I feel like the students who I berate so frequently for doing their work at the last minute. Getting up early whilst my partner sleeps on the day of a deadline to get the work done. My first blog post comes to you from Malaysia, a day after we got in from Myanmar (where we had little internet for the last eight days) and before we travel to Mulu National Park (where we will likely have poor internet for the next four days).
Like Neo my destiny has been shaped by the presence of a little box in front of my face. I programmed my first computer (a BBC Micro) when I was five or six. I committed my first digital murder (of a mummy) at maybe around eight. At twelve I got the internet and at thirteen I joined the Nottingham Microcomputer Club. This is in many ways is where so much the direction I have taken in my life started.
Thus the COETAIL course is a natural route for me to improve my teaching pedagogy. I have often used computers to aid my instruction and my masters topic was gamification. I maintain a homework website where I use gamification to enable students to learn better, and have built several programs through my years of teaching to aid me. I even used a computer in my interview for my teaching course (for a radiation modelling game).
Note I am using the word computer as opposed to online, digital or tech for a reason. My passion is not in gadgets, digital thermometers or the internet. It is in PCs. PC stands for ‘Personal Computer’, and although the acronym is dying, it is more true now than ever it was. Many children have their own computer, as do seniors and parents. These computers people carry with them in pockets and bags are often their own personal computer, and nobody else uses it (unlike when the term was coined and a computer would be shared between a family). It is truly a fully appropriate use of the word.
I have always been in the computers community – from when it was only a small group of us at computer club to now, where many carry around a device to play games and network with others throughout the day.
Sadly, despite the ubiquity of computers, some of the arguments against teens and this community I am a part of have remained in place throughout the years. Examples of the ones I continue to hear are:
- But children only look at the screens and never play sport anymore.
- They never interact face to face.
- Their social skills will not develop properly.
Reading this paper published by the MacArthur Foundation made me reflect again upon this. I do sometimes take offence when people say these, as it could be suggesting that I have little social skills. My nose has been in front of a screen my entire life, and yet I was a champion swimmer (modest as I am), lead saxophonist in several bands, and am in a long term relationship (now to be married). I will never be the life of a party, but to say I cannot communicate is simplistic. How many footballers have spent their entire life only within football circles? Why is playing football three hours a day better than three hours using computers? Why is the stigma attached to computers but not sport, reading or music? The idea presented in the report about ‘Hanging Out’ took me back to my younger years, where I:
- Used teamspeak to coordinate with Peter so we could build strategy to free the hostages in tactical Ops.
- Used ICQ and MSN Chat to flirt with girls whilst not flirting with them at the same time (which the article discussed on pages 16-18).
- Would text chat for (sometimes hours) to people I had never, and never would, meet on IRC Chat about computers, programming, jokes and more.
- Went to Helsinki with friends from Computer Club with our computers to join thousands more at the Assembly Demoparty.
Whilst the girls I don’t really know anymore, the friends I do. The relationships that we have were forged with a common interest and have lasted despite our interests branching past this commonality. Many of these people will all be invited to my wedding, some as groomsmen. I never thought of what I was doing as hanging out, but it was just the same. I wasn’t stood in front of the local chip shop or lounging around someone else’s bedroom, but it was socialising in free time.
A common stereotype of the computer nerd is that they have difficulty talking to others, but in the networks I have formed throughout my life so far nothing can have been farther from the truth. My networks have been built and the facility to maintain them over distance has been the commonality that bought us together in the first place.
P.S. For anybody who reads this and also thinks hanging out in the computer world is always less good than the real world, also consider whilst doing it I learned: to build a computer, program LUA code, spell and write grammar voluntarily in my spare time, timekeeping and leadership skills, different internet protocols (FTP, FXP, HTTP/S, IRC, UTP etc) and more.