On “Teaching Computers”

When I first started in education, computers were a marginal tool. Literally, they were in a back corner of the classroom and used for special purposes. Over time, they became more central to the curriculum and in the teaching spaces.

The question that has interested me recently is “Who is responsible for teaching students how to use them devices we provide?” When computers we on the margins, the teachers who wanted them in their classrooms taught students what to do and how to do it; they also learned much on their own.

Several years after the arrival of computers in schools, they tended to be installed in “computer labs” where specialists taught “computer literacy” and programming courses and teachers brought students to work on projects, write papers, or play Oregon Trail. During these years there was significant participation of specialists in teaching students.

More recently, as one-to-one initiatives have been undertaken in many communities, computers are integrated to a degree they never were previously. As I ended my career in K-12 education (from 2014-2019), I spent much time co-teaching with faculty. In almost all cases, my role was to teach teachers as much as to teach students; they came to me with things they wanted to do in class, and I developed technology solutions that we deployed together.

During COVID, I have heard some teacher acquaintances tell stories of their colleagues who are “complaining” they should not have to teach students how to use the hardware and software they are expected to use. I’ve thought about that, and I am increasingly seeing it is teachers’ responsibility to teach students how to use the tools they use.

Schools have always been places that prepare students to participate in the information ecologies they will enter (these may be general societies or communities of specialists). Today, these are physical places, online spaces, organizations, and cultures where digital tools dominate. Almost every conceivable domain of human endeavor uses computers and digital systems. No matter what you are teaching or what the age of the students, there are some applications of technology that are age-appropriate for learners.

The successful integration of technology into teaching (in all the forms we have experienced I the last year and a half (and that I expect will be permanent at least until I retire) will depend on three things: First, teachers must become active troubleshooters of the devices they use and the lessons they deliver through them. Second, they must have access to specialist who help them develop those skills. These specialists cannot assume responsibility for all things technology; teachers must become independent users of technology. Third, the designers of school IT systems must understand the importance of perceived ease of use and perceived effectiveness in the intention to use technology.

In a sentence, systems must be well-designed (by technicians), specialists must be available to help teachers learn to use them, then teachers must become competent and confident users of digital devices.