Friday, June 08, 2012

A Cyber Valentine

As valentines' day approaches in Brazil (we celebrate it on June 12th), I decided to say a few words about mine and my students' relationship with computers and technology in general. First I should say I have no pretense to sound as a scholar on the issue. This represents just my humble point of view. It is just an account of how I see the issue of using computers in the classroom. Valentines has to do with relationships and mine to computers seem to be, for me at least, quite an interesting story. Besides that, someone on TV today quoted a teacher admonishing Fall in love for a cause, find something you are passionate about. Love for a person can be temporary, love for a cause can last for a life time. I would say that using the web for teaching and learning qualifies as my passion and that is why I decided to talk about it.
Lets begin from the beginning. In my case, I can trace my story with computers and technology back to a crash course in word processing and related computer skills I took in 1999 before getting my masters in the US. Since then I have gone from downloading and printing everything to the cloud, from floppy discs, to CDs, to flash drives, to flash memory. I have also become mobile in many ways. I have gone from a desktop with so many wires and cables under my desk that looked more a butchered animal to only resorting to a tablet and a smart phoned for my computer needs.
Having said this, I would argue that my relationship to computers and technology has matured and grown into a full-fledged love affair, almost a marriage. I think that as a digital immigrant (borrowing from Prensky) I have been able to adapt. Nonetheless I have to admit that I am in no way as fluent in the use of technology as I would like to be. I still struggle to cope with the frenzy of updates and novelties that pop up on my screens almost every minute. Many times, to my disappointment, I spend hours trying to achieve a very simple goal.
However, when I think about my students, I really think I see a split in the way they view computer technology. Computers seem to be for fun only. This view also seems to be shared by some teachers who resist to giving control of the mouse to students (and to themselves) and make a more creative use of the web and its suite of tools. I guess this has a bit to do with traditional views held by some schools that imply that computers are for playing or only socializing, not for serious, meaningful learning, for integrating skills.  Some students report that teachers refuse to accept typed assignments under the excuse of preventing plagiarism. Plagiarism was not invented by computers or internet. So, banning typed essays is not going to solve the problem.
Being digital natives, students do feel comfortable with technology. However this does not guarantee that they have the necessary skills to engage in some activities a teacher might propose. This creates an opportunity for teachers to show to students and themselves that they are not so computer illiterate as they believe. Nonetheless, younger students are fast learners and would immediately start using whatever you teach with fluency in a matter of seconds. Sometimes they would hesitate in publishing content for fearing criticism, but once they overcome this initial shyness they blossom into an amazing creative frenzy.
To end on romantic note (since this is Valentines season), I think I may be helping my students to build their relationship with technology for learning. I do that, especially when I reassure them that much of prevailing paranoia about the web is not true.  Doing this, I show them the path of sharing and collaborating. If I mange to do this, I think I encourage them to take some steps towards integrating their existing passion for technology a bit more into their lives.

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