I’m stuck in a routine. Some may even say that I’m addicted. Almost every day for a good portion of the day I sit in front of my computer. I have it set up the way I want it. My desktop is organized according to my tastes. My Firefox plugins anxiously await my use. Bottom line, my computer and I have a very special relationship because I have personalized it for my uses. My home row keys letters are slowly wearing away and there’s a shiny area on my space bar that shows the wear of my fingers. I know where to find my files and I know which programs will greet me upon startup. This is the very reason that, while I always like the boost in performance, I never truly look forward to getting a new machine. I always have to reconfigure everything. I hard drive failure not only runs away with my data, but it also causes me several hours of preparing my system for me to use meaningfully.
Last year, one of the biggest parts of my job was to hand out new laptops to teachers in my district. To make matters worse, we weren’t just handing out laptops, we were stripping these teachers of their beloved Macs. Over a year and a half later, I still hear comments about how much better the Macs were than these stupid HP laptops that we are now “stuck” with. We develop a personal connection with our tools. The problems, while frustrating, become somehow endearing over time. We know what to expect, we understand the challenges of these tools including their limitations and, however maddening, we get beyond it. Mac or PC, it’s simply a computer… a tool that we use to complete tasks. The passion that comes from these tools I don’t necessarily understand, but I find myself falling into passionate discussions over tools. My phone is one such tool. It’s not that it’s the best, but it certainly suits my needs and I’ve set it up exactly how I want it. They are very personal things and we become attached and fanatical about them. I use OSX, XP, Vista and now Windows 7 and, truly, don’t have a huge preference. My main machine is a PC because that’s what my district uses, but to me, they’re just tools.
What about the students that we teach? Does it really matter whether they’re sitting in front of an HP or an Apple when they’re typing a paper? They’re simply word processing. Even when it comes to video editing, there are tools on both platforms that students can use to create their movies. Is one easier than the other, maybe. But is the tool really that important? I say No. The skills that students (and adults) take away from any training or class is the important element in the equation. The logo doesn’t matter. The name of the software is immaterial. Do all secondary students need to be able to move through Excel or PowerPoint or is it more important that they understand and adapt their spreadsheet and presentation skills to any computer that is put in front of them? The classroom tools (SMART, Prometheon, Mac, PC, Web 2.0, etc) do not make for learning. Let’s start discussing skills instead of tools and end the argument over which one is better.
Even as I write this, I understand that there are tools that I would have a hard time living without. When Google announced that they were ending their support of Notebook, I was far from amused. However, there are other tools out there. Do they work the same way? No. Is their integration with other Google tools as seamless? No. Do I have the skills to use them effectively? Yes.
Yes, I’m attached to my computer and, yes, it’s a love/hate relationship. But the tools that I use in my daily routine as I work with teachers doesn’t make my work better; it makes it more convenient. I’m not interested in getting rid of my tools that I’ve grown so fond of, but I am interested in helping students acquire the skills to be able to move beyond a tool and still succeed in their tasks.
Image from http://www.sxc.hu/index.phtml