Ten Old-School Tech Skills Your Students Never Had to Deal With

I was born in the Ice Age, when Ice Cube, Ice-T, and Vanilla Ice were all the rage. If you had told me as a child that Ice-T would someday play a cop on TV, I would have thought you were crazy. As a kid, my biggest technology concern was making it through the Oregon Trail without getting dysentery. And I always got dysentery.

Times have changed. If you look at your phone, there’s an entire office of physical stuff we used to have: a compass, a calculator, maps, video cameras, cameras, and mail. A few years ago, my son “discovered” Crossy Road and I realized that it was the same as Frogger . . . which we used to play on a large box-like system.

This has me thinking of all the old-school technology skills I learned as a child of the eighties that are now obsolete. With that in mind, I made this goofy video.

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Ten Old-School Tech Skills Your Students Never Had to Deal With

  1. Sitting in front of the boombox with your finger by the record button just waiting for your favorite song to come on so that you could make that epic mix tape. Now you just say, “hey Alexa, play my favorite song” and it works.
  2. Getting purple Ditto ink off your hands when you had filled out a worksheet. You could always see which teachers had the most packets based on how purple the students’ hands were.
  3. Navigating the dark magic of microfiche machine to look up an old article. I remember these inverted, color-reversed photos where people’s faces looked possessed. It was creepy and cool at the same time.
  4. Unjamming a slide projector. Trust me, I became an expert at unjamming projectors.
  5. Trying not to get clotheslined by the 90-foot long phone cord in the kitchen as your mom was chatting with the neighbor. I would maneuver around like it was The Matrix just to get a drink of water.
  6. Saving something to a disk and then, hours later, hoping it wasn’t all erased because it was too close to a magnet.
  7. Listening to the ultra-slow version of “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” because your Walkman batteries were almost dead and you are going to milk it for every last bit of battery juice.
  8. Sitting absolutely still in the car so that your CD wouldn’t skip on the Discman.
  9. Fixing a broken cassette with the top of a pencil.
  10. Picking up the phone and listening to make sure no one was talking on it before trying to get online only to wait five painfully long minutes for the dial-up to get online. Now we just have phones.

But there’s more. Your students will never have to blow on a video game cartridge to see if that magically makes it work, even though that’s been scientifically proven not to work. They’ll never have to wait by the mailbox for a letter to arrive. They’ll never have to time a long-distance call with a loved one because money is tight and a phone call to Alaska isn’t cheap. They’ll never know what it’s like to work on an essay at the last minute only to have to change the ribbon on the typewriter or wait for the whiteout to dry. They’ll never have to wait days for camera film to develop. There’s a good chance they’ve never had to use a map, a real map, not the kind you have on a phone.

The point is technology changes all the time. Our world is constantly changing. According to Moore’s Law, the processing power doubles every eighteen months and the same trend is often true in other areas of technology. We are in the early stages of artificial intelligence, 3D prototyping, and virtual reality. The technology skills you need right now might not be necessary in the future. Nobody cares that I can maneuver a laser disc with ease.

Focus on the Timeless Skills

I often see people getting hung up on certain tech skills. Kids need to be coders. I’m not entirely sure that’s true. I am a huge fan of kids learning to code but not for the technology skills they learn, but for the logic and strategy they learn. However, I think they learn many of these same skills in playing Chess. I don’t think it’s important that students “learn how to blog” but I love blogging for the way it allows students to express their voice and share their work with the audience.

There’s an excellent new book out right now called Timeless Learning and I love the way the authors (Ira Socol and Pam Moran are two of my favorite thinkers out there) focus on the human aspect of learning. They share ideas about imagination, observation, open spaces, and choice. Instead of obsessing over the gadgetry, they remind us that the future of learning are the things that have always mattered in authentic learning. I’ve seen so many technocrats promise that personalized learning systems will someday replace teachers or that the latest corporate reform will replace public schools. And yet . . . it’s always been about the relationship between caring adults and children. It’s always been about the human element.

It has me thinking about the way we define relevance. We can focus on being futuristic by teaching kids how to use 3D printers or AR. And that’s okay. There’s a time and a place for that. However, I wonder if relevance might actually be found in choosing to be different.

In many cases, these skills look “vintage.” They are less flashy. In a world heavily shaped by technology, students who are able to embrace the vintage are often more innovative because they are different. Here’s what I mean:

  • In a world of constant change, students will need to be divergent thinkers.
  • In a world of Artificial Intelligence, students will need to be philosophers
  • In a digital world, students will need to use analog tools
  • In a connected world, students will need to be empathetic
  • In a world of instant information, students will need to be curators
  • In a globalized world, students will need to embrace the local
  • In a world of virtual reality, students will need to study nature
  • In a distracted world, students till need to engage in deep work (or in a fast-paced world, our students will need to slow down)
  • In an automated world, students will need to do physical prototyping
  • In a world of infinite possibilities, our students will need to be curious.

This is not an either/or idea. We want to see students learn how to code and how to use modeling software with 3D printers. But we also want them to make things with duct tape and cardboard and find inspiration in biomimicry.

Technology skills will continue to change. On the other hand, there are these things that are timeless – creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, divergent thinking, empathy, project management, endurance, flexibility – and they are the very thing that computers can’t do well. But they are also the skills that teachers instill in their students when they design epic projects and cultivate a creative classroom climate. The technology skills will continue to change over time. However, the one thing that will never change is the impact you have on your students’ lives when you empower them to be creative thinkers.

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John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

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