The last computer class I had was in high school, over 30 years ago. I had already completed Typing with Mrs. Grimmett, one of the most useful classes I’ve ever taken, and my senior year I was in a small group of students that got to play with the brand new desktop computers in the little lab down by the cafeteria.
I remember writing short blocks of rudimentary code, that the book we used was olive green with some red, and that we played computer golf.
And that’s about it.
Computers did not interest me, really. They weren’t a necessary part of my continuing education. In fact, I went through 6 years of college, through my MA, without using a desktop computer. I had one undergraduate professor who allowed us to handwrite our final paper because he insisted on footnotes, having no affection for the new, probably transitory idea of parenthetical attribution and endnotes.
I used a souped-up typewriter during grad school, one that would show four or five lines of text on a tiny rectangular screen and then save a (smallish) paper and print it out on command.
Even when I got my first post-grad job, it was a big thing when the community college learning lab in which I worked installed touch screen computers for the nursing simulations.
When I began teaching high school, there was neither a phone nor a computer in my room. Now there are 7 computers belonging to the school in addition to the smartphones most of my students have.
Anything I know about tech, from using Word to cultivating a Professional Learning Network with Twitter, from depending on PowerPoint in designing programs for our shows to creating ‘pinnable images’ for my blog posts, I have picked up from colleagues and students with very little formal training. Edcamps, #clmooc, techie debaters and actors, they have all been excellent sources for an education in edtech of all kinds.
Here’s what I know, and have known since the perky presenter reminded us of the Little Caesar’s “Pizza, Pizza” catchphrase as we ‘double-clicked’ our way through our first faculty desk-top training so many years ago: hands on is a hand up.
The last day of school this year I experienced a little meltdown. I won’t go into details, but the professional development scheduled the last half day before we were released for summer was frustrating. Granted, we could actually touch the computers, but that was about it.
And in that moment, I had a flash of what students feel like when they are constrained by a class that is covering what they know, what they are good at doing, and they just can’t move on to something new. If my emotional thermometer was rising, an adult with (usually) adult coping skills, then how must students feel at times? I wanted so badly to start clicking, dragging, and uploading to try out the new Learning Management System.
Today in the #clmooc, I learned how to use a new program and layer images. Jan Chow has some very useful and very clear instructions on her blog that let me play around with something new and add to my skill set. On my own schedule, I read her instructions, I followed the directions, I problem-solved when needed, and I ended up with this (not entirely relevant) image:
Full disclosure: the mooc has inspired poems, sketches, and blog posts as well. It’s not all about digital makes. Or cows.
The opportunity to play with something new is liberating! Once you figure out you can’t break anything on the Internet, getting your hands dirty by experimenting can present incredible stretches of that “flow” that comes with intense immersion in a task. May all teachers, including me, remember that when we meet up with our students this fall.