower was over for a visit and we were discussing how we were about to change the world, or at least our little part of it. Into the middle of our conversation, I get a “house on fire” interruption. It seems that we have some vendor guests who are having computer problems. Using my best management skills, I ask a couple of questions to determine the importance of this interruption and promise to help out in 15-20 minutes.
Well, it turns out that they have “a Powerpoint” (is that even a noun?) that they want to use but Microsoft Powerpoint isn’t on the computer connected to the SMART Board that they’ll be using in our computer lab. I see the fear and the deer in the headlights look when I try to explain that OpenOffice will do the trick and decide to avoid the inevitable argument and quickly download and install Microsoft’s Powerpoint viewer. But, that was the beginning of the problem. There was also a Quicktime move that wouldn’t play because we didn’t have the latest version of Quicktime installed and Quicktime downloads are blocked on our network. So, I emailed the file to myself and went back to my room to convert it to FLV and then post it on my website so that they could view it in a browser. “Oh, that sounds like a good idea – we should get our developers to do that.”
Now, it’s not like I’m a genius or anything. Ask anyone; I just continue to press keys like a Skinnerian rat until something good happens. Seriously, though, as a student and teacher of computer science, I’m able to see the dots and connect them. For me, this is the understanding that helps me get through a day of problem solving. I hark back to Colin’s original quote and he’s nailed the concept. By staying aware of where the world and technology is headed, I can transfer the old learning to the new contexts. Shouldn’t we all?
Peter continues in his blog to talk about the research and opportunities to help students with these concepts. Inevitably, with Peter, we end up with a discussion of Logo and the benefits of learning how to program. It should come as no surprise that I’m a big fan and believer in his words. I like his thoughts about transference. Even with the Skype example above, there are opportunities to see beyond the phone call. Are they taken?
It’s a sad state of affairs when I take a look at programming as a discipline. Over the years, we’ve seen the importance of programming decline in the eyes of the decision makers. I think that many buy into the point and click and good things happen without understanding why notion. How often do you hear “Kids today are so insightful; they can do anything”. Really? I think that, if you truly peel back what you see with technology use, you’ll see an apple just hit them right in the forehead. I think, more than ever, that we need to incorporate programming and complex systems into our educational environment. The world isn’t getting simpler. It’s more technological and complex than ever. These skills, and even more importantly, these deep understandings are crucial.