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Friday, November 27, 2009

From Amazing to Normal: Taking the Journey while Encouraging Others

 While doing Black Friday shopping online, I came across Chris Betcher's Post This is Not Amazing and was struck by his feelings towards those he is working with:

"It’s time to stop being so “amazed” at things that are just part of the technological and cultural landscape of life in the 21st century.  It’s not “amazing” that computers can edit video, manage numbers or manipulate digital images. It’s not “amazing” that mobile phones can stream live video or GPS your current position.  It’s not “amazing” that you can make phone calls to the other side of the planet at no cost. None of these things are really “amazing” any more… they just “are”. To be “amazed” at this sort of stuff is to fail to recognise the invisible role that technology plays in all our lives these days. To anyone working in education, working with young people, you need to realise that simple tasks performed with technology are not something to be “amazed” at, marveled at and gushed over.  For our students, the use of technology as the enabler for such tasks seems as natural as breathing air.

I was in another meeting with some students and a teacher the other day, and the teacher was trying to show the kids about a Ning they’d had set up for a class project.  The teacher was all effusive, gushed about the Ning’s “amazing” features and wanting to show the students all the “amazing” things it could do… “Look! You can use it to leave messages for each other!”, she said excitedly.  One of the students confided to me later “I can’t believe how worked up she was getting about that Ning… it’s just a blog. It’s like Facebook. Of course we know how to use it.”  It reminded me of that wonderful line from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, where the people of Earth were considered a bit of a joke for being “so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”
Here is my own response that I have for Chris (as left in the comments):

I think it is important to realize that everyone has their own personal journey into this computing age.  As change agents it is important to realize that just because something isn't amazing to us does not mean that it is not amazing to another person.  I think the reason more people don't jump into technology is the condescension of those already in technology.

If someone thinks it is amazing, the first thing to do is to put their hand on the mouse and then let them try it. Then it travels from amazing to "I can do it."  And when it becomes non-amazing and part of what they do on a daily basis, then, we have enacted positive change and helped people transform.

We have to help these things move from amazing to normal for people and as long as people are thinking these things are amazing we aren't making it real enough for them to think that they can do it! 

Please be kind to the others you work with - they are probably great people who just aren't there yet and need some encouragement.  And when the light bulb goes on, we all gush on and get excited and then we move on and just use it.  Newbies need some kindness and grace from those who know more and not made to feel like dummies.  How will those you help feel if they read this post - will they feel appreciated and accepted or will they feel like you're on the inside looking down at their stupidity?  They aren't stupid they might just be newbies and that, in itself is a HUGE accomplishment because each person needs to start somewhere.

It is also amazing that we have the ability to build our own social networks and do it for free and that we can set these things up.  There are a lot of amazing things computers can do -- does it mean that separating conjoined twins or the stars in the sky aren't more amazing. I guess it is sort of like how the Eskimos have so many words for snow -- perhaps we need more words for how it feels when something is really really cool.

I do think Chris is right that it is about time for many of these things to move from "amazing" status to just what we do.  But we're not there yet AT ALL.  The fact is that these things really are amazing to a whole lot of people.

Honestly, I find my iTouch's ability to coach or help me manage my christmas list or my calendar pretty amazing because it has made my life better and I remember just a year a go when I didn't have it.  I also find Twitter's ability to connect me to everyone else all over the place pretty amazing as well - since we didn't have this ability around 4 years a go.

Do I find it as amazing as the sparkle in my young son's eyes as we play with the cat?  Or as seeing my Mom serve Thanksgiving yesterday when we didn't know last year if she'd live through 2008?  Gosh, not - those things are transcendent.

I think we just have to give people time.  Love them, encourage them, help them and also teach a true patience when newbies are just learning something because truly we're all newbies and gush on about something new to us that is old hat for someone else.

Chris is a great guy and I'm sure as he helped these people that he was just thinking inside himself: when, when is this going to move on and be something everyone knows how to do? Why am I the only one doing this? Why can't they see that this is no big deal?  We all feel this.

And yet, we have to temper how we feel with the reality that a lot of good people in education out there are really just now starting to begin to understand these tools and patience and helpfulness when they are ready is a great asset in our desire for change.

In sports - I would do anything for my coach who was kind, loving, and encouraging but the most arrogant coach I ever had coached the sport I loved the most (basketball) but the one I quit because he was so frustrated that we didn't get things that were old hat to him but very new to us.  Coaches gotta keep coming back to the fundamentals when new people are on their team.

Progress is being made - keep it going.  Help teachers connect themselves using an RSS reader and Twitter - that is a great first step to helping them connect and learn themselves without being so dependent upon a few people at their school.

And one side note:  when these things are no longer amazing, they no longer carry a premium price tag for the people who can help them with it -- so if you're an IT person worth your salt, you'd better be working in the realm of amazing to the other folks at your school, that IS what they pay you for.

Finally, it is all about learning and helping students learn.  To me, when my students in 8th grade first make a video, they think it is amazing but by the time they are done with tenth grade - videos are just what you do and are part of what they know how to do.  We should be part of transforming these important tools, skills, and knowledge from amazing to just what we do for the students and the teachers -- although this is something we will have to continue to do as long as new humans are being born on this planet.
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