Friday, October 19, 2012

The Geezer Zone

DoghouseDiaries, 10/19/2012
Today's DoghouseDiaries web comic sort of sums it up for me.

I'm not a grumpy old guy, but there are some in my department that will tell you that sometimes my emails come across as if I'm playing the role of a little old lady. (Not the nice ones, who are gentle in voice and manner, and are quick to offer you a freshly baked good. No, I'm talking about the annoying ones who bitch and whine about how cold it is, then two minutes later complain that it's too hot.) I try to be reasonable when it comes to generation gaps. I don't drop the "when I was your age..." to correct beliefs or behaviors. I'll do it when I want to make a point with something I'm teaching, or add a little whimsey to a situation. And, I'll play the "back home in Minnesota" routine when I think someone is complaining just a little too much, usually about the weather. For example:

  • When my students and I are moving equipment from one end of the building to the other repeatedly: "Back home in Minnesota, we'd call this 'walking to school'!"
  • On a particularly hot and dry day: "Back home in Minnesota, we call this 'marathon training weather'!"
  • On a rainy, dark and dank day: "Back home in Minnesota, we call this 'The Fourth of July Weekend'!"

You get the idea.

But Ray, Raf and Will, the creators of DoghouseDiaries, nailed the mood of the day for me.

Keep in mind, this is just after I spent two great days at the Iowa Technology Education Connection (ITEC) conference in Des Moines. (Which rocked, by the way.) I spent two sessions working with smart - or app - phones and how they can be used effectively with students. I've changed my tune regarding those little gadgets - or at least I thought I had.

Last night, while working with a half a dozen young theater technicians, this scene in the last panel played out. We were going over the particulars of repairing lighting instruments, and I was demonstrating on a light in need of repair. I was talking while working, absorbed with the task. When I completed the repair - giving a blow-by-blow commentary of the fix as it happened - I looked up. Four students were face first into their phones, with the other two looking over their shoulder.

I'm glad I didn't go with my first instinct, which was to start throwing things. I took a breath. (OK, I took three because the first two were through clenched teeth.) "What's going on?"

The oldest student - a sophomore - spoke up: "We're looking for the video from last year's Stage Craft class - remember we did that at the end of the term? I think this was the type of fixture we worked on for that video."


Yup, he was right. We had put together a video for the purpose of accessing when people were - wait for it - repairing these very lights. (Unfortunately the video is no longer posted, but we think we remember who did the video and are trying to get it back up on the web.) So, they weren't blowing me off being totally bored with what I was saying - they were searching for additional information.  They were using their phones in a way that supported their education. I'm thankful I didn't tell them to put the damn things away.

Comedian Louie Anderson
But my first instinct was to go all grumpy old guy on them: "When I was your age, we respected our elders by paying attention!" And we did,  but it was more along the line of "When our elders were talking to us, we took off our headphones and turned off our Walkmans and paid attention!" Comedian (and fellow Minnesotan) Louie Anderson had a great line about being an old guy: "What am I going to tell my grandkids about how hard it was for me? 'When I was your age, we didn't have cable'?" It's sort of where I am. Computers in the classroom were first a reality when I was a sophomore in high school. We had technology, and we were properly wowed by it, but no one really knew how to integrate it. I think my trigonometry teacher may have had the right idea when he said "poke around with it. See what it can do." Hardly technology integration, but we learned a few things by "poking around with it."

I did seize the opportunity to say something about how great it is to have that sort of access in our hands when we have a task at hand. My students enthusiastically agreed. And when I say "enthusiastically," I mean they shrugged their shoulders and cautiously said "yeah" as if I was going to launch into another of my "when I was in high school" stories that involved a Radio Shack TRS-80.  I'll take that, though. They seem to get it.

So I'll keep geezering on. I know how it was back when, and I know how it is now. I'll keep telling kids to put their phones aside when I need to have face-to-face communication, and I'll send them texts and emails when that's the better option. I'll use the technology when it suits me and my teaching, and I'll leave the phone behind when gazing at the stars on a clear night. And if the rest of the world zooms forward with the next gee-whiz thing that takes us further from face-to-face interaction, so be it. I'll try to keep pace and adapt with my students because, when I was their age, that's what I did.