What our students can learn from the 2020 tech overload

It’s easy to get frustrated about distance learning. Who doesn’t hate it? 

Teachers are overwhelmed by balancing in-person and online instruction, modifying lessons, cramming content into less time and constantly being asked to learn new tools — and we also miss the genuine, fun interactions and a-ha moments that actually make our jobs enjoyable.

Students feel isolated, cut off from their friends and teachers, drained by Zoom meetings and Hangouts, and also overwhelmed by the constant pressure to learn new tech tools.

But one of the major sources of complaint — being forced to learn new tech tools — is actually one of the silver linings of distance learning, at least for students.

. . .

I’ve seen many parents complaining online about how many platforms their kids suddenly have to navigate: Google classroom, Moodle, Canvas, Zoom, Teams, AP Classroom, Flipgrid, Kahoot, Quizlet and so many others. 

For econ students, let’s throw in Marginal Revolution University, Khan Academy (not just the videos, but quizzes too), FRED, AC/DC Economics, Jamboard (for graphing) and online simulations like kiviq, Moblab, and Chair the Fed.

It’s enough to make you long for the days of chalkboards (well, maybe whiteboards), overhead projectors, textbooks, and TVs on portable carts.

But one of the major sources of complaint — being forced to learn new tech tools — is actually one of the silver linings of distance learning, at least for students.

So what’s the silver lining here?

Step back for a second from the tragedy that is 2020 and think about what skills and knowledge our kids will need to be successful in their future careers. Ten, 20, 30 years from now.

Yep, they’re going to need to navigate the world of tech tools.

Work in the future is going to look a whole lot like school does now. 

Knowing how to login (and manage passwords), how to navigate sites, how to sort facts from crap, how to find and manipulate tools and data, how to express (and behave) yourself in a virtual meeting, and how to convey your ideas with PowerPoint, Google slides, etc. is all incredibly important.

Even simple things like time clocks for small businesses have gone virtual. If you haven’t heard of TSheets or Clockify yet, your kids will.

And it’s not just for work. Our kids are going to have to pay bills online. Access bank statements online. Pay for things and get paid using Zelle, Venmo, Paypal and who knows what other services that haven’t been invented yet.

In fact, very few skills that we teach will be MORE important than the ability to stay calm and carry on with technology. 

I’m not saying you have to like this situation, but I do think we need to change the way we frame the current learning “situation” for our students and our children. We can start by helping them see the value, keeping our complaints to ourselves and NOT fostering learned helplessness.

That means: 

Teach kids perseverance and resilience when it comes to the inevitable tech problems. 

Teach them to get up and walk away from the computer for a few minutes when they feel like screaming. 

Teach them who they can turn to for help and how to find work-arounds that work.

And be good role models who trouble-shoot, figure things out, and don’t give up.