This year, my school has opted to conduct what is being calling the Freshmen Technology Seminar, which is comprised of six hour and a half periods that are meant to introduce incoming student to a host of digital tools and practices. It is ambitious and plans involved way more material than can possibly addressed in that allotted time. Unfortunately, I was not really involved in the planning of the program or its forthcoming execution. I must admit that left me a little salty, since I definitely could have offered a lot to the initiative, but like most issues in schools, it came down to things like money and teaching hours. Hopefully, I will be engaged on the periphery, which is looking likely.
Looking over the material, my first concern was that it was going to be primarily spent getting all of the students set up with all of the proper accounts with various tools, most notably Google. All students are getting a Google account with our own domain, which is a boon. There is a fair portion of time that is devoted to that. However, the group of educators that participated were certainly more ambitious than that, which is a testament to them and the kind of staff at our school. Of course, they have grown ultimately too ambitious and are likely to be spending a lot of time working out the kinks as they reflect on how it goes in retrospect. It only just began this week. So I will be monitoring it closely. Plus, despite my somewhat wary tone, I actually think that it is a pretty laudable effort regardless.
My main contention is that the kind of material that has been packaged in this seminar cannot be effectively distributed in the time frame or isolated from practical applications. The technology tools are in some ways the sole content of the course, which always seems flawed to me. Moreover, there is no mechanism, as of yet, to systematically embed any follow-up with any core classes. This leaves me wondering about the overall effectiveness and how it can even be measured. In talking with a few colleagues involved, it does look like there will at least be a definite chance for me to build on some of the introductions quite quickly. In fact, I have been waiting to do a few related initiatives in my classes until this got rolling. Thus, I saved some precious class time and avoided potential student confusion by having the students get multiple redundant accounts.
It is safe to say that the Google accounts will be used readily and Docs will once again become a core tool used in my class. Two years ago I had all of students submitting their work via Google Docs but had to subsequently shelf the practice due to all kinds of network related issues last year and knowing that this seminar was going to happen this year. Moreover, the associated Blogspot accounts will get almost immediate use in my class as I migrate one assignment in particular to a regular blog post. Additionally, the research and copyright sections of the seminar will dovetail nicely with the end of the semester, and all freshmen classes will engage in research projects first thing in the new semester.
The one thing I have always been able to say about the school where I work is that it is a rare instance where initiatives like this completely fail. Even when things are put together on the hoof, our staff is resourceful, committed, and talented enough to find ways to make things work.
Unit one is entitled “Your Digital Footprint,” which is primarily associated with online behavior and at least in part concerned with digital citizenship. The lesson is pretty spare. So, we’ll se how it goes. I am definitely planning some reverse mentoring as I fold the material into my classes and will share some of my findings.