Tech skills of the past; life skills for the future?

I was recently at Jeff Utecht’s Connected Classroom workshop at the International School of Luxembourg, and although the whole thing was excellent, one part of the weekend in particular has really gotten me thinking.

The questions I’m asking myself are:  


Are we teaching technology skills that are obsolete?

If we are, which skills are they?

Which skills are we failing to teach because we are busy with obsolete skills?

I need you to know this is not my desktop. And also.... this is not OK.

I need you to know this is not my desktop. And also.... this is not OK.

One of the examples Jeff gave of an obsolete skill was file management. Now, as an adult, I have a deeply ingrained belief that it is important to keep my digital files organised. I have folders and sub-folders and sub-sub-folders all organising information into a hierarchy and the sight of a documents folder or desktop covered in files just about gives me palpitations. When I name files I tend to name them after the title of the document.

Jeff's point was that this isn't necessary at all - modern computers and cloud storage platforms are fantastically powerful searching machines and all we have to do to take advantage of that power is start naming our files with keyword tags rather than titles. By naming files with keywords we can search for them and find them more easily than we can with our habit of storing files in folders and subfolders, and teach students to use keywords for more that just Googling.

There is a little part of me that automatically responds to the idea of giving up the subfolders in a voice much like that of a cartoon grumpy old man who yells "Keep it down, you whippersnappers!" at kids having fun in the street. "Surely", it insists, "this is a valuable life skill!" Is it though? Maybe it was, but maybe it isn't any more. And maybe I could be teaching my students something more useful during that time instead.

Why do we continue to teach skills that our students no longer need? Perhaps we teach these skills because we learned them at school, or because we assume they are still necessary because we aren’t aware of some technological developments. Perhaps we teach them because we are simply afraid to let them go from our curriculum, or because we personally believe they shouldn’t be obsolete, even if they are (or are on their way to obsolescence).

On the flipside of that question, which emerging skills are we failing to teach our students whether because we disagree those skills are necessary or because we are unaware of them?

One that Jeff brought up, and which also riles the little old man voice inside of me, is the art of Youtubing.


Is that a verb? If not it should be.

Did you know that the most successful Youtubers are making tens of millions of dollars a year? And while of course the vast majority of users on Youtube are not in that bracket, you don't have to be the world's most successful Youtuber to make enough money to supplement or constitute an income. These days, creating videos and managing a Youtube channel really is a genuine career option! Now, again, I think this idea can somehow provoke something inside us that, deep down, thinks this is frivolous, or pointless, or shouldn't be a job.... but it is a job.

Jobs aside, creating high quality multimedia content, from the conceptualising, to the planning, scripting, presenting, recording and editing is something our students can benefit from in many ways. Having those skills can let them communicate ideas and knowledge in enhanced ways, and allow them to express themselves and their ideas. Are we teaching our students the skills they need to be able to do that well?

What about digital photography? Animation? Podcasting? Digital art and graphic design skills? Coding languages?

No teacher and no curriculum right now has space for more "add ons" but it might be time to start asking ourselves whether we are spending our energy in the right places and on the right things and for the right reasons. Simply "because I think it is important" is not a good reason to teach things, and "because I don't think it is important" isn't a good reason not to teach something.

What skills are you teaching that you think might be obsolete? What skills do you notice that are missing and which would benefit your students? How could you reframe something you teach to make it more relevant for your students?

Sarah GimoreComment