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June 14, 2005

"A Willingness to Tinker and Teach Themselves"
Learning Technology Through Tinkering

Teaching teachers how to effectively use technology for teaching is imperative, according to Gary Kaye writing in his article in this week's Campus Technology,

[The computer] is not just for PowerPoint presentations and browsing the Internet. In fact, it’s imperative that we integrate AV-based and interactive technologies into every element of the schools or we’ll have a generation of kids that can’t pay attention and are bored. [...]  We’ve added PowerPoint, PDFs and even fancy Web browsing to the curriculum, but can we all agree someone who’s got a GameBoy with them in their backpack is going to be bored in virtually any lecture-style course?

This is immediately followed by a rebuttal in the Campus Technology forum.  The author quotes the original article further:

Then came a host of other technological gear and software that was well-meaning, but difficult to use. Thousands of titles. All, cheap, readily available and ultimately better understood by the pupil than the teacher. Why? No training.

And then responds:

The bottom line is, they're more comfortable tinkering.  In fact, a willingness to tinker with computers is what landed me a position as an Information Technology director just a few years after receiving a Secondary Math Education degree.  And that's my main point: these instructors need to develop a willingness to tinker and teach themselves.

It's a constant problem, even within IT organizations, that to stay on top of new technology requires tinkering.  This has happened to me many times.  I'll write an article for streamingmedia.com or a white paper for a corporate client on some technical topic outside my usual day-to-day experience, and as a result of research and tinkering, learn something new.  For me, that knowledge typically becomes useful in other (unrelated) domains just about 100% of the time.  My review of  NetLimiter was just such an example - within weeks of writing that, my group at Harvard Business School needed just such a tool for stress-testing some Flash components and I happened to have the right info top-of-mind.  

None of this will be a surprise to folks reading this blog - we're all techies and we know that often, the knowledge and connecting-the-dots that comes from tinkering can't be achieved any other way.  But here's why the teachers in Kaye's article above aren't as tech-savvy as their students - the students often have little better to do than tinker!  Those of us with jobs, families, mortgages and lawns to mow can't always find the unstructured time to explore the uses for new technology.  

Bottom line:  Too often, tinkering at work looks a lot like "doing nothing:"   But properly valued -- and managed (with an overall strategic direction,  boundaries and appropriate guidance) -- tinkering time can be an essential training tool for  IT workers, teachers, and anyone else working with (creating with!) technology.

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Learning Technology Through Tinkering'
from learningAPI.com: Media and Learning Technology - Larry Bouthillier.