Category Archives: TSL℠

Flipping the Curriculum

When I realized I was a technology immigrant trying to learn Technology As A Second Language℠ (see previous blog TSL℠: Do You Speak It?), I hadn’t yet read Marc Prensky’s two amazing articles,  Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants and Do They Really Think Differently? Part II.

Turns out we are on the same wavelength. In 2001, Prensky had already defined digital natives as those who have grown up with technology and digital immigrants as those who did not. While my focus has been on how to educate digital immigrants, his focus has been on how to educate digital natives.

According to Prensky, what makes this digital immigrants/digital natives situation unique is that while traditional immigrants learn the prevailing culture from natives, in education the situation is reversed. Digital immigrants are trying to teach digital natives how to succeed in an increasingly digital world, one that students have a better grasp of than teachers.  Prensky believes that this is “the single biggest problem facing education today.”

There is only a slim, slow chance of solving this problem if digital immigrants continue to obsess about “negative” effects of technology.  Steven Pinker describes the hysteria:

Media critics write as if the brain takes on the qualities of whatever it consumes, the informational equivalent of “you are what you eat.” As with primitive peoples who believe that eating fierce animals will make them fierce, they assume that watching quick cuts in rock videos turns your mental life into quick cuts or that reading bullet points and Twitter postings turns your thoughts into bullet points and Twitter postings.

Even if this were true, we would still have to deal with it. If we are going to help next generations, we need to stop wasting time lamenting basic truths:

  1. Technology has changed everything and will continue to do so.
  2. Using technology rewires the brain and changes the way people think just as driving cars and working in offices changed the brains and thinking of people who rode in buggies and farmed.
  3. Technology means we don’t have to remember as much information as we used to.

Prensky accepts these premises. In his 2014 article, The World Needs a New Curriculum, he explains that the core subjects, math, science, language arts, and history are just “proxies” for teaching what most agree is needed to succeed such as informed thinking, acting, and communicating. We expect students to learn the latter even though they are rarely taught directly.

According to Prensky, modern times require flipping the curriculum to teach what we value most upfront, using subject matter where it fits. He proposes four basic subjects: Effective Thinking such as critical thinking, mathematical thinking, design thinking, and problem solving. Effective Actions such as mindset, grit, and entrepreneurship. Effective Relationships such as communication, collaboration, ethics, and politics. And, Effective Accomplishment which requires students to work on real-world projects. Technology is included as digital natives include it–integrated into whatever is happening.

Prensky doesn’t have all the answers, but his proposals change the focus of the reforming education conversation from how to use technology to teach to how to teach the meaningful thinking that will help students navigate the challenges of a technology world. I think he’s on the right track.

Should Older Adults Learn to Code?

Should older adults learn to code? No, but should they have a familiarity with what code is, does, and how it does it? Yes.

Coding education discussions are mainly about teaching code in K-12. Those who support including coding say that the aim is not to make everyone into a program developer (although that’s a great career).  Rather, for most, learning what makes a program or computer work is part of becoming a knowledgeable and contributing citizen in the technology world.

I believe that’s also true for adults learning Technology As A Second Language℠. If you use any form of technology such as emailing, talking on a cell phone, texting, or paying bills online, then understanding the basics of what makes it run will make it less intimidating and might even make it enjoyable to use.

Knowing something about coding is like knowing something about how the machines and systems you have been interacting with for years work. You probably know that your car has a mechanical engine with an alternator, pistons, oil filter… your stove is connected to a gas line lit by a pilot light…you put your money in the bank, you can withdraw but it’s not the same money, it’s invested…

Learning about how technology runs, is the same thing. If we didn’t know how things work, then we would be like much earlier generations who believed in magic and superstition. So, if magic doesn’t make it possible for you to write and send emails, what does?

In one of Khan Academy’s programming courses, they compare coding or programming to giving commands to your dog. You say “sit” and the dog sits. What the dog does looks nothing like the word “sit” just like a computer command usually has little resemblance to what it engenders.

Of course, code is not as simple as dog commands. When educators talk about code they mean any language of letters and symbols that can be written as program commands to cause action in a digital format such as games and software. There are many code languages including Java, Python, and Go.

Learning “some” coding means that there is no prescibed time you need to spend or material you need learn in order to make yourself more comfortable with technology. Just do what works for you. Here are a few of the many free resources:

  • What is Code? by Paul Ford  This is a tongue-in-cheek explanation of everything about computers including coding and intergenerational work issues. It doesn’t give you practical experience. Still, it provides in-depth explanations and a great read.
  • Khan Academy Click on Subjects, then Computing. You will find interactive courses in Computing that are geared towards children, but that can be advantageous for beginners.
  • Codecademy Interactive full or brief courses will take you through coding step-by-step.
  •  has great short lessons. They are also student-oriented but appealing to many adults who are curious about coding.

Learning about code will make you more confident and less reluctant to learn new applications. It may also turn you into an active participant in conversations with the technology generation.

No More Excuses

When presented with learning technology as an older adult, I often responded that I had a finite number of neurons left to absorb new information, so I had to think carefully about how I wanted to use them. It turns out that recent research has proven me wrong. Neurons do regenerate into old age.

More importantly, new pathways between neurons can be created throughout the lifespan. This is called brain plasticity  We see this clearly with stroke patients who have lost speech or movement. Many of them can “re-learn” by building new pathways between neurons often in parts of the brain where those connections did not originally exist.

A neuron without ways to communicate with other cells is useless. Electrical impulses and chemical substances called neurotransmitters stimulate the neuron. It in turn fires across pathways to create mental activities such as memory, thinking, and feeling. It is particularly encouraging that new pathways have been found in the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved with memory. (For a detailed description of neurons, go to HowStuffWorks.)

Based on these findings, it’s clear that I don’t have to be so parsimonious about my neurons.  And, I no longer have an easy excuse for avoiding learning about technology. Neither do you. The amount we can learn may not be infinite, but it’s reasonably large enough so that we don’t have to worry about squandering brain matter. So how do we begin? Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you start:

  1. What is it about technology that interests you? Even if your immediate answer to this question is “Nothing,” think again about what would enhance your use of technology. Is it learning to text or email better? Is it understanding how technology is changing the world? Is it being able to Skype with your grandchildren?
  2. How much time do you want to spend learning? Be realistic. Do you want to sign on for a multi-segment course? Or, would you rather have one-shot experiences such as seminars or videos?
  3. How would you like to learn? If you like to figure things out in private, there are many opportunities that can be accessed easily. Googling the subject matter can get you simple up-to-date information. Senior Planet has great tech tips and videos. Go on YouTube to see videos created to teach technology.

If you would rather learn with others, check out your local library, community center, or adult school for workshops. Join Meetups on technology in your area.

For a more structured class experience, contact a community college near you or browse Coursera, edX, or General Assembly for online courses.

Don’t forget the stores where you purchased your cell phone or computer. They have trained personnel to help you. Or just ask a person near you who is working on an electronic device to teach you a particular application. Most people are very helpful.

Learning technology may not be easy, but it will be worthwhile. It will give you better access to information and communication, and lessen the frustration you may be feeling in a world that is becoming more and more technology centered.

Trial and Error

When I started using computers and they stopped working in some way, I would get terribly frustrated. I would call a computer-wise friend or relative who would tell me not to get so upset. Then they would give me directions such as hit the percent key while you hold down the shift key, then a5(39H)490873, and enter.

If that didn’t work, I would become even more frustrated. But my helper would just take it in stride and say, ok, try this, hit settings, tell me what it says, ok, hold the d key, now try refresh, and on and on. At the end they would tell me, “You see, it works. No big deal. You need to calm down.”

I had many responses to that, but in most cases I would say, “Do you understand what you just did? It took us half an hour of random acts that might as well have been ‘Turn around three times, hop on one leg, hit 4 keys,  and touch your nose with your tongue’ to solve the problem.” That always got a laugh because it’s partially true, but the technology generation doesn’t care. Their love for technology includes fixing the glitches. What is frustrating to me is just part of the process for them, a process of trial and error.

Trial and error involves applying different possible solutions to a problem until one works. It’s often perceived as a primitive method of problem solving associated with practical or mechanical achievements. Young children use trial and error to discover the world around them. It takes a lot of time and patience. Thomas Edison is said to have tried at least a thousand different materials as light bulb filaments before he found one that was economical and relatively safe to use.

Those of us learning Tech As A Second Language℠ like to think that problem solving is the product of great thinking based on solid principles and experience. We don’t want to hear that if you just keep putting different things in a socket, you will succeed. To be fair, Edison didn’t just try anything; he learned from each attempt. That’s how trial and error works.

The technology generation has embraced trial and error. They would rather try different clicks to get where they want to go than read instructions. They don’t mind the moments of failure; they are confident that they will eventually succeed.

This makes sense because technology is a young, practical science. By the time you read the handbook, if there is one, it’s changed. For those who are not tech savvy, trial and error levels the playing field. Anyone can find a way to succeed. And, the more time you spend clicking, the more you learn which clicks work best for each function; the clicks are not as random as they seem to the uninitiated.

So next time your technology stops working or you need an answer to move forward such as “How do I bookmark a website?” get over your feelings of inadequacy and Google for help or start clicking. You will look tech smart and you may be surprised at how many times you can solve the problem on your own.

TSL℠: Do You Speak It?

I’ve specialized in applying learning principles to print content in higher education for over twenty-five years. Of late, the major part of my focus has been working with technical people to transition from print texts to digital.

I’ve participated in conventions, webinars, courses, meetups, and anything that will get me quickly up to speed in the digital world. I couldn’t have started this blog without a class I took from Molly Ford at General Assembly. (Thank you, Molly.)  All of this re-education has contributed to my continuing success.

My most recent learning adventure involved signing up for the edX MOOC, Design and Development of Games taught by Eric Klopfer, MIT. I got through the first two weeks, overcoming significant challenges including learning Gameblox so I could create a simple game in which a sprite knocked out coins. I felt empowered.

Then I hit Week 3. After five hours of watching videos, reading assigned materials, and getting a review of narrative video games from Jordan, my daughter’s fiancé, my head was exploding. Still, I felt confident that in the morning I would be able to do the assignment: analyze a video game.

Only I couldn’t. Even after reviewing, Mitgutsch and Alvarado’s Serious Games Design Assessment Framework, a very much needed construct. When I tried to apply it to a game, my mind went blank. Why? Very simply, I was too new to the genre. I needed to spend a lot more time playing and experiencing games before I could analyze them.

Somehow this realization started me thinking about my parents who came to America after surviving the Holocaust.  I remembered their accented speech and that sometimes I had to translate official letters and documents for them. No matter how much they assimilated they would always be immigrants, non-native speakers.

Then it hit me, now I am an immigrant, an immigrant in technology land and like any immigrant, I have to learn and keep learning a new language, TSL℠(Technology As A Second Language℠). Does that make me a second-class citizen or in this case, a second-class digital educator? I remember a story Anna Frajlich, a Polish immigrant and poet, told me about an early ESL course she took:

Anna’s assignment was to write about a story she had read. She chose to discuss Franz Kafka’s The Trial in which the main character is referred to as Joseph K. or K. When she got her essay back, her ESL teacher had commented that her English was improving, but “in America, we write out last names.”

The ESL teacher’s ignorance is a reminder that even if something does not immediately make sense in the digital world, it can still make sense and add value. If we accept that learning from each other across cultures is positive, then learning across education generations is a no-brainer. Native speakers and non-native speakers dialoguing and collaborating can only strengthen the digital education landscape.