When students build their first video game or robot, they will often say, “Oh wow. It works.” Typically, I respond with, “don’t be so surprised!” However, I think there is a deeper insight from students response to bringing something new to life right before their eyes.
Humans are naturally a creative bunch. We seek to bring new ideas, innovations and inventions to life. In technology, this can often feel very much like magic to someone who has never done it before. What are some of the reasons why the next generation feels as though they don’t have agency over their ability to create with technology despite being surrounded by a wide variety of tools?
Often the narratives of technology builders in the media revolves around the genius as creator. From Bill Gates to Mark Zuckerberg and everyone in between, we are often told that only a select few can build technology as significant as the Windows operating system or the Facebook social network.
Going even further, Gates and Zuckerberg started with technology early and for those who haven’t been coding since birth, there is really no opportunity to catch up.
Since media is primarily story driven, there is an immense desire to highlight outliers. It’s a lot more interesting to write about a handful of people that have done extraordinary things than to simplify technology creation into the reality that everyone can do it. As the kids would say, “that’s boring!”
So, these stories persist and makes the next generation believe that only a select few have the skills needed to build with technology.
In reality, there everyone has the potential to bring something new into existence. The only thing lacking is the knowledge and inspiration to make it happen.
Lack of Exposure
Although technology is a key component of everyday life, technology building is not. Rarely, do students have an opportunity to get a behind the scenes view of how things are built. And, even less often do they have a chance to try it for themselves.
At some point, we began to equate sending computers and tablets home with students with technology literacy. Instead, that is simply putting a tool into their hands without providing the instruction manual.
In many ways, we often have students simply working on reading, writing, and arithmetic using digital platforms versus providing instruction on how to truly unlock the capabilities of these powerful tools through a repeated process of learning to build.
So, it is no surprise when students get their first experience building a video game that they are shocked to realize that they simply have to give the computer instructions on what to do and they will accomplish a desired output.
For many students, this insight is game changing. If this is done repeatedly, over time students develop the confidence to bring inventions and innovations that are certain to make the world a better place.
Consumer technology is quite honestly impressive. From smartphones to tablets and gaming systems, kids have some pretty amazing technology devices and applications in the palm of their hands.
What is perhaps lost on the next generation is that large teams have spent countless hours planning, building and designing these consumer devices that work amazingly.
When faced with a more rudimentary starting point, students can often think that their initial efforts aren’t great because their robot doesn’t move as smoothly as the remote control car they got for their birthday last year. Or, they may be disappointed that their Scratch game doesn’t look like Fortnite that they play everyday.
The reality is that consumer technology is so appealing because people have spent time learning the craft of how to create amazing user interfaces and experiences that are designed to be attractive. In fact, most companies with great technology often have a lead designer that works hand in hand with the technologist.
So, while there first or second or even 100th project may not be at the level of Apple; eventually, if they stick with these efforts there ability to create desirable consumer facing projects will be rewarded.
The challenge is to maintain their motivation to keep refining and improving their capabilities to ultimately reach outputs that are high quality enough that consumers will want to interact and engage with them over and over again.
While we are still in the early innings of getting more kids excited about learning to build with technology, the reality is we must balance their recognition that their initial efforts feel like magic with the key insight that most magicians take years to perfect their craft.
Anything less than constant and consistent practice will create a false sense of reality in the next generation that they can’t build projects like the leading technologist and technology companies of today.