If you grew up as I did, you were raised in a house with one black rotary phone in the kitchen provided by Ma Bell. This was the big technology, and it was used reverently; in fact, we kids were not allowed to use the phone without permission. Contrast that with the world of today where telecommunications are ubiquitous and texting has overtaken calling as the principal means of communications among teens – and even some adults. What does this have to do with my dislike of Skype? A lot, I think. I am not comfortable with Skype; I don’t like the delays, and I find it awkward to be watching someone on the screen who is looking at their screen and not at me – that is they are looking at the screen and not the camera.
We have to prepare our students to interact with and be comfortable with technology – no problem there as far as I can see; we also need to teach them how to harness technology for productive purposes. They need to see and be comfortable using technology as a way to enhance their ability to do research, collaborate with people across the hall or across the world, create new knowledge, and solve problems – free of physical and time constraints. This is the world they live in, and we have an obligation to be sure they are not just “comfortable with Skype” but also adept at leveraging the many tools at their disposal to achieve personal, educational, and eventually work-related goals.
Normally when folks collaborate, they have to be in a room together, confined by space and time. In the digital age, collaborators can be separated by miles and hours and, nevertheless, work together – perhaps through an online discussion forum, or a Google Document, or some other tool for shared work.
Those of you who read resumes and hire for your organizations will always look to see what technology skills a candidate brings to the table. Increasingly, we expect people to be adept – not just comfortable – at using a range of social media and other digital tools. So in the same way, we must ensure that our students can read, write, solve complex problems, negotiate through conflict, understand the workings of a team, appreciate the needs of others, and consider what it means to “serve a greater good,” so must we be sure that our students can do these things face-to-face and online in the digital world. Students of today will be hampered tomorrow if they leave us without the foundational digital skills that will allow them to make the most of their talents.
By the way, what we are doing at Sewickley Academy by implementing a 1-to-1 program is not particularly cutting edge. Many have gone before us, including many independent schools – and even our own students, who in large numbers already bring a digital device to campus. We often talk about “meeting students where they are” and then supporting them in their educational journey to become their best selves. This is precisely what we are doing with technology: we are meeting students where they are and supporting them to use tools with which they already have some familiarity in the personal realm for professional purposes. By making this commitment and taking the steps we are taking, perhaps we can forestall a future discomfort with technology and avoid our students’ saying “I don’t like Skype.”