What to teach in Business Apps?

There is on ongoing discussion at my high school about what we should and should not be teaching in our Business Applications classes.  The same curriculum has been in place for several years (at least six) and consists of typing, Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint and very basic computer history, Internet search, hardware and Operating Systems information.  On one side of the discussion is the status quo, open to some minor changes but generally OK with the sequence and overall objectives of the classes.  On the other side are those of us that would like to see the classes transformed into something much more.

Pretty much all freshmen take Business Apps I and for this reason I believe it to be a critical class to student’s future success.  This is the one opportunity we have to give them the knowledge and skills they need to effectively use technology over the next four years as they navigate the challenges of High School.  Right now, we teach them how to use Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.  We teach them how to find images on the Internet and how many bytes a floppy disk holds.  We teach them how to save files to the hard drive and how to print assignments to be turned in.  We teach them how to follow step-by-step instructions in a book with exercises that have no relevance to them whatsoever.  We teach them all the skills they need for the workplace of a decade ago.

What we don’t teach them in the class is how to compose an email.  We don’t teach them how to find and critically analyze information on the Internet.  We don’t teach them how to collaborate online, how to responsibly share information or how to backup their files to the cloud and access them from home later.  We don’t teach them how to use alternative applications like Google Docs or Open Office.  We don’t teach them about creative commons, open source or building their brand.  We don’t teach them how to live and work in a Web 2.0 world.  And I think we should.  Especially in this class; the only computer class they are required to take to graduate.  These skills are too important to their futures not to.

It would be nice if these were also the skills student’s needed to succeed in our school but I would be fooling myself if I said they were.  Writing a three page paper in Word, making a PowerPoint with lots of images and animations and wild colors, charting their test scores in Excel and saving files to their network drive are really the only skills they need to get through their four years here.  In most classes anyway.  Some of us are pushing the envelope.  We are teaching our students how to use Google Docs to collaborate.  We are teaching our students how to turn in assignments in Gmail, how to upload files to Moodle, how to search for useful information on the Internet and how to create presentations with tools like Animoto, Xtranormal and Prezi.  We are teaching critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration using the tools available to us through the Internet and Web 2.0.

I see the updating of the Business Apps classes as a critical step in our school’s journey into the 21st Century.  With an Internet connection, a computer and an idea anyone can start a company, find their voice, write a book, build a community, make a difference and change the world.  These opportunities are what is being left behind in our Business Applications classes as they stand today.  The tools are there, they are free and they are waiting to be used.  Teach the students how to use them and they will do the rest.  Last year I introduced Animoto to the students in my classes and within a month, students were doing Animoto presentations in their English classes too.  Their teacher’s didn’t have to know how to use Animoto to accept them as assignments, they just had to be willing to make a change and decide that it was OK to do an Animoto instead of a PowerPoint.  Change is always a struggle.  But I think it is a struggle worth fighting.