Let’s Diversify Computer Education

I heard through the grapevine—one comprising trusted individuals—that a former student was interviewing for a job as an IT professional. My name came up in their conversations as members of the interview team know me and knew the candidate had been my student.

The message I got through the grapevine is that my former student praised my courses. He had been a student in the computer courses he took as a high school and middle school student. I left that school 12 years ago, so he was my student years ago.

According to the story I heard, my former student praised my courses. He told the interviewers that I had organized my courses so that students had experience using multiple tools. His recollections are accurate. At least they are accurate according to my recollections and the messages I have received from other students who took those courses.

I have always believed that computer education should prepare students to be able to jump in front of a computer and figure out how to create something useful. This student enrolled in my courses when the school had mobile carts with Windows laptops, which these students used on occasion in other classes, and I taught in a lab with 15 Macintosh laptops, two iMacs, and 20 Linux desktops.

(The Macintoshes had been purposed for a specific project that was abandoned and the newly hired technology coordinator had no intention of setting them up, so I did with the agreement that they would be used by my students, and I would accept all responsibility for managing them. The decision to install Linux had been made a few years earlier when a large number of devices needed updating in a year when the budget was very tight.)

At the same time my students were using three different operating systems, they were also using different applications. We had “Google Docs” at the time, but also Microsoft Office on the Windows devices, and OpenOffice on the Linux and Macintosh computers.

I designed my courses to include lots of experiences creating, and we would create with various tools. I still have some notes on what we did in those classes, and I see my students created video in OpenShot and iMovie and Widows MovieMaker.

When I hear about school IT, I hear lots about Chromebooks. I know that is the dominant devices for students. I understand it. They are inexpensive and easy to manage. They do not, however, help students to be facile computer users.

I understand the attitude that we should teach with computers and that not everyone wants to teach with or learn with sophisticated software. I think we are doing them a real disservice, however.

If students have autonomy—they know there are choices with their computing, and they feel capable to making those decisions—they will be more active in their assessment of IT. And I think that is more important today than ever.