Where’s the Plan?

I read this story with great interest this morning.

Given Tablets but No Teachers, Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves

Thinking it though, I ran the range of emotion.

My first reaction was “Go Kids!”  I still feel the same way.  That speaks volumes for the power of investigation and curiosity, to be sure.  I think it reinforces the notion that we’re learners by nature.

I then turned to myself.  I had a strong background in programming when I started teaching but it hardly prepared me for the things that were evolving in Ontario educational computer use.  When three Icon computers showed up on my doorstep, I had to learn a great deal of the QNX operating system to get them running, install software, and trouble shoot.  Wait, let me step backwards, before this happened, I had to learn about networking, cabling, and terminators.  Then came the concept of a printer which, to this day, remains obscure.  It reinforced the notion that paperless was the only way to go!

Time moves on and so did technology.  We purchased Radio Shack TRS-80 and Commodore 8032 computers.  A couple more huge learning opportunities.  Eventually, we ended up with computers running MS-DOS and all of the previous learning started to come together and make sense.  Next up — Windows, lots of versions and Macintosh OS.  I’ve often stated that this was where I truly stopped learning the intimate parts of a computer, giving it up and believing in magic.

Looking back, I enjoyed the learning process and I think it has served me well.  In terms of time, though, it was some of the most inefficient use of my time.  Thankfully, I’ve always believed that trying and failing can work for me.

There was a lot of learning to be done, to be sure.  I compare my process with that described in the article.  Tablet technology is made to be intuitive.  The others – not so much.  But I also had a gun to my head.  Without technology support, it was up to me to learn this and put it into place.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had the devices to use with my students.  I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that there were a handful of students who joined me at lunch, before and after school to learn how to put these things together.  We all felt the pressure to understand and to make it work.  I wasn’t alone; teachers in every school in the province were going through the same ordeal.  While we were learning on the fly, it was in a focused direction.  We knew where we were headed.  Sort of, anyway.

Later on, of course, the proliferation of computers required entire departments devoted to the technical support of these things.

Later in the day, my mind started to change.  I still have the admiration for the students but now feel anger about the whole process.  How dare we drop technology onto students and hope that they figure it out for themselves?  Is that a plan for sustainability?  Where is the quality control?  Can serious results be expected from this?  I don’t want to appear too harsh on OLPC.  I admire the program and its goals.

I fear that the wrong conclusions will be drawn from any success noted.  Could we assume that today’s teachers have enough time and curiosity to sit down with today’s technology and just figure it out?  Is an implementation plan without training really going to produce good results?

We’ve all heard the comments “The kids know more than I do…”  Are we ready to build a whole program on that assumption?


Author: dougpete

The content of this blog is generated by whatever strikes my fancy at any given point. It might be computers, weather, political, or something else in nature. I experiment and comment a lot on things so don't take anything here too seriously; I might change my mind a day later but what you read is my thought and opinion at the time I wrote it! My personal website is at: http://www.dougpeterson.ca Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dougpete I'm bookmarking things at: http://www.diigo.com/user/dougpete

5 thoughts on “Where’s the Plan?”

  1. Doug, thanks so much for articulating some of the things that were niggling at the back of my brain. One of the other comments I read on the article also resonated with me (maybe because I have a hugely differentiated group of learners this year) – did every kid have the same success? What happened for the ones who didn’t “get it” right away. Even if the plan is a loose framework created with LOTS of student input, there needs to be one.


  2. It was an interesting experiment but one has to ask how much more might they have learned with a trained teacher? It also makes one wonder if a teacher might have limited them some by not letting them “hack” the system. It is a balance.


  3. I shudder sometimes when I hear the comment “hack”. I think that the meaning changes depending upon the person using it. Real hacking is a skill. I also wonder how people who had never seen a tablet before would even want to or even know the value in changing the background.


  4. Lisa, I love your comment. You describe the essence of teaching; the ability to personalize the learning based upon the needs and abilities of the learner. Excellent observation.


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