So I feel like I'm always ranting. I go forever without posting, and then something annoys me, and I go off. I'm really sorry about that... really... I am. Sometime soon, I'll write a non-ranting post. Today, however, the Juvinalian Muse is upon me.
The Quest for Authentic Instruction & Fluency Building
In designing my current curriculum for CIT, I was heavily influenced by Cool Cat's post, "Get Past Teaching Apps: Build and Use a Student Technology Toolbelt". I am particularly interested in building my students' technology fluency, which is defined in Cool Cat's post as:
the ability to determine and use the appropriate technology tool(s) for the task at hand in a manner that allows seamless transfer of created objects and documents to flow easily between the selected tools without outside intervention.
I also want students to be able to think critically and solve problems within a computing environment. I focus quite a bit on teaching the students to use the skills I use personally to master computer applications, rather than just teaching them what I know. As Cool Cat notes and Karl Fisch supports, "We cannot fathom what the future holds for them but we know what it won't hold: It won't hold the software that we taught them this year in its present fashion."
So, how do I learn apps? Well, I certainly don't take classes, and I don't troll through all of those instructional tomes that are destined for Ollie's when the app gets a version upgrade. I do what every tech savvy wannabe super-geek does. I Google it. Through the use of these search terms combined with the app I'm trying to learn, I usually try to find resources in the following order:
- Video Tutorials
- Tutorials with Screen Shots
- Help from (app manufacturer, eg Adobe or Microsoft)
Thanks to the rapid improvement and dissemination of screencasting technology, there is a wealth of the first resource available, so much so that it is beginning to replace the the other resources. Very few sites are providing text directions with screenshots anymore, and even forward-thinking software manufacturers are posting their official help and documentation in the form of screencasts.
Thus we arrive at...
The problem with Streaming Media
Allowing students to move between apps and choose the appropriate app for the task at hand is an admirable goal and one I continue to strive toward. I also want to see students be able to work at their own pace in a self-directed way. This however comes often into conflict with the reality of my teaching context. I often have to stop everything and teach apps if I want quality work because I can't teach students to use my technique for learning apps... Why? Well, check out the following example.
One of the things I'm very blessed, fortunate, and proud to have in my lab, which is in a Middle School, no less, is Adobe Creative Suite 4, Design Premium. (Yeah, I know... I should have nothing to rant about...ever). Anyway, Adobe used to have this great repository of online demos and tutorials for CS3, called the "Adobe Design Center". This was exceptionally handy for allowing students to get the basics of a program like Photoshop down (like how to use the interface and find stuff) before I provided mini-lessons. This is exceptionally time saving and promotes independent, self-directed discovery rather than forced drill and practice. With CS4, however, Adobe discontinued the design center and replaced it with Adobe TV, which is a really nice streaming site, containing way more than tutorials. The problem is, since I started using Adobe CS4, in December 08, Adobe has redirected the streams for Adobe.TV at least 3 times. I know this because I have to keep putting in IT requests to have it re-opened.
Another one of the things I'm very blessed, fortunate, and proud to have in my District is an excellent IT department, that manages to keep everything working smoothly despite servers that are hanging by a thread and buildings that are spread all over the county. One of the reasons they run such a tight ship, however, is the level of security on our network. For example, we've locked out all streaming media to all users with the exception of TeacherTube, Discovery Streaming, and (thanks to my incessant requests) Adobe.TV. It's because of this sweeping wall of defense that any minor re-direct changes undergone by Adobe.tv immedaitely cut off student access to the videos there. This is why I haven't invested any budget money in Lynda.com. I would be really ticked if I were paying for this stuff and losing access when my students are trying to use it.
The last time one of our IT guys and I were trying to track down this re-direct (which took a double period by the way), he said to me "That's the problem with streaming media". I wanted to say, "that's the problem with backward-thinking overly-tight security". I didn't, though, not because I was trying to avoid conflict, but because it isn't necessarily true. Our security keeps our network running smoothly. It does agitate me, though, that I cannot teach my students the learning techniques that will help them build lasting tech fluency due to the limitations of our network.