Friday, March 28, 2008

What Software Programs Do Our Students Need To Learn To Prepare Them For the Future

I hear too often that we should stick with this platform or that or we should use a certain software program because our students need to learn how to use them when they leave school. This bothers me to no end and lately has really gotten under my skin. I think the footnote at the end of Dean Shareski's post, "Unlearning," says it all:

One of our high schools sent 2 students to a provincial skills competition in video editing. They realized a week before the event that the competition would be using Macs, iMovie and Final Cut Pro. These students had never used a Mac. Their teacher wanted to pull them out of the event but the organizers encouraged them to compete. They received a 20 minute tutorial immediately prior to the full day competition. They gained a silver medal out of 15 competitors.

Skills are transferable between platforms. Of course there is always a learning curve with a new platform but in your students case it looked to be a 20 minute curve (not bad).

When I was in high school we used Macs. They were Mac Classics with Claris Works and Hypercard installed on them. How often do you think I use these programs? How often did I use them in college? The fact is we can't prepare students for the exact technology skills with the exact platform they will be using when they leave our institutions because those platforms have not been invented yet. We can, however, expose students to different types of computing and different types of applications that share conventions with other similar programs. We have been using office and studio software long enough to anticipate which skills will still be needed in future programs and future platforms.

If we look at current developments in IT as predictors of the future apps we see cloud computing on the quickly approaching horizon as being extremely significant. The nice thing about this category of software applications is they do not exist on anyone's personal computer, they exist online. If they are online it does not matter what platform you use to access them so long as you have a reliable web browser and a decent connection.

The advent and probable future significance of cloud computing makes it possible to discard costly systems like Windows and Mac and go with an open source operating system on a cheap PC and still have access to the same programs you would on a machine running proprietary OS software. Think of the cost savings and what it could mean for schools' tech budgets. Take Apple or Microsoft out of the budget and you suddenly have a lot more money to spend on hardware.

Sure, we still will probably want to have a handful of powerful machines with proprietary software installed for our power users but what percent of student use computing fits this category. I agree with Clarence when he says that sometimes all he wants is a simple OS with access to the internet and a few basic applications.

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