> Mrs. O'Neill's Blog: Trials of a NVT (Not Very Technical) Teacher

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Trials of a NVT (Not Very Technical) Teacher

Oldest son is home from uni. He’s busy on his laptop writing an email whilst having conversations with several people via some form of instant messaging (the names change just as I get the hang of them. Meebo? Peepo? Don’t know).

Out of the corner of his eye he is watching me trying unsuccessfully to upload files to my new mp3 player. I can’t work out how to change the settings. He leans over in mid typing rattle, presses a button, and suddenly it’s working. I stare at him aghast.

‘What did you do there?’

He shakes his head.

‘You just try out things.’

He sees it as a game.

He doesn’t read manuals. He can only show me what he does by doing it. He approaches technology with a spirit of 'now-what-happens-if-you-click-that-and-then-that-mmm-interesting’.

Me? I approach it like a soufflé in the oven, which must not feel the slightest cool air current or it will be RUINED.

Why? I think it’s because that’s how I was taught. By uptight people to uptight people. You might BREAK something. You might make a MISTAKE. You might DELETE something. Younger people don’t have this technology anxiety.

On the other hand this might explain why my mp3 player ‘support’ website was totally useless to me. It was cluttered up with troubleshooting information. I haven’t learnt how to get into trouble yet. But I'm getting there...


Ewan said...

Lovely post, but I think the attitudes go beyond "technology anxiety" - is there not just too much anxiety full-stop about most things, technology or not, when it comes to making things work?

Mrs. O'Neill's Blog said...

Interesting point about anxiety. Do you mean in our culture or in most learning experiences? If you mean in learning experiences, I think you are right. Granted, there needs to be some sort of tension in the process otherwise we wouldn't care. We've got to perceive some sort of challenge, something worth 'holding our breath' for, so to speak.
What we don't want is when the balance shifts too much over to the 'mustn't make a mistake' side.

Actually this might also be a cultural thing. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of teaching English to some Japanese housewives. Their learning was deeply hampered by the Japanese concern with 'losing face'. I do wonder if we have something similar going on in Scottish schools...

David Gilmour said...

First, I wouldn't worry about it. My S2 son often does similar things with me!
When I used to work in IT I noticed people would often look for a second opinion when started to feel they were sticking with one approach for too long. Maybe the more time you spend on Plan A the more you get into that rut, and it takes someone else to help you break off in a new direction?
Also, if you're fairly new to a technology you can't help but have a very superficial if-you-do-this-that-happens or functional understanding.
What you don't have is a feeling for what's actually going on, an understanding of the building blocks of the system and how they fit together.
Your son will have that mental model of what's going on, built up from all sort of sources, including his trial-end-error learning. It means he's like a driver who knows what's going on under the bonnet, so has got more ideas for things to poke and prod if the car breaks down.
You've got to be prepared to make mistakes to build up this knowledge, and for many people that's a real problem. Some of the best qualified people I've known have been really poor at learning about IT for this reason - they always feel they have to do what's right.
I've never made the connection with the Scottish psyche before, but you've got a point. Have you heard of Carol Craig? I recently read her book The Scots' Crisis of Confidence. She does identify a similar thing in Scots:
"A tendency to treat a person’s mistakes or miscalculations as the result of deliberate bad faith rather than an error. This means that if anyone makes a mistake or does something judged to be wrong then they are personally accountable for it and no excuses or extenuating circumstances are permitted in defence. It also means that people’s motives for action are often viewed as suspect. This is a viewpoint which leads to cynicism and blame and is one of the reasons why Scots feel overly fearful of making mistakes. "
See http://www.carolcraig.co.uk/bookkeymessages.htm

Mrs. O'Neill's Blog said...

David, thanks for that thought -even experts get 'stuck'.I heard Carol Craig talk last year at a school INSET day. Despite being initially a bit sceptical of any discussion of 'national characteristics', some of the things she identified as part of the Scots psyche (at least at this time)rang true with me.

Re. the issue you pick up, about making mistakes - having lived for a while outside of Scotland, and being called upon to explain our culture to foreign visitors, I've come to believe that many Scots do have a particular fear of making a mistake. Sometimes -not always - this leads to that lack of confidence and lack of action. I see it in myself in this area of IT. Definitely worth combating...

Sid O'Neill said...

You might be interested in this report (just published) that I've blogged about here