What’s the Goal?

Posted by on Nov 4, 2009


There exists a philosophy of technology that states we should be dedicating specific time in our school day to teach students finite skills of operating computing technology.  That in order to prepare our students properly for the world, we must teach them how to word process and how to operate Power Point and how to keyboard.  The computing instruction is an end goal.  The students should learn these skills because the skills themselves are the important part of technology, and if we don’t stop throughout the day and teach them how to specifically operate the tools or applications within a computer, we will be failing to equip our future.

I’ve had discussions with individuals who say they’d rather see the students learn technology skills in isolation, and it isn’t necessary to embed or even relate this instruction to curricular content or goals.  The important part is that students learn how to operate the computer and properly work the word processing application.

I’ve found this to be a fairly popular philosophy and culture in many circles of public opinion.

So, you are in this conversation with someone.  Someone who believes adamantly that we must focus time and energy and effort on explicitly teaching students how to operate specific technology.  Someone who says we should have a checklist of computer proficiencies for each student so that we will know they can operate a computer successfully.  That if we fail to do so, we will be failing to prepare our students to succeed in the future.

And you respond by saying…


Thanks to Flickr user wZa HK for the use of the image.


  1. Matt Townsley
    November 4, 2009

    This is a great conversation starter, Ben. Once technology skills are learned by both students and teachers, I see the next big question, “how do I use XYZ.com or ABC software application” in my lesson? It seems like a backwards approach. We don’t ask ourselves, “how could I use the chalkboard today?” or “how can I use the DVD player today?” so why should we be so focused on using a specific piece of hardware or software? Tools change. Learning Word 2008 is great until our students get a job and Microsoft has come out with a newer version. Learning how to use Wordle for the sake of using Wordle is only great until the next cool web service comes out. To answer your question…I think students learning a specific set of software applications is about as useful as forcing those same applications into our instruction when it would make more sense to think about our teaching strategies first rather than the tool. My two cents….

  2. Burt Granofsky
    November 4, 2009

    Teaching students the finite skills of operating computing technology is only a beginning, and hardly an end. Our ELA instruction isn’t limited to “This is a book, notice that it has a cover and pages inside.” Rather, we teach kids about books early on, and then presume that kids know what a book is, know how to turn the pages, and focus on the purpose of the book–the content inside.

    Focusing purely on the tech tool is short-sighted and is the educational form of planned obsolescence.

  3. Ben Wildeboer
    November 4, 2009

    It’s a waste of instructional time, if you ask me.

    Instead of forcing students to spend an hour per day learning which buttons to click to use a program (which will more than likely change repeatedly throughout a students life), the students should be given projects or tasks in the “regular” curriculum where using the tools or programs makes sense. While there may not be the dedicated time to specifically teach the tools, students are pretty good at figuring things out, and as long as the teacher can provide some rudimentary help, it shouldn’t be an issue.

    Why waste so many valuable hours of class time teaching out-of-context tools that will probably not be the same tools they’ll use after they leave school?

  4. Russ Goerend
    November 4, 2009

    Had this very conversation today. I asked why we have both Computers class and Communications class. I was told that Computers is where they learn the tools and Communications is where they use the tools.

    I teach neither Computers nor Communications.

    I said, “Go to our classroom blog. Read the essays they’ve published. Read the 500+ comments that have been posted on our students’ writing. See the Wordles they’ve created *of their vocabulary words*. See the discussions my kids have every weekend on our blog.”

    That’s what I say.

  5. concretekax
    November 4, 2009

    I’ll take the opposite side from Matt and Burt. In our middle school we have a class (I do not teach it, BTW) that teaches how to use Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Publisher. I think this class is far from ideal, but we are not a 1:1 school and it is difficult for teachers to get into one of our two small computer labs. We still have a large percentage of students who do not have either a computer and/or internet access at home.

    Therefore if we do not teach students the basic word processing, presenting, and spreadsheet programs I think they are at a disadvantage. The new versions of these programs change very little and the concepts are transferable to different brands such as Google Docs, Open Office, or Zoho.

    From experience I can confirm that students do not “naturally” know how to properly use these programs to do something as simple as type a standard paper.

    I understand Matt’s point about some of the new web tools that may be flashes in the pan, but this post is talking about more core programs of word processing and spreadsheets.

    Ideally these skills would be learned integrated into core classes on their content instead of the “fake” assignments in a separate class that my school uses, but until we have more access to computers this is not a realistic option for many schools.

  6. Learn Teach Tech
    November 4, 2009

    Are the student we are teaching today “digital natives?”

    I look at my middle school students and I have to say no. They are myspace whizzes but beyond that, they have little in the way of digital skills. They need to learn Word, Xcel and Powerpoint.

    I agree with both sides of the debate happening here. They need to learn the skills. However, the skills shouldn’t be learned in isolation by just learning Word. They need to working on a project in Word. For instance, in Concretekax’s school, they media teacher should partner with the math teacher to create an Xcel project or a language arts teacher to teach Word.

    Great discussion!

  7. wmchamberlain
    November 4, 2009

    Why should we throw out authentic learning when we turn on computers?

    My students learn how to use word processors by writing stories or essays. They learn how to do presentation software for their presentations. I even throw in historical documents for my keyboarding class to practice and I have them comment on blogs for real world practice. Who wants to learn in a vacuum?

  8. Chris Hyde
    November 6, 2009

    I have had multiple conversations with colleagues about why it appears students know less about the finite skills of operating computer technology. Part of the issue we believe is that teachers are still comparing what students can do to a set of skills that is outdated. It is a waste of time to teach students the ins and outs of specific hardware and/or software program when it’s going to change in 2…3…4 years. The technology should be merely another tool used to deliver content. We must get away from technology as an add-on and make it a routine part of a classroom. I would love to see computers and technology stop being “special” and become ubiquitous. Those are my two cents as well…

  9. Yeah… what she said! – LPS Te[a]chnology
    March 2, 2010

    […] back, Ben Grey got me thinking more about getting my thoughts down in writing when he asked “What’s the Goal?“  Essentially, he framed what tends to be a debate (in the edtech circles I run in) between […]


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