Where is the List of Tech Skills? (2004)

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Several years ago I helped design a fantastic project-based peer-teaching program, TechYes!, for my friends at Generation YES! TechYes!, was in an anticipation of the terrible standardized tests that were likely to dominate the quest for “measuring” student “tech skills” or “tech literacy.”

Where is the List of Tech Skills?
By Gary S. Stager, Ph.D.
© 2004 Generation YES!

Some educators looking at TechYes! may be wondering where the publisher hid the list of technology skills every eighth grader should master. Look no further. There is no such checklist.

Politicians and textbook publishers impose lists of curricular objectives on teachers and they in turn burden kids with a mountain of requirements that must be satisfied. Assumptions are made about teacher competence and their ability to assess student needs and accomplishments. Such checklists diminish classroom creativity and undermine teacher professionalism.

TechYes! believes that professional teachers are best suited to make decisions regarding the educational needs of their students. No rubric can replace a teacher with an intimate knowledge of his/her students. Peer editing and collaboration contributes to a productive learning context for students and frees teachers from extra marking. TechYes! models and embraces peer editing in an authentic context.

Curriculum, by its very nature attempts to design a sequence of activities and objectives broad enough to address a wide audience. The individual needs, experience and fluency of students are often lost in the anonymity of textbooks. All of Generation Yes’ programs celebrate the talents and potential of each child.

There remains much incongruity between our rhetoric and our teaching practice. Adults boast routinely of how “children are so competent with technology,” how “they know so much more than us – are more confident, fluent, knowledgeable.” Then we treat them as, well, children incapable of finding the return key or saving a file without our intervention.

Tech skills are like a camel, a horse designed by committee. Traditional approaches to computer literacy instruction diminish the intellectual and creative potential of this most powerful knowledge machine. When faced with the challenge of preparing students to be technologically literate by the end of eighth grade teams of well-meaning adults embarked on a process of determining what an eighth grader should know. This inevitably leads to the construction of a bottomless pit of arcane tech skills in checklist form.

Schools have the option of purchasing curriculum that turns using scrollbars into a four-year scope and sequence. Proclamations that all children will use a mouse leads to the inevitable questions, “one or two button?” “With or without a scrollbar?” Worst of all, such curricular approaches are needlessly technocentric. The focus is on the learning of isolated tech skills rather than on the application of tech skills to learn everything else.

Put away your number two pencils. TechYes! offers an important alternative.

Rubrics offer students a minimum standard they must transcend to satisfy someone else’s assignment. TechYes! students demonstrate technological fluency by constructing personally meaningful projects. These projects value audience and purpose, a quality lacking in more traditional forms of assessment.

I fully anticipate that TechYes! projects will exceed the modest expectations of No Child Left Behind and the ISTE NETs. Many will be creative, complex and inspirational. Most of all, I hope the projects will be useful. When concerned with educational excellence, I always bet on kids.

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