Sunday, December 04, 2011

Open source, coding and the Cloak of Invisibility

"I asked my students what OS they used on their laptops and Smart Phones. They genuinely did not know" !


In this time of magic, who needs to know what an OS is let alone how to code one?
Our College IT has disappeared. I knew this would happen, it’s become invisible to my students. Maybe it simply faded away when we weren’t looking properly. We use computers in class every day, many times a day; my course now utterly relies on Moodle to keep in touch, store our stuff and mark our tests; the World Wide Web is our constant companion whether on the whiteboard, laptop or phone ... but we don’t ‘see’ it anymore.
The other day I was asked by a CTSW* what OS I was using. For a few moments I was stumped until I remembered that it was called Chrome. Gosh the last time I thought about an OS I was using a purple Linux adorned with kiddy icons, I’d best find out what the students know.
Naturally enough later I asked my students what OS they used on their laptops and Smart Phones. They genuinely did not know ... no really, I had to prompt them before they even said ‘Windows’ for their laptops (‘Microsoft’ was their first response), and further differentiation (XP, Vista or 7) was almost absent. No-one had the tiniest clue about their phones’ OS but amazingly they had heard of Android and one wondered whether he could get it for his i-Phone because ‘he had heard good things’.
Everyone knew about ‘apps’ no-one knew what an app was.
By the way these young folk are 18-30 year old Applied Science students if that makes any difference to you.
Here is some more anecdotal ‘proof’ of software’s invisibility. A lot of our written work is uploaded to Moodle for the simple reason that it prevents me from losing it. When I do find it, it is usually in the docx format, however quite a lot is .odt or .ods. The ‘uploaders’ when congratulated by me on using a Free, Open Source package merely look back blankly.
On interrogation it transpires that they had no idea why Word was saving it ‘like that’ as they have the latest version (of?). Those few that actually knew they were using Open Office also knew they have to save it as .doc/.docx. Their motivation for this technical feat was bizarrely was that the college’s ‘old’ computers could not read it otherwise. By the way, only one person in the class was actually using MS Word outside of college.
ICT (school IT) teaching is being criticised harshly at the moment and we are witnessing bewildered mandarins pretending to support initiatives to teach children to code whilst hoping that they get the technical words in roughly the right order. But nearly all children have been taught ICT for years so if the OS has been forgotten what about other stuff?

I tried an old chestnut certain to have been drummed into them: did anyone backup their work? Again that look. Seems, (like me) anything they don’t want to lose is kept on-line and looked after by Microsoft, Facebook or Google.
It got worse. None of us had a clue how much RAM we had, how fast our CPU was or what storage we had on our expensive devices. Seems like only Grammar School grandad denim clad blokes like Nick Gibb (Minister of State for Schools) and whey- faced ICT teachers still know that stuff.
All of the old has become invisible. Then came the final proof that the supernatural forces were at work.
As I said earlier I have come to rely on Moodle for day to day course management but I have also been trialing tablets in class to leverage the VLE’s resources (why tablets? Because anything with a screen and a keyboard that a person can hide behind is accessing Facebook instead being on task). Be that as it may, our tablets run Android and thus I find that I am presiding over a computerised student-world that is almost entirely open-source-derived whether it be web-delivered (Moodle), desktop (Open Office) or tablet ( Android ).
I told you everything had become invisible, how else can you explain how open source software snuck in there?
  1.  ICT teaching is genuinely useless as has been said by so many
  2.  The days of pseudo IT knowledge (how big is your RAM etc) have all but gone
  3. Vanishingly few understand how computers work, few know anything technical about them and none mind that it’s now all simply ‘magic’.
In the new world of magic the question now becomes how to get the Muggles in Whitehall to do anything sensible at all.
Maybe we need an Academy or Free School to blaze the trail; let’s call it Hogwarts. Seriously though if computing has in effect become magic to a modern western society we are in deep s***
*CTSW College Technical Support Worker

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