This week I had the opportunity to teach staff in my district how to use SmartBoards. This is the second SmartBoard class I taught. The first was in April. Thinking about it now, it amazes me that I first got trained in the use of the SmartBoard and accompanying software last August. Then 8 months later, I was proficient enough to teach others. One year later, I am teaching my second group of teachers.
Now, if you ask my husband, he will tell you that the reason for that is I spent hours and hours at home learning how to use the technology. And stayed many hours after school practicing on my SmartBoard.
But if you ask me, it is really because I wanted to learn, was vested in the process due to my desire to use the equipment with my students, and, here is the most important part, was NEVER afraid I'd screw things up so badly that I would ruin the board, the software, or my computer. And that is what I kept thinking about this week as I taught my colleagues.
Each day, as I taught new skills, I watched my class members go through one of three emotions. One: Wow! That was cool and I can't wait to try it over and over again. (This was not the most common feeling.) Two: Wow! That was cool. Let me watch again and then I'll attempt it, slowly, cautiously, but willingly. (Fairly common.) Or Three: Oh no! My brain is on overload, I cannot handle anymore. I will try it if Lisa comes and watches me do it, making sure nothing goes wrong. (More common than I was happy with.)
Fear seems to hold back a great many people when it comes to learning new technology. And I think it all comes back to lacking basic computer literacy...no understanding of how a computer works. When I taught my class how to use their thumbdrives (most of them cut open the packaging on their very first thumbdrives in order to use them), there was a clear lack of understanding about what this piece of equipment would do. The greatest fear was that it wouldn't actually save anything. Everyone kept waiting for a signal to let them know it had saved properly. We had to go back through it again and again, with me showing them how to find files on the drive so they could prove to themselves their file was really there.
In fact, even finding the correct drive on the computer was tricky. Which drive is it? What happens if you save into the wrong drive? Where will your file go? Will it mess up the computer? When I asked my class on the first day to go home and download the Smarttech software so they could play, all but one came back the next day saying they were unable to accomplish this task. When asked why, they told me they got various messages they didn't understand. We ran through it again and I sent them home on day 2 to try again. I got five phone calls that night. One didn't notice the message at the top of her screen preventing downloads without giving permission. Two were nervous when the computer told them it was saving the file to a temp file in the c drive. One called to have me walk her through it...no problems, just nerves. One cancelled the download in the middle, not realizing this would prevent the program from downloading completely. Basic problems: fear and lack of computer literacy.
So now I am thinking about my students. The saving grace for 10 year olds is that they have no fear. They don't really care if they mess things up...the teacher will fix it. So they try everything willingly. And they learn at an incredible rate. They also learn how to fix their mistakes so Mrs. Parisi doesn't have to keep doing it for them. (Use the undo button BEFORE you close the program, Check your wireless network connection to see what system you are on before you complain that you have no internet service, etc.) They are easy to teach and enthusiastic about it all.
How do I reach the teachers? Keep my cell phone handy for those panicked evening phone calls, send out e-mails with informational website URLs, stop into rooms and see what new ideas they come up with, point out how much they learned and were able to accomplish.
And remind them over and over that playing around is important. Any file they lose can be remade, any program they crash can be reinstalled or reloaded, and, really, as long as they don't spill their coffee on it, they are not going to "break" the computer. Just have fun! I think I will make this my mantra for the year. Just have fun! Not a bad way to go through life...and technology.