There’s a whole story that goes along with this post but this post is a story in and of itself, so maybe i’ll tell the other part some other time. Anyhow, here is the crux of it: We have 20 high school guidance counselors from up and and down the East Coast staying with us here at Drexel while they receive training from the National Institute of Technology. Seeing as how i work in the admissions office and that i’m (apparently) some sort of secret weapon with my disarming naivité and big city customs, i’ve been deployed repeatedly to help out these counselors (with the hope, i would suppose, that they’ll want their students to apply to Drexel in the future so that they can be as jittery and disarming as i am).
My position as designated schmoozer has left me with ample time to sit back and observe the N.I.T. instructors at work and in their own conversations, and i have to say that their technical merit is nearly as uninspiring as their name. The two most intense technical conversations i’ve personally eavesdropped were one about using Mailing Lists effectively and another about setting up an FTP server hub, both of which i understood very simply (hell, i eat that shit for lunch. After all, i am a regular reader of Linkstew and Fury). As for their work, they’re training the counselors in basic internet applications using IE, Netscape, and Powerpoint, and therein lies my problem with this whole charade of technological advancement.
At a reception for the counselors last night more than one of them remarked to me that they had spent time at similar trainings in the mid-90’s, but that technology had obviously advanced so much since then that they needed to train again. While this is true, i began using the internet in the mid-90’s at the most basic entry-level without a hint of instruction and now i’m certainly able to do anything they’re being taught this week at Drexel. So, where’s the difference? Don’t say that it’s because i’m young and because this is a hobby, because we all know urban professionals who’ve picked up the same ‘net fluency on the job over the last half decade. The problem, and the difference, lies in the fact that they’re being trained on application use instead of technology use.
The best example i can give is that in learning how to design a simple webpage for their counseling department to have a mailinglist signup on, they were all instructed to do so with Netscape Composer. When it came time to inform the counselors that they could change the colors of their background and their links, the counselors were shown the wonders of the ‘Fonts and Colors’ menu – which they ooh-ed and ahh-ed at enough to make me slightly naseous.
Now, i’ll be the last person to propose that we teach all of the counselors raw HTML coding from their first day on the job, but the flaw here is inherent in the design. They’re learning page construction on Netscape4.x, which is already obsolete, and they’re barely even learning how to change link colors. They have no concept of what’s going on behind the words and colors and italics of their page, and they are being trained not to care. This training will be out of date by the end of this year; had the instructors instead taken an extra thirty minutes to explain the tag and hexidecimal color values, the training would last them for nearly another half decade (not to mention the fact that really everyone uses style-sheets for color now, and that style sheets are dead-simple to learn from scratch when you don’t have a misunderstanding of HTML to get in your way and that they control a hell of a lot more than just color). So, these counselors are essentially paying money for airline tickets and “continuing education credits” to get barely fluent in software that is barely considered competetive, with the instructors knowing full well that they’ll have to run a new training session in another year or two when Netscape4 is finally put out to pasture as it should have been earlier this year.
Right. Stuff like this annoys me. When i taught my mother the rudiments of how to use her computer, i made sure not to root them in a single program suite. I taught her how to save files and copy and paste in something as simple as NotePad, and she scaled those skills to Microsoft Works and Netscape without batting her eyes. Similarly, in Netscape i taught her what to do rather than how to do it so she could figure it out on her own in IE if she ever switched over, and while she certainly doesn’t have her own subdomain of Uprush i’d like to think that she is savvy enough and well-prepared enough that she could learn PowerPoint or Composer in a fourth of the time these counselors are taking (neverminding how long it would take them if they were being taught the right way).
By far the worst part of this is that i keep schmoozing the instructors and they smile patronizingly at me when really their company’s website isn’t even coded as tightly as this shoddy little adventure held together in CSS, PHP, duct tape, and arcane prayers to the gods of blog. But, they all carry cell phones and wear business-casual shorts and have funny little conversations with each other about “downloading-to-floppy” and “maximizing user potential” and it’s all i can do not to bust up laughing.
sigh. No wonder i’m not an IST major; i couldn’t put up with all the bullshit.