I educate

Slightly over a year ago, I switched careers from website producer, consultant, and business owner to technology educator.

I entered an organization in the midst of its ongoing, subtle identity crisis. Do we think of ourselves as trainers? We are called that, sometimes, because we give short courses and workshops on various computing topics, and these topics are often thick with training on using specific software packages. For example, how to use Microsoft Access.

At first, I didn’t know what to call myself. Trainer? Instructor? Teacher?

Over the past months, as I’ve proceeded to teach courses on a variety of topics in computing, I know that I’m an educator. Even when teaching a course on Excel, I strive to not just have the learners practice with the software, but to understand why the software works as it does. My hope is that they leave the course not only with the knowledge of how to do the fairly mundane tasks of sorting columns and using functions, but to also conceptualize and understand their data in ways that empower them to creatively bend Excel to their own purposes.

Beyond that, I’ve always recoiled emotionally from the word “trainer.” I do not wear shiny black boots, a whip, and a whistle. “Right-click! Good boy. Have a treat.”

Please, stop. I expect far, far more out of my fellow humans than a simple ability to jump through hoops. I expect ingenuity, creativity, tenacity.

So, all that said, this morning I read an essay, Human-Centered Design by Mike Cooley, from “Information Design,” edited by Jacobsen (published in 1999 by The MIT Press). Here is an excerpt that I appreciate.

My hierachy of verbs in these matters is that you program a robot, you train an animal, but you educate human beings. Education in this sense is not just what occurs in schools or universities, where, so often, students and teachers are, as Ivan Illich points out, “schooled to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new” (Illich 1971:9).

Well said.

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