BECOMING A TECH PRODUCT EXPERT

Original VIC-20 box

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I am still on my ACTEM10 buzz and I know going to that conference put a lot of great things on the table for me to think about

How much technology is in the average classroom today?  Much more than we realize and I don’t believe that teachers have a great deal of extra time to learn all the new technologies out there, much less learn the more advanced features of many of the software programs that are already in our classrooms.  Especially when the learning is expected to be or has to be done independently and in addition to everything else.

No matter how incredible these software or hardware products may be, they can not be used effectively or fully under those circumstances.  Personal interest may go a long ways towards learning about some things, but no matter how much the individual might want to learn something new to do with technology and how great the training videos might be, without the time to do it, can we develop acceptable levels of expertise?  I don’t think so.

While I was at the ACTEM conference, I got an opportunity to see Vendor Representatives who could focus on “knowing” one product or line whiz use it at a much higher level than most of us can  and usually they had other company employees there who were able to assist in answering question they didn’t know.  I found myself being a “lot” jealous about that and thought about how it would be nice to only have to “know” one type of software/product line (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Adobe, etc.) and really get to know the in’s and out’s of that product – in other words become an expert.

The old rule was that it takes at least 8 years to become an expert at something, but in the tech world, in 3-4 years – not  8 years, most everything we are using today will be obsolete.  So can we realistically be expected to become “expert” with these new tools in a much shorter period of time?  Have the requirements to become an expert in some cases been shortened to a couple of years or even months (until the newest and best update)?

Should we feel comfortable enough to teach these tools to others in a classroom and not feel inadequate because we don’t know the software at what is considered an expert level or even much beyond beginner in many cases or should we just keep what most of us are doing now, just do it and hope for the best.  Most of us just hope for the best.

We just have to know too much “stuff” to be expert and remain current in everything (teaching technology, etc.), unless we make a specific effort to do so on our own time or that we have acquired in other ways.  A good example of this is the number of word processing packages that I have to know how to use in my classroom this year:  Microsoft Word (PC) and (Mac) versions which are different, Apple’s Pages, Google Docs, Open Office, Text Edit and something new Bean.  I also dabble with Zoho Writer, Adobe Buzzword and a couple of others, just because I want to continue to see how they are progressing – just in case I have a need to use them.

Yes I have the ability to transfer my previous knowledge about how to use a word processor, but when it comes to using features beyond the basics or intermediate levels, I usually don’t use them unless I am in the PC version of Word 2007, the one I know best.  Word 2010 is now on the street, so my level of expertise is not nearly as high as it was before this product was updated.  I have been unable to focus or use that product at the same level I did previously,  when I used Word 2007 daily at an advanced level.

Just multiply this issue by the number of software products that teachers use daily…operating systems (Windows, Apple, Linux, IOS, Android, etc), databases (Power School, Infinite Campus, etc.), web browsers (FireFox, IE8, Safari, Chrome), calendars, email programs, spreadsheets, photo management tools, address books, slide shows, online conferencing tools, music management, PDF readers, blogging, micro-blogging, screen casting, podcasting, Facebook and all the other software or applications we are expected or can use in our classrooms.

Then add in the different hardware: Computers (PCs, Apple), smart phones, LCD projectors, smart boards, and everything else we use in our various classrooms.  Is it no wonder that some teachers feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the technology requirements that are being placed upon us and the pressures external and internal to keep up?

I wonder if we need to start looking at reducing the number of software choices that are available in the classroom, to allow a higher level of expertise or even getting us to higher levels of comfort for our teachers and students?  I guess that is a question we have to think more about.

Do we also need to stop looking for products with all the bells and whistles that we don’t actually use and get back to more basic products that are perhaps not quite as powerful, but simpler and easier to use. A little more of that toaster tech attitude.  Which in turn would allow teachers to teach or use these products with more confidence.

The reality is until I started writing this post, I didn’t fully realize how much technology we expect our teachers and students to know.  I just took it for granted that all this stuff was pretty basic and easy to pick up.  I tend to forget I have been using software since before Windows 1.0 and was playing on the old Commodore Vic 20’s, so I have been involved with consumer computing pretty much since it began and simply scaffold new knowledge on top of my previously acquired knowledge.

Oh well, until Apple, Google or some other technology company comes begging me to work for them (as my old Chief used to say “Pipe dreaming again – Harold.”).  I guess I will just have to stop stressing about what I don’t know about software products and focus on what I do know and continue to see if I can find that one piece of technology when matched to that one student makes all the difference in their life.

“Do the right thing for the right reason”