This post originally appeared on the author’s blog, “Rivers of Thought”, as “An Old Dog Goes Back to School“.
A few years ago, as CIO of our local Goodwill organization, I had the honor of sitting in on the Expository Writing class at one of our high schools (What? you didn’t know Goodwill operates high schools? Check out http://www.indianapolismet.org/ and http://www.excelcenter.org/. Yep, that’s us!). This class, taught by Eric Nentrup (Mr. Eric to the students), is either an English Core 40 requirement or general elective for Juniors and Seniors. I can tell you this…this was NOT your father’s writing class, nor was it anything like I experienced in high school!
So, why was the CIO sitting in a high school writing class, anyway? Mr. Eric had always been a bit of a rogue, pushing the envelope of the digital boundaries of a typical corporation. To someone that had worked in Corporate IT for three and half decades, he tended to trigger my “command and control” reflexes. I realized earlier in my career, when that happens I need to seek to understand because there is absolutely a learning moment for me around the corner.
What I witnessed was far more than a writing class. Was he teaching an approach to writing? Absolutely, but he was also teaching current events, critical thinking, and something he calls “digital citizenship”. Not only that but through his energy, enthusiasm, and interactions, he was teaching them about relationships and the importance of bridging generations (at one point, one of the students even remarked, “I like how you talk to us. You talk to us like people, smart people.”).
We tend to think of this generation as very technologically advanced. Are they always connected and always on? Yes. Can they pick up most any device and figure out how to use it? Yes. Do they expect and demand immediate access to our connected world? Yes. But do they understand how to use technology to learn, grow and better their lives? Maybe not. That is where Mr. Eric (and others like him) come in. He teaches them responsible use of technology, how to leverage the connectivity of technology to understand the world around them and enhance their lives, and he teaches them respect for the technology (this goes as far as, how to leave the computer lab so the next class can start right up).
A day in the life…
On the day I visited, the class was working on their thesis statements for their final paper, a six to eight-page opinion paper on gun culture in the United States. Using a facilitated learning process, he guided them through a deep discussion on they topic and through the steps of taking their feelings and thoughts and developing a thesis statement.
From a pure technology perspective, the students sat down at the lab’s HP All-in-Ones and fired up their Chrome browsers. Once all the students were logged in to the Canvas Learning Management System, they followed the link Mr. Eric had placed in that day’s lesson plan, taking them to Mural.ly, where he had created the process map for them to follow, complete with research papers, websites, and news reports regarding gun violence, gun culture, and the gun control debate. The students used Diigo.com to highlight and comment the citations that supported their views on the topic.
As they discussed the topic, one of the students asked how close in proximity was Sandy Hook to La Salle High School, sites of two episodes of school violence. Rather than answering the question, Mr. Eric suggested, “why don’t you jump on Google Maps and tells us?”. Within moments the class had the answer.
Mr. Eric brought up one of the student’s worksheets using Google Drive and Google Docs (using his iPad connected to a ceiling mounted Epson projector) so the class could edit the document collaboratively. Using her position statement, “I believe US citizens are not obsessed with guns, they are obsessed with the power that comes from guns.” (pretty insightful position coming from a teenager, wouldn’t you say?) The class worked together to develop the thesis for the paper, before being turned loose to develop their own positions and thesis. Even when Google Drive experienced a brief hiccup they didn’t miss a beat and learned a lesson in the Google Docs search capabilities.
I walked away from the class with an even deeper respect for the work our teachers do, day in and day out…the energy…the preparation…simply amazing. I met a dozen or so students, who treated their teacher with respect, were truly engaged in the topic, and who had some fascinating views on the topic. There were even a couple of students who had interest in IT as a career someday.
I saw first hand how technology can be used to teach and, frankly, how it fades into the background so the students could focus on the message, not the medium. I have always felt the responsibility that comes with a career in IT: the technology must work, and it must work well. Disruptions of services can have a significant impact on our partners. I walked away with a renewed sense of the awesomeness of our responsibilities. Bet you didn’t know you were teaching all THAT, Eric!