Technology as separate or integrated

Last week I participate in an #isedchat about whether “technology” classes should be taught separately or if tech should be more fully integrated into the work that students do within their academic classes.  The consensus seemed to be that technology should be integrated into the academic classes themselves.  But then there was the problem of how, exactly, that was supposed to happen.  What do you do with the teachers who aren’t particularly tech savvy?  How do you decide on what kind of technology gets incorporated?  These are tough questions that I see many schools wrestle with.

I can think of some things that I think every student should know, technology-wise, but many of these are basic.  File–>Save, for example.  There are standards out there, but they’re pretty vague.  The ones I see most teachers and students really struggling with are these:

6. Technology Operations and Concepts
Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems, and operations. Students:
a. understand and use technology systems.
b. select and use applications effectively and productively.
c. troubleshoot systems and applications.
d. transfer current knowledge to learning of new technologies.


These are, of course, fairly vague as well.  What systems are we talking about here?  In this case, though, I kind of like the vagueness, because one thing I can’t stand is someone who can only use a particular product–be it Microsoft or Apple or Google or even Linux.  It’s okay to like or feel more comfortable with any of these, but when you find yourself in front of a different system, you are not allowed to throw up your hands (see 6d. above).  These are all things I explicitly try to do in my tech classes.  But I could see these things being incorporated elsewhere.  How does one do this?

There are lots of ways, but mainly, assign things that involve the use of said systems, and don’t be crazy specific about which systems the students use.  Take writing a paper, for example.  Let them use Google Docs or Word or LaTex or a basic text editor, but you can require it be formatted a certain way and that it be a pdf file in its final format (to save you from converting files yourself).  And then the students need to figure that out and in the process, will learn a little about file formats.  Have them include a picture or a graph.  File formats, file resizing, and a little bit of spreadsheet calculation will be absorbed this way.

Assign a podcast or an animated slideshow or a documentary.  Now we’re talking–all kinds of systems!  All kinds of file types.  How do you get that YouTube video downloaded and into your remixed version?  They will figure it out.  There’s this thing called Google (or Bing, whatever).

Assign some data analysis and visualization.  Let them figure out how to do this.  (Yep, Google, again.)

And I’m not saying you might not make suggestions about what works or provide support as they struggle, but instead of defining the process so specifically, why not define the goal and let them figure out the process.

Because I’m telling you, a student who doesn’t know that File–>Save exists in almost every program or that ctrl-c is copy and ctrl-v is paste (cmd-c or cmd-v) or who can’t search for the answers to their questions isn’t going to survive the 21st century.  And a single “tech” class where these things are taught (out of context) and never again used, probably isn’t going to cut it.

I’m happy to teach those classes.  They’re fun, but even more fun is when what you teach gets incorporated into many classes.  It makes it a much more worthwhile endeavor.  And it might make it an obsolete endeavor, which, honestly, is a good thing.