David Warlick has a new post entitled What about Computer Applications? where he asks this question:
“Are computer applications something that should be taught in a class, or something that should be learned by the students, independent of a class curriculum?”
He also has a new poll which gives the following three options:
- Taught in a course
- Learned and demonstrated by the students
- Explicitly Integrated in to other subject areas
I’m not answering the poll this time because I don’t want an either/or answer; I want a both/and answer. I think this is a false dichotomy. Some introduction to office productivity applications as a separate class is helpful, and it can actually encourage more of the integration into other courses. Vicki Davis has mentioned that since she has been teaching blogging and wikis that her students have been going out to other courses and asking to use the technology. The other teachers love it because now they can use the technology with lesson plans that really focus on pedagogy, learning, and applying the subject matter rather than interrupting the flow to teach basic technology. I do think that these office applications (not necessarily Microsoft; OpenOffice would be fine) are better taught at the middle school level like Karen said in the comments to David’s post (or earlier–I learned word processing in 4th grade, and that was 20 years ago).
Also, David’s comfortable just going in and playing with applications to learn the features. Not everyone is, and not everyone has enough time with a computer to do so even if they can learn it on their own. I think it’s especially important to explicitly teach applications in disadvantaged districts where most kids don’t have computers at home. The middle school where I taught had over 95% free/reduced lunch. When I asked kids to type up poems, many of them centered their text by holding the space bar down until the text got to where they wanted it. When others were typing paragraphs, they hit Enter at the end of every line instead of letting word wrap handle it.
Speaking as a former corporate software trainer, when people learn on their own, they tend to find one solution which does what they need (or pretty close) and then stop looking to see if a better solution is out there.
- How many people create charts in Excel using the chart wizard rather than selecting the data and pressing F11, which instantly creates a new chart?
- How many people delete text that was typed with the CAPS LOCK key accidentally left on in Word, rather than selecting the text and pressing Shift-F3 to change the capitalization?
- How many Word users, even adults in professional environments, really know how to use styles correctly or to customize the AutoCorrect settings?
- How many Excel users know how to create automatic subtotals?
- How many of you reading this just learned something new, or at least realized there were things you didn’t know?
I think you can really gain a lot by teaching in a class with an expert. The catch is that the applications then need to be applied back in classrooms and integrated with everything else. I think you’re more likely to have the applications integrated if you prepare students with the basics though.
(As a side note, I can’t find the specific post on Vicki’s site where she mentioned students going out to other courses. Her blog isn’t loading well this morning and I got tired of waiting for it. I’ll try to update with a more specific link later in the day.)
Updated 3/7/08 with new link to David Warlick’s post