In any reasonable system, computer applications would not be a class. When schools think about digital literacy, far too many focus on the simple: teaching tools. Teaching tools is easy: it’s easy to add “digital literacy” to graduation requirements and plop kids down in mandatory technology classes. Unfortunately, this is exactly the wrong approach. In doing so, you teach students to use the tools, but not how to use the tools. A tool, and knowledge of it, is only as useful as how its applied. Truly teaching digital literacy requires integrating the tools directly into the curriculum of other disciplines, which is definitely difficult.
The problem is that schools are trapped in the mindset which is used to teach other tools. Other tools are virtually indistinguishable from their content. When you learn to read (particularly at advanced levels), you also learn to read. In the process of learning the tool, you learn the content, and vice versa. Schools have attempted to do this with technology, to poor results. When you teach technology as its taught in most schools, you only teach the tool, without the application.
Even worse is when IT administrators try to add rigor to the technology education in exactly the wrong way. Apparently, one technology director feels that students should use the most difficult software, just because it is difficult.
However, even iLife has its drawbacks in an educational setting. It simply hands so much to the students that they struggle with software (whether Windows, Linux, or even pro-level software on the Mac) that isn’t so brilliantly plug and play. Yes, iLife rocks in many ways, but the level of spoonfeeding it encourages actually makes me think twice about using it widely, especially at the high school level.
This argument essentially comes down to iLife being too good. Yes, you read that correctly: the software is bad because it’s too good. Apparently, we should make students’ lives miserable, because they’re going to be miserable when they grow up.
The fact is that 99% of students are never going to need to go beyond basic multimedia productions. The highly usable tools of iLife are more than satisfactory for everything but professional tasks. Beyond that, the future programmers and film editors probably have the initiative to seek out and learn the advanced software themselves.
This argument reminds me of the teachers who used to (and still do) require students to never use calculators. There argument for this usually amounts to the idea that students won’t have calculators in the “real world.” Of course, in the real world calculators are readily available: every computer and cell phone has one. When students go out into the world, they will be able to make decisions with their sotware. In fact, that’s probably a far better thing to teach: how to chose good software. Clearly this IT admin could use a lesson or two himself.
The bottom line is that schools should never teach students to accept the subpar. This is the kind of thinking which puts IT administrators and educators at odds and puts technology above actual learning. Technology, especially bad technology, should never be taught for technology’s sake.
(Via Daring Fireball)
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