Knowing where the pitfalls are

When I was in college, I took a semester away from classes to live in Ecuador with a friend of mine and completely immerse myself in  an unfamiliar country and culture. Most of my adventures were unplanned, such as getting on the wrong bus, ending up in some unfamiliar place and trying to get back home alive. Those days were fun and made the trip seem less like real life and more like a movie. Some of my adventures were planned, such as going to the jungle or climbing on of Ecuador’s many volcanoes. The most beautiful volcano, El Cotopaxi, particularly held my fascination because of its massive beauty. One day I remember telling my host family that I was going to climb El Cotopaxi, which was only a few miles from their family’s dairy farm. They tried to discourage me from doing this because of the stories they’d read over the years of inexperienced climbers (mainly from Europe) trying to climb without an experienced guide and getting caught in a crevasse. Their fear was not the climbing, the cold or the altitude, although these were all things to be prepared for. They were most fearful of the crevasses, and if you wanted to climb the volcano successfully you had to know where they were.

I find this story particularly relevant to using technology in my teaching. Actually, if I am the one using the technology, I don’t think too much about the crevasses because they typically only affect me and waste my time. Sometimes a certain tool won’t work correctly in the middle of my teaching, so the students get to sit there and watch me try to maintain composure, but I have learned how to avoid those embarrassing moments pretty well. The tools I use, I know them well, and I take extra care in learning new tools. However, it’s an entirely different story when I am teaching my students how to use a tool. I feel a lot more pressure to structure my instruction in a way so their time is not wasted or they don’ t get needlessly frustrated. It’s quite intimidating, actually. For example, I was just talking to someone about how to convert multiple scanned documents (JPEG files) into a PDF. I thought I had given pretty good instructions, but I forgot to inform them of a particular crevasse, and this person ended up accidentally deleting all of the scanned files. We were able to recover them, but that did little to calm the pure anger at me and the technology.

This story just reinforces to me what it means to be technology literate, and how difficult it is to know the ins and outs of tools in order to help novice users steer away from the major time drains. But it also reminds me that every bad experience just develops my cognitive complexity a little bit more and will help me teach it better the next time. So don’t stay off the volcano. Get out there and have some fun, but don’t forget to make a note of the crevasses. Someone else’s time might just be at stake.