Are we spoon-feeding our users too much? | ZDNET:Education IT

Are we spoon-feeding our users too much?

Posted by Christopher Dawson

One of my techs is a really outstanding guy. He always smiles, he makes movies for the teachers he directly supports with instructions on everyday tasks, and he does everything he can to make their computers easy to use. The group of teachers he supports also happens to be more technophobic in general than any other group in our district, so his ministrations are utterly appreciated by the users.

How many overachieving, highly competent, friendly techies do you really find out there? I think that he may, in fact, be the only one, and certainly the only one who is willing to be woefully underpaid because he actually likes his job. So what’s the problem, you ask?

The problem is that outside of the highly controlled environment he creates for the teachers in their classrooms and labs, they tend to get lost. They don’t know how to access their email or the student information system from home or during trainings. He ensured that all of their computers automatically open a browser tab for each function they need to complete in the morning. Unfortunately, when I conducted a series of trainings last month, a striking number didn’t know what their address bar was, let alone how to enter an address.

This is partly the fault of the district, as well. Only recently have we begun to get serious about training and professional development in technology, so we obviously have some catching up to do, especially for older teachers who weren’t steeped in Facebook throughout college.

On the other hand, if we simply spoon-feed them the technology and isolate them from the bits they find challenging, then they will never have an incentive to learn or grow independent in their use of technology, both in and out of the classroom.

We have to strike a balance. Users need to understand that this stuff isn’t hard, it isn’t voodoo, and it is important. It also can’t be scary or overly intimidating, as technology often is for people who aren’t “digital natives.” We don’t need to spoon feed them, but users certainly deserve a full place setting of training and tools. I also shouldn’t blog when I’m hungry or I start making bad food analogies.

Christopher Dawson

Follow Chris Dawson on Twitter! Christopher Dawson is the technology director for the Athol-Royalston School District in northern Massachusetts and a member of the Internet Press Guild. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations, but always keep in mind that the opinions expressed here are his own and not those of his daytime employer, even if he talks incessantly about his day job.

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