This weekend, I had a conversation with my niece. I asked her how things were going at school. We discussed more and then eventually began to talk about technology. I asked her how she liked technology learning at school. She responded that she didn’t like Scratch.
We talked a bit more. And then she said, devices are everywhere. We just need to know how devices work. We don’t need to know how devices are built.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is a perspective that many people have when it comes to technology. The assumption is that because technology is everywhere, you simply need to engage with devices at the consumer layer.
While this many seem reasonable to those who aren’t familiar with technology, the reality is that learning to build with technology does not come through osmosis. In fact, the higher quality technology devices tend to obscure how the underlying hardware and software works.
If you were to ask many people how the most popular mobile applications they use everyday actually work, most people would struggle to respond. They may say something like, Google Maps uses the sensors in my phone for global positioning system technology. But, they may not realize that the biggest challenge with mapping technology is getting millions of people where they are gone simultaneously.
Devices at home
Over the past several years, more and more kids have gotten tablets and smartphones to use on a daily basis. This consumer device is very different from the technology experience most of their parents had.
For many parents who were introduced to technology, it was often on a device intended for working. These devices were not polished. The software did not work well. And, as a result, those who were curious learned how technology worked precisely because it didn’t always work.
In high school, we purchased our 1st internet enabled computer. Our internet service provider, ISP, was AOL. I can remember many occasions when, myself or one of my siblings would turn on the computer and click on the AOL icon. It would make the sound to let us know the modem was working. But, it didn’t connect to the internet. So, we would power the computer down, check all the connections, and then restart the computer. Sometimes this worked. And sometimes it didn’t.
But, we learned how basic troubleshooting worked. We also learned that devices don’t always just work. Nowadays, most homes have routers that automatically restart. And, so despite the inconsistent connection, the devices fix themselves.
While this makes for a better consumer experience, it compromises the experience that is necessary to develop the next generation of builders.
Devices at school
As technology gain increasing prominence, their became a huge push to place devices in schools. From tablets to laptops, schools starting becoming judged on the amount of technology that was in the building.
While this may have seemed like a positive development, the reality is that many devices in schools like iPads and ChromeBooks are very well polished consumer devices. And, in many cases, the use of these devices is for digitized curriculum for learning tools like Khan Academy.
Although technology is every present in school, students are not learning how technology works. Instead they are learning how to do their traditional reading, writing and math with technology devices.
This experience will help build a baseline level of device fluency. For example, students will understand how to open/close programs. They will learn the programs sometimes crash and they should frequently save their work. They will learn how to collaborate on documents with their peers via cloud based services like Google Docs.
However, this baseline level of technology is not sufficient for future success in a digitally powered world. In many ways, it is almost surprising that technology is everywhere. Yet, there are surprisingly few opportunities for students to learn about this technology on a consistent, pedagogical way.
Perhaps, this is a necessary step in the evolution of technology. Unfortunately, my suspicion is that most parents do not realize that just because there are devices in the classroom that their kids are often not learning how to build with this devices.
Although, there are devices all around the next generation, we do not yet have an intentional to push that focuses energy on learning how to build with technology. Perhaps due to the every presence of these devices, parents believe that their kids are naturally learning how technology works.
While they may gather a baseline understanding of the consumer nature of technology, the real key to their future success comes from knowing how to build with hardware and software. The next generation must understanding fundamentally how new devices and software applications come to life.
With this knowledge, they will have the skills they need to create the innovations and inventions that will make our world a better place. Let’s make sure that we push as hard for technology education in our schools as we pushed for devices in schools.