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November 30, 2009
Doug Alexander
Director of Academic Technology

 

Digg Your Uploads in a Viral Spiral!

Here at Lincoln, my official position is Director of Academic Technology, though more often than not I call myself the computer guy, It’s just easier. It comes as a surprise to some people that a major challenge to people in my position is not actually the technology itself – it’s communication. I have to take the often confusing, term-laden world of technology and translate it into something that teachers, staff, and students can relate, or (in the best of cases) even understand. Otherwise their feeling of frustration can overwhelm their desire to comprehend and analyze what I’m trying to communicate. I’m sure everyone can relate to the experience of being snowed by techno-babble – it’s not a good feeling, and it provokes a whole range of reactions from people. Those of us whose career is education technology are especially aware of this, and we try constantly to bridge the terminology gap and avoid the “tipping point” moment where frustration boils over.

Which is why I was so tickled by a New Yorker humor column I read some weeks ago. Here ís an excerpt:

"If you already have a blog, make sure you spray-feed your URL in niblets open-face to the skein. We like Reddit bites (they’re better than Delicious), because they max out the wiki snarls of RSS feeds, which means less jamming at the Google scaffold. Then just Digg your uploads in a viral spiral to your social networks via an FB/MS interlink torrent."

How many of you reread the previous sentences trying to understand them? Don't panic – it’s pure gibberish. If you read the entire column, it’s full of that sort of thing, not to mention brilliantly written. When I shared the excerpt with faculty some weeks ago, a number of them told me later that they did the same thing, growing more annoyed when they couldn’t recognize any meaningful terms. Their desire to comprehend was strong, and their frustration was evident. I was a bit surprised, but then I’m a fluent speaker of techno-babble. I saw right away that the words had no meaning, and so instead of being frustrated I went straight to amusement.

What I realized, however, is that the feeling of frustration those teachers felt is one we have in common with all of our Lincoln girls. They go to our classes every day to learn information that they’ve probably never been exposed to before, a good deal of it in strange language that they must decode and interpret in order to synthesize and apply. We as teachers are tasked with taking the terms, the facts, the processes, and give them the foundation - information in bite-sized chunks that contributes to the overall story we’re trying to tell. Their job is to do the equivalent of read the paragraph again - repeating the information, turning it around and around, working to make sense of it. On top of that, they have to prove that they have mastered it through lab reports, tests, or projects, all without reaching their “tipping point” and becoming so frustrated they stop trying out of self-preservation. Whether the subject is Calculus, English, or Photography, our goal as educators is the same - we want these girls to get a foundational knowledge of the subject so that they can practice the more important techniques of synthesis, analysis, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Our girls very often just want to survive the avalanche of new information.

What ís more, we expect them to do this every day. This is not the occasional feeling of frustration that my “end users” have when I start spouting techno-gibberish – it’s the constant struggle that all students must face in order to complete their nightly homework. They can’t call in a “native speaker” of American History to do their assignments for them, the way we can call tech support and get our computer problems solved. I tell my Robotics students that this is where the true test of any student lies, in what you do with that feeling of frustration, and how you tackle the mountain of terminology and facts that lies between you and mastery. While we as teachers and parents are there to help, encourage, reassure, and occasionally nag, ultimately they are on their own, and what we’re asking them to do is sit with that frustrated feeling. Remember that next time you’re asked to Digg your uploads in a viral spiral.

 

 


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