Friday, December 21, 2007

Linear Brains and Soft Returns

One autumn morning in 1999, I had the opportunity to attend a hands-on workshop to learn how to use Microsoft Office. I walked away learning only one new skill, but it has saved me innumerable frustrations with aligning text in a wide range of computer programs. The skill, was the soft return. You may already know that using the return/enter key, along with the shift key, ensures that text wraps onto the next line (as opposed to beginning a new paragraph), but you may be surprised at how many keyboarders are unaware of this command. That one tip, made the 90 minute workshop worthwhile for me. Since that day, I've used the 'soft return' as a gauge for the usefulness of a professional development workshop.

Uh Oh! Students are learning on their own every day! Whether learning to use MS Office, or producing content for a social networking site, independent learners often live in ignorance of their own learning gaps. Consider this fact amidst the reality that many young people are learning online skills before their teachers have even heard of the technologies, and we have a problem not easily rectified!

How can educators provide thoughtful advice to digital natives in this reality? We can't... Unless we get learning ourselves! Teachers need to experience the tools over time in order to understand their appeal, and to consider ways of harnessing these tools for educational purposes.

But first, what hurdles must be overcome? I can think of a few:

Hurdle #1: Training on the use of Web 2.0 tools, needs to be done in an environment that suits the 'linear brains' of experienced teachers.

Hurdle #2: Techno-literate teachers are hard to come by! With few educators (and fewer administrators?) having the skills to lead such training, it will be challenging to move forward.

Hurdle #3: Late to the party, teachers will struggle to gain the respect of more experienced students.

With support from Mike Wesch and his students at Kansas State University, consider this soft return on how writing is different in the world of the Web: