I had a meeting yesterday afternoon and found myself stuck in traffic (something I don’t usually experience in my five mile commute to school). During that time I did some reflection on a handful of experiences of the last couple days that show there is a certainly a technology gap in education and probably the rest of the country (and world for that matter). Generally there are five types of people who interact with technology. (Please note: these stereotypes are not indications of intelligence!)
- The person who doesn’t interact with technology on purpose.
- The person who knows how to check e-mail, maybe pay bills online, use a word processor, a work specific application, and do Google searches. Just enough to be dangerous (as my principal recently put it to me). There is limited (and sometimes no) understanding as to how the computer works or what to do when something goes wrong.
- Then there are people who are pretty tech-savvy when it comes to understanding the fundamentals and how the computer and applications works. They have a strong understanding of the Internet and can be proficient in web design or some other type of technology or media. Many times they are people involved in the theory of using technology, but will hire someone in the next work to do the dirty work. These people are geeks; they might be “cool” geeks, but geeks nonetheless.
- Last, there are the supergeeks. These are the people who can not only build or troubleshoot a computer, but also can look at the heavy code (not html) and tell you what the problem is. They are the ones who are making open source software or working for Google or Microsoft. A lot of times these people in the first two groups don’t understand anything these people say.
- There is a fifth group. They are the geek-supergeek combination. They are heavily involved in the theoretical side of development, but can code with the best of them. Plus they can communicate their ideas to people in all positions. I only know of a couple of these people.
It seems that a good chunk of the population within the sphere of education sits in or around position two. Many times they think they are closing in the third position – but those people usually aren’t. I think one of the essential characteristics of someone in the third position is acknowledging Socrates’ key belief, I know, I know nothing.
I believe myself to be in that third group. I have a decent skill base and a good understanding of many of the newer technologies available and how they theoretically work. However, if you ask me to do it from scratch or ask me to fix a MySQL or php or C++ problem, I will give you one of those sideways, tilted looks my dog (and two-year old) gives when I ask a complex question.
At my meeting yesterday, this division was clear. I was unveiling a new feature to a web site I manage and while the idea was very cool, it probably is not ground breaking. As I talked about knowledge management, social bookmarking, tags, open source software, and some other jargon, I realized that I was talking over their heads. They even began discussed paying me to go a national convention to present the new revised web site. Within a group of educated people who were meeting to help better an aspect of education, I created a buzz. It was certainly nice (good for the ego, right?), but I look at it as something that could be much cooler if I had a supergeek to help me fine tune and customize the software further.
The second experience that inspired this technology rant is a reaction to a link posted on my old AP World History web site. During the social unrest within the Muslim population of France last fall, we had briefly discussed the topic in class. Then I found an insightful blog entry from an American who had lived in France for a number of years. I linked the article so interested students could read a different perspective then the main stream media’s coverage (in AP Word we are big on point of view). Apparently, the blog owner needed some extra cash and since I linked to his site last November, he added some advertisements to the sidebar – including some very inappropriate links. A parent of student who is not in my class found the link and e-mailed the principal. Once I was alerted of the problem, I immediately deleted it. However, the page was in the parent’s browser cache and was still there the next day. There was more concern expressed about the matter when the parent believed the link was still in place.
I think that situation has been resolved, but it certainly illustrates the need for us to be careful (I am a bit embarrassed by the whole thing).