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Blog // Thoughts
September 9, 2009

Parenting Technologies

OK, we’ve been struggling with the internet for eight year olds. Don’t really have a lot of answers there. The challenge is not so much the whole “internet nasty” thing, rather, social networking for kids. So many websites aimed at this age have a social networking component and that’s, well, creepy. I don’t say that […]

OK, we’ve been struggling with the internet for eight year olds. Don’t really have a lot of answers there. The challenge is not so much the whole “internet nasty” thing, rather, social networking for kids. So many websites aimed at this age have a social networking component and that’s, well, creepy. I don’t say that as someone who is naive about the benefits of social networking – after all, I blog! I also twitter, email, chat online (well in a very limited capacity) use(d) forums and even tried Facebook (although that really is creepy).

One topic I feel more prepared for is helping my daughter with specific computer skills. Part of what I love about her school is that they don’t really “do computers” per se. Rather, they “use” computers as a means to completing their coursework. So, using a computer is one way to create a project. The tasks determine the skills required, rather than learning those skills in abstraction, without having any pending need to use them.

I see this as important because with digital media the bar is rising in terms of what basic skills will be needed for many jobs. When I started full-time work in the 80s, many companies still had typists, desktop publishing was a specialist job, even for in-house documents and it cost thousands of dollars to prepare a “slideshow” for a visual presentation. Now those skills have collapsed. Very few office workers have the luxury of getting anything typed for them, ever. It’s assumed most graduates can do basic desktop publishing (does anyone even call it that anymore?) and the less said about popularisation of slide-ware and powerpoint, the better.

So, what will the future look like? Well, my eight year old’s curriculum suggests some possibilities.

Tonight I was at her school listening to the teachers outline the programme for the coming year. The kids assignments will include work prepared with Pages, Keynote, iPhoto, Garageband and iMovie. It’s the last three that are the interesting ones. They are not being forced to present primarily in text, but a mix of text and digital media.

One of the main reasons why so many powerpoint presentations suck at a deep and fundamental level is because they are so text-based. In fact, powerpoint and slide-ware are lousy formats for text. But, for people schooled to give text primacy in the presentation of “factual” information (specially through tests), it makes sense to load the slides with text. Text is reliable, isn’t it?

What I’m seeing in these kids is something more rounded; text is not totally displaced, but it is not always primary. That has profound implications for the way we will expect to receive information and also for the basic skill sets that employers will look for in the future. Just as you now “need” to be able to use a word processor and slide-ware app, so in the future you will “need” to be able to edit movies, manage photo libraries and prepare podcasts and vidcasts. These expectations won’t come with a special allocation of time, they will be demanded within the normal hours of work.

As I sat and listened to the parent’s questions tonight, I was struck by how this didn’t seem to be registering with many of them. The concerns were mostly around the classic issues – is the maths hard enough, are the kids doing enough spelling words, can’t we push them harder with their maths and spelling (do you see a pattern?) But, there is something much more profound going on here that really eclipses the basics of language and numeracy (which I do still think are important) and cuts the core of how we think, reason and communicate as a society.

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