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Perry Williams: My dream: How to talk computers
Cloud created by:
15 January 2013
My situation (context)
A significant number of our students have difficulty working comfortably in the online learning environment. In their personal lives, they may be very competent within limited domains (for example, Facebook), but they find it a formidable challenge to deal with the more complex and less user-friendly environment of our learning platform. They are intimidated by problems and difficulties and things which they do not understand, and they are reluctant to seek help from the telephone Helpdesk.
Our usual approach to such difficulties is to provide resources for information and guidance, but this is the approach only really suitable to those who are already technically competent and have resilience to technical problems. A successful initiative in teaching maths to those who have a fear of it suggests approaching the problem as one of language rather than technical knowledge: in other words, teaching such students to talk about their computers and their problems.
(I have already blogged about this here.)
The change I would like to see (challenge)
What would be different is that students with limited experience of digital technologies would feel more at home and confident in our online learning environment, more resilient in the face of difficulties, and better able to describe and discuss problems and solutions.
How I might go about bringing about that change
The key idea is to use a language learning approach (for example, focusing on vocabulary, grammar, and practice of reading / listening and writing / speaking in context) to digital skills.
Decisions about technology should follow from the learning design process (the best technology for the learning); there is nothing to determine them in advance. There may be a role for printed materials, perhaps annotated illustrations after the manner of Dorling-Kindersley books (introductory language teaching materials often make heavy use of text-plus-illustration to help with comprehension and memorisation, in an integrated way which is hard to replicate in formats such as web pages and eBooks which do not preserve layout). But given that language practice will need to play a large part in the learning activities, peer interaction offers obvious opportunities. It may be helpful first to design such activities for face-to-face group work, and then translate them to online environments.