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  • Andrew T Schwab 10:56 pm on September 19, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 21st century, ,   

    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.

    • iteachag 11:42 am on September 20, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      Bravo!!! It sounds so simple written out, but we all know how the average teacher is. Change is hard for them. I think you are on to something, with the students. If we can’t get the teachers to change as fellow educators, get the students to help them to change.

      • iteachbused 12:34 pm on October 8, 2009 Permalink | Reply

        Until the corporate world catches on, we need to teach students the applications that are used by the majority, not minority, of businesses. These are fine programs and can save schools much needed $, but they are not used by corporate america. I’ve found that kids know the basics, but businesses whant the more than just how to copy/paste. That is why they are taught.

        • anotherschwab 6:54 pm on October 8, 2009 Permalink

          I have heard this argument over and over but the reality is that if a kid can type a letter in Microsoft Office, they can type one in Open Office or Google Docs. The same goes for entering data into Excel or building a presentation in PowerPoint. I don’t think we should be teaching Applications so much as Operations. Knowing how to properly organize data in a spreadsheet and analyze and graph the data is the important skill. Formatting the data to look pretty in MS Excel, not so much.

          Only a small subset of power users utilize Office to its fullest potential and then usually they are in highly specialized jobs or industries. The alternatives to Microsoft Office offer much more than just copy/paste and as Chis Dawson points out in his blog (http://education.zdnet.com//?p=3084&tag=content;col2) the alternatives are good enough for 95% of his users. Change is coming in the office suite world. Should we still be teaching one Vendor’s App in a General business course and ignoring the trend towards cloud computing and open alternatives or perhaps we should be focusing more on the concepts rather than the particular platform?

    • Techkilljoy 1:06 pm on October 14, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      My vote is for concepts but… iteachbused has a great point for the present. I HATED my comp science profs who taught Turbo Pascal instead of Java or VB or C++. Still do! I vowed never to teach different apps than what are mainstream in the industries Im prepping kids for. MSO is the default in business, government and on most home computers and kids better know how to use it, especially Office 07 – grrrrr.

      My biggest concern with a basic apps classes is that they should go well beyond wp, spreadsheets and presentations. Kids have to understand databases and I have yet to see a book on the subject that was worth teaching to HS kids. Also, how to keep their attention for more than a week or two? I stretch it by moving from DBs to GIS which, after they master the basics, allow them to do queries and manipulate tables for reinforcement of DB concepts. Kids need to know web design and programming concepts as well just to understand how modern computers and web browsers work. Add in web 2.0 technologies (as mentioned in the actual blog post above!) and that is a full semester for me and I wish I had more time!!!

      One thing Im seeing is that for teachers to buy in to all this, I must get involved in teaching them what 21st century tech skills are and “what is in it for them” as a professional educator. Then I get mucho support for endeavors!

      Bottom line I guess is don’t let the sticks in the mud drag you down! Go for it!

  • Andrew T Schwab 6:38 pm on April 28, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 21st century, communication, global village,   

    So What is Twitter – Part Deux 

    This tweet come across from Jason Calacanis today on my new favorite subject – what is twitter?:

    JasonCalacanis This quote “twitter is dial tone” from TWIT is really trending…  http://tinyurl.com/ce5v6n @ev @biz @leolaporte

    Which got me thinking about my last blog post “So what is twitter anyway?” in which I so eloquently compare twitter to the old party line service where several households shared the same phone line, (or did I?)

    If Google is the card catalog to the library then Twitter is the village party line.

    Well actually I started to, and then through the edit process ended up with this:

    If Google is the village library then Twitter is the village.

    So is twitter the dial tone, the party line or the village?

    Put simply Dial Tone is a connection waiting to happen.  In the 20th Century it was the dominate connection right up until the Internet hit in the late 90’s.  Since then we’ve been in a state of flux communications wise with the advent of email, Instant Messaging, Voice Over IP, Cell Phones, triple play voice/data/TV service, etc… Personally I think the Dial Tone of the 21st Century is more about the ubiquitous, always on connection to the Internet we keep hearing about and not so much about what we do once we make the connection.

    A party line on the other hand is something that comes after the dial tone fades away and a connection is made.  It connects multiple people simultaneously provided they pick up the phone and participate.  I think this gets us closer to what twitter looks like today.  But just as the party line evolved into the one to one and one to many traditional phone service we know today, so too will twitter.  Already people are finding ways to narrow the focus and bring twitter more in line with “mainstream” communications.  The use of # tags and search allow for a filtered experience of the party line, allowing a listener to hear only a subset of conversations.

    So perhaps Twitter is more like a party line than Dial Tone (sorry Jason) but what about the idea that it is a village?  Well this is where I was struggling a bit while writing my last post.  I wanted to make the point that Twitter is a tool, just like google, the World Wide Web or Skype.   They all allow me to access information and communicate in the old ways.  What twitter has done that Google and Skype have not is empower me to quickly and easily participate in a global conversation.  I don’t have to subscribe to a mailing list, belong to a forum or exist in a contact list to participate.  I don’t need to install any software or even know any of the other participants.  I can just open my browser and start posting and everyone watching the stream can see me.  It is as though all of us on twitter are sitting around a giant campfire and as we feel like it, we stand up, shout out into the blazing darkness and then sit back down again.  Twitter Founders Evan Willams and Biz Stone built the bond fire and invited us all to come out of our huts and share.  So in that sense I do feel like Twitter is more like a village than anything else.
    What do you think?

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