Tag Team Tech February 2011

I Am Not a Computer Whiz

February 2011

Sarah Ludwig

A couple of weeks ago, my husband brought The Sims 3 home from the library for me to play on our Xbox. In The Sims 3, when you are creating your characters, or sims, you must assign a certain number of personality traits and goals to them. Of course, the first thing I did was make our family, including our two-year-old. As I was creating “myself,” my husband watched. I scrolled down the list of personality traits and he stopped me. “There you are,” he said, “Computer Whiz. That’s you.”

I have heard this–or a similar sentiment–from a lot from people. From library patrons, fellow teachers, and even my students. The thing is, they’re wrong. Case in point:  on my first day back from a long, two-week winter break, I was presenting to a group of my fellow teachers about Creative Commons. I wanted to show them all a short video on YouTube, but the sound wasn’t working. Our network manager chose that moment to poke her head into my classroom to see how things were going. Thank goodness! After I explained the problem, she showed me the solution: my headphones were plugged in.

I chalked it up to Vacation Brain (I think that’s something akin to Pregnancy Brain), but the truth is that any Computer Whiz worth her salt would have figured out the problem right quick.

From 2005, when I received my MLS, til the summer of 2010, when I left my last job, I worked as a librarian, first in a school and then at a public library. Now I’m back in a school, but here’s the catch: I don’t work as a librarian. Rather, I’m the Academic Technology Coordinator, which means two things. First, I teach technology classes, to students of all ages. That’s pre-kindergarten all the way up to twelfth grade. The little ones I see on a weekly basis; middle and high school students I teach when I’m scheduled by a teacher to visit a class. Second, I am responsible for strategizing how to integrate technology into the classroom.

In my first few months on the job, which started in August,  I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve introduced technology that’s too advanced for the students using it. I’ve rushed through lessons, assuming that my students have more background knowledge than they really do. I’ve chosen the wrong tech for a project. I haven’t given myself enough time to plan. I’ve tried to use a new technology in class that I’ve never even tried. I mean really–when I said up there that I’ve made a lot of mistakes, I meant it. In fact, it almost feels like 2005 again, when I was learning how to be a real librarian as opposed to a grad school student, breaking down my new job into pieces, turning those pieces in different directions, and then building my job back up again. This is sort of like that: on-the-fly job training and figuring things out as I go, getting some sort of hazy idea of the overarching goals that will begin to guide my work.

But that’s the fun of it, those mistakes. How else would a non-computer whiz learn? In fact, I think that part of what I’m doing is learning the way teens learn: by doing. I drive my aforementioned husband crazy because I refuse to read manuals, but really, I just expect stuff to work, or assume that I’ll be intuitively able to figure it out. And if I can’t? I Google it. Hey, that’s how I did tech support at my last job! And that is exactly why teens are so good at using new technology and why they dive in, seemingly without fear. Have you ever seen a teen read a manual? Sure, they ask questions, and they ask for help, but first, they try.

So far this year, I’ve used Voicethread with grades four, five, and nine–the latter to do a presentation on an aspect of Ancient Greece (along with the head of technology); I’ve worked blogging into third-, sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade classrooms; I’ve taught a lengthy Internet safety and etiquette curriculum to sixth graders, and I’ve formed many relationships with faculty who want to do more. On top of that, I’m teaching classes, leading workshops, and meeting with teachers regularly to lesson plan collaboratively.

Now, I’m not telling you this for any other reason than to show that despite all of the mistakes I mentioned above, I’m starting to find a place for myself here. And part of the reason for that is because technology doesn’t scare me.  To some people, this makes me look like a real techie. I’ve heard so many adults beat themselves up in my presence when it comes to technology, telling me how stupid, ignorant, and inept they are. I have never heard such self-criticism except when it comes to technology.

Why is this? Why are we so hard on ourselves? Fear of breaking it, sure–but what else? Fear of becoming obsolete? Linda Braun, a professor of mine at Simmons College, was the first person I heard make the argument that age has nothing to do with the ability or the potential to use technology. And I agree. But I also would posit that the teen’s natural instinct to try, to experiment without fear, is what makes them powerful. It is easy to mistake that comfort with experimentation with straight-out skill. Anyone can be that way. It doesn’t take a special kind of brain, training, or aptitude to be smart about technology, it takes a reduction in the fear of failure.

As I write this column over the coming months, I hope to share with you my experiments, my messy planning, my wild leaps. I’m not afraid to tell you about what didn’t work, but I may be a little proud when something does. I am already so happy to be where I am, partly because I’m never satisfied with just being decent at something. So now here’s my chance: I’m doing something new, learning a lot about myself, laughing with my students, gaining mightily from the wisdom of others, and reinventing myself. How lucky I am to have this opportunity.

Sarah Ludwig  is the academic technology coordinator at Hamden Hall Country Day School in Hamden, Connecticut. Formerly she was the head of teen, technology, and reference services at the Darien (CT) Library, where she developed the library’s first teen program after serving as  the head of library services at Wilbraham & Monson Academy in western Massachusetts for three years. She  is currently the chair of the YALSA Advocacy Resources Update Task Force and a member of YALSA’s Teen Tech Week Committee. Her book, Starting from Scratch: Building a Teen Library Program, will be published by ABC-CLIO in May 2011.

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5 Comments

  1. CPTaylor says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head. The fear of failure plays a big part in technophobia. I work with a couple a people who are brilliant and confident in their jobs, until they encounter a laptop doing something unexpected. I have more technical experience than they do but I think that the biggest difference is in the attitude. I will look at a technical problem and try to figure out what’s wrong, expecting that there is a logical solution. They immediately get anxious an stressed out assuming that it’s insurmountable. These same people will successfully tackle much larger non-technical problems in a logical, rational manner.

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