When Catriona was very little, she found comfort in a little bag of sweets.
She rarely ate them, but would find pleasure in knowing they were there.
She'd pick one from the bag, suck on it for a few seconds, then replace it, in the knowledge that she liked that sweet and could return to it for a suck later on. She did that with all her sweets, discarding the ones she didn’t like.
One of Tony Karrer’s 100 conversation topics is Ways that my children are learning that is significantly different from how I learn. This posts is about Tony’s topic number 25.
Have you ever been confronted with a technology and didn’t know how to use it? Y’know, the situation where you need to use the darned equipment but never had the opportunity to learn how to, and there’s no one around to show you. Now! When you’re desperate to use it!
It'll go bang!
I find this happens to me a lot. I have to jolt myself into action to do some exploring, maybe push a button here or click a link there – tap the keyboard to see if anything changes. I have to push aside my fear that the screen might explode, or that smoke may come gushing out of the computer. I fidget and look around to see if anyone’s watching.
This is a fear that I’ve always had when trying out new things. I realise that it’s my fear of computers that drove me to want to find out more about them. They are fascinating things, computers. Too fascinating to leave alone, and yet too mysterious not to excite my fear that I might get pounced on if I play with them.
Perhaps it’s something to do with my upbringing in an age when technology was rich in contraptions. The Billy Connolly line, “You’ll poke your eye out with that!” doesn’t seem inappropriate.
“Leave it alone! You don’t know what you’re doing! You’ll break it!” These are all demon voices that shout from the past at me, when I venture to explore somewhere I’ve never been before at the computer. “You’ll go blind!”
Habits die hard:
I recall when I was teaching young typists to use what we called word processors, way back in the late 80s. These women were fascinatingly slick at typing - on typewriters. Yet they could not get their heads round the idea that the Enter key (labelled Return key then, funny enough) didn’t have to be tapped when you got to the end of the line, or that typos didn’t need correcting as you typed them.
I had a great time unteaching these young minds about all their habits. It was a lot of fun. It taught me that humans are creatures of routine. We follow practices and cultures, unquestionably. We become so committed to them that we’ll argue the point when someone suggests we shouldn't follow habit.
I introduced the typists to what I called the suck-it-and-see approach to finding things out on the computer and was met with looks of horror. "We would never do that," came the affirmation.
Across the barriers:
Young minds always catch me out with their direct thinking. And I’m not alone in this. Last year at the NetSafe Conference 2008, I listened to a presenter tell her story of a survey that had been constructed to fathom the practice and thinking of teenagers.
She told of a 14 year old girl who was asked the survey question, “Would you swap a blow-job for a mobile phone?” The girl immediately replied, “What sort of a mobile phone?” The thinking transcends the barriers – obviously!
I just found it!
I watch my kids with a new remote or computer game. It mesmerises me to observe the way they work. How is it, for instance, that with all the years of tuition, enquiry and practice I’ve had using PhotoShop, that my teenage daughter will find things on the application, within minutes, that I’ve never seen before?
I’d ask her, “Who showed you how to do that?” She would reply, almost insolently, “No one - I just found it.” She would have found it using the suck-it-and-see approach. But she would have had no inhibitions about ‘sucking’ to find out.
Suck it and see:
Here's an exercise. The next time you are using a new application, or one that you're not too familiar with, lay aside half an hour to check out the menus. Most apps, like Word 2007 for instance, are quite extensive, but half an hour spent checking out the menus on a blank file can pay dividend.
If nothing else, it can help you learn the layout of the menus. With any luck, you'll pick up a thing or two about how to do things that otherwise would lie hidden, never to be found, till a teenage child - son, daughter or student - stumbles across it in minutes while fiddling around.
I don’t honestly think that this approach is anything new. In fact, I’d say that it is a natural fun way of finding out and learning. My feeling is that the baby-boomer learners, like myself, may carry baggage unwittingly, that inhibits them from using the suck-it-and-see approach as a first measure in learning.