Random Thoughts

Allowing students to teach

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

They know a heck of a lot, and when it comes to technology, they know way more then me and I’m the one who’s employed to know it.

It’s a scary thought, but one that is real and if we can get to a point that it’s OK to ask them to teach us it changes relationships and learning on many levels.

After having issues with my laptop last week during a Shifting Our Schools podcast I decided that it was time to take the plunge for real and try out Ubuntu. I’ve been wanting to play with it for awhile now and decided that now is the time.

So over the weekend I installed it and started playing. My goal is to turn the laptop into a podcasting machine. I know I can load Skype, Audacity, and some virtual audio cables to make the whole thing work like is should.

So I downloaded Skype and Audacity and took about 3 hours to try and figure out what to do with the files once I downloaded them. Frustrated I gave up.

Today I came to school, went to the office and asked for the schedule of one of the our students who I know runs Ubuntu and loves Linux. I found her in class and asked if she had some free time and could stop by and help me out. Sure enough she took her study hall time to stop by and in a matter of about 30 minutes she taught me enough to keep me busy for the next couple of weeks.

The interesting part was to watch and see what she wanted to make sure I had installed. I asked her to teach me how to install programs.But before she could teach me that she needed to first show me how to install some cool features. Like the switching of screens in cube form, how to paint fire, and some other simple add-ons. She then downloaded an audio playing program for me, telling me I just had to have this one, and then showed me how to check for updates. Only after all that did she show my how to download programs and install them using the built-in installer.

Sometimes teachers feel like they have to know it all. Like we need to understand the technology before we are able to use it. I don’t think that is necessary true. What I think educators need to focus on is the Why. Why do we need to use this technology? Is what teachers get paid for. Ryan Bretag had a great post about just this the other day on the techlearning blog titled: The Missing W

However, skipping the why because of the excitement of the what and how is a poor practice to get caught up in for educator and it surely is unacceptable for those in roles to assist educators in such planning.

I agree with Ryan. The why question is the pedagogy, is the curriculum. The kids and the support can help with the what and how. But understanding the why is what teaching is all about.

Why do we teach reading?
Why do we teach writing?
Why should my students be blogging?
Why should we use a wiki for this project?

These are the questions that teachers need to focus on and are the questions that we as educational technology supporters need to help them answer. The why is more important then the what and how. Those can be taught or in many cases students already know the how or can learn it very quickly.

We have smart kids! We need to be open to learning the how from them, but as educators we are paid to know the why!

[tags]21st Century Learning[/tags]

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. If the software is proprietary (like Skype) it is often more cumbersome to install. This is because the licenses prevent the packages from being in the Ubuntu “universe” repositories by default. Otherwise, free software is easy to install – just use “System > Administration > Synaptic Package Manager” or “Applications > Add/Remove” and you’re on your way.

    Also, if your 3D desktop crashes or has problems turn off this feature. My understanding is that ATI is freeing their graphics drivers (nVidia refuses) as we speak but today, to get those features requires installing proprietary software. It is notoriously unstable (we in the community don’t have the freedom to understand the technology and contribute fixes so we’re at their mercy) and often breaks when you update certain packages.

    Good luck with GNU/Linux and welcome to the community!

  2. Hi Jeff!

    In a recent past life, I ran the HelpDesk and ResNet programs here at Plymouth State. My staff consisted entirely of students, with one exception. They ran the ‘Desk as if it were their own (which in all honesty it was). The reason I bring this up is this: In all my time running the ‘Desk, there wasn’t a single student that I didn’t learn something from, whether it was about technology, their course of instruction or something about which they were passionate. What’s more, they enjoyed sharing with me once they knew that I was honestly interested in learning what they had to teach. It created an upward spiral that I truly miss in my current position.

    Bravo for reminding us that anyone we encounter can be a potential teacher if we only pause and listen.


  3. Jeff,

    I think our potential teachers are anywhere, as you say.

    I also think that we have to include the idea in our thoughts that sometimes our students also do know the why–why use this tool instead of that, for example, because sometimes they know the capabilities better than we do, and I don’t put it past some students to understand what purpose we are driving at as teachers.

    But I do think, as Ryan writes, that it is not about the tools–and we have to know our purposes in applying them in our schools.

    Arthus talked about this in his session at Educon–that too often we attempt to solve problems with technology when we don’t even understand the question. Wise words from a student….

  4. Jane Brooke Reply

    The “Why” is what teachers are meant for. If the teacher doesn’t understand they Why component, they are not doing their job. I believe this is part of the teachers passion for their students. The educator needs to know why it is important for their students, and why the students will benefit from these discussions.

    Teachers should never underestimate the power of a students abilities or mind when it comes to new technological advances. Often times students are more knowledgeable when it comes to things like these! Don’t be afraid to let your guard down and open the thoughts of your students.

    • Brenda Riley Reply

      Hello Jane
      Why do we teach? Why do we learn? In my opinion, it’s like Everest – because it’s there – and the teacher has evoked our interest.
      (Thanks, Jane)

  5. Sarah Kaminski Reply

    In this world of technology, I believe that its true that students do know more about the “what” and “how” of technology. Teachers, while they should be as well-informed and as up-to-date as possible, probably will occasionally need help from their students. I believe that learning is a two-way street. While the students know the “what” and “how” of technology, it is the teacher’s job to inform them “why” they need to know these things. I agree with you and Ryan Bretag, that it is the curriculum and not the pedagogy that is what we need to teach. You presented an interesting concept, learning from students, and that as teachers the “why” aspect should be what is focused on, and not the “what” or “how.”

  6. I live in a small rural town on the east coast and I just wish this school I work in could see this blog.

    I am the tech person in the school and when I am called to fix a problem I ask the students for help and it is as if I committed a crime.

    The teachers fall apart accuse me of not knowing my job and on and on.

    These kids today are more techno savvy then we will ever be and I am thankful enough to be able to learn from them.

    Panda Bear

  7. Hi.
    Just wanted you to know that I just read this post. Took me a while, I know. Busy on 4000 word research paper and all those sorts of fun things.

    I just wanted to say that, I’ve always known more than the IT teachers I had and they never liked me for it. I taught myself html in 6th grade so that I could make my own website and in 8th grade (two years too late) we finally learned how to make one at school. In 7th grade I tried to teach myself flash, worked on it for a bit and then got bored. It was easy to teach myself these things because I knew why I was using them; I had my own website. I think that the ‘why’ is in some way a motivational factor for why the student would want to learn.

    Still working on fixing the internet on my laptop. I think it’s time to give up.


  8. Amelie,
    I would love to have you at my school!! You would definitly be the teachers pet. Hats off to you keep, teaching yourself that’s the best way to learn.

    Panda Bear

  9. Mike Richardson Reply

    When it comes to technology allowing the students to teach has great potential. Many students can already use the technology used in schools efficiently, and students learn well from each other. Kids know how to explain technology in ways that their peers will understand, and this is something that some teachers are not so good at. I think that when it comes to technology many teachers teach their students assuming that they know very little to begin with, and this is usually not the case. As you mentioned it is also important to understand how, but the most important thing for the students is to understand why the concepts that they are learning are important. If a teacher can have students help with the teaching of the how and explain the why to the students, the student’s use of technology could be greatly improved.

  10. Mike,
    The problem with the teachers teaching the why is, they are so old school and do not like change they do not know the why. For instances when the anceint Mrs. Hunter had to teach the class how to use the PDA, her reply was, why use this when you can just write it in your two year pocket calendar.

    How do you address this other then tell them to retire and let the new generation teach all technology classes?

    Panda Bear

Write A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.