Friday, August 8, 2014

How to Be Good with Tech - Part 4

I've been posting some articles the past several weeks about how success with technology is not just about talent and experience.

Being good with tech is primarily a way of thinking.

In Part 1 and Part 3 I addressed some common myths that hold people back. In Part 2 I pointed out that successful people think "big picture" when they use technology, not step by step.

Now I want to get practical. Let’s look at the best advice I know and a few tips that will help you take it.

Tip #2: Move ahead fearlessly.

About a year after I started my job as an instructional tech coordinator I was helping a teacher learn to use a SmartBoard and student response system. She wanted to show the students an online quiz, gather answers from them and work out the problems on the board.

I spent her lunch period setting it up, then she came in the room with only a short time left before students returned. I showed her the basics of controlling the computer through the board.  I was not an expert on the equipment myself, so we ran into some glitches. I was running a demo and a test at the same time and it was going as poorly as you might expect.

As students were entering the room, I felt I hadn't given her much to work with. I probably had even made it look harder than it was. I told her I could come back later that day or early the next to figure it out. She surprised me by saying she would give it a try as soon as the students were all seated and ready to begin.

That was the first time I realized courage to move forward in the face of uncertainty beats any of the reasons to wait for preparation. After several more years of teaching people to use technology, I’ve seen this over and over...

Getting started makes all the difference. 

Imagine a spectrum where, on one end are those who avoid technology no matter what opportunities lie before them. On the other end are the people who will use it no matter what obstacles are in their way. Almost everyone will be at some point in between, but what matters most for success is which end you’re closest to.

Getting started trumps talent. Don’t think “good at tech” and “bad at tech”, as if those lead to effective use. Think “get started right now” versus “wait until ________”. Skill and knowledge follow getting started, not the other way around.

Getting started at the right time (i.e., as soon as you’re done reading this) makes everything else easier. All those misunderstandings about how hard or easy the tools are? Experience will make them disappear. Developing that big picture thinking? Start exploring on your own and you’ll see it forming in your mind.

On the other hand, have you felt the frustration of trying to get started too late? When the pressure is on, but you haven’t worked through the tipsheet since that training several months ago? Is it really a surprise that the encounter with tech ends in frustration?

Comfortably uncomfortable

The people I talk to who move ahead with new tools right away are not doing it because they’re comfortable, at least not in the ways we might think. The most innovative teachers I work with don’t have all the answers and all the bases covered in the first moment of truth. Being prepared to that level would take forever. When they jump in, they are simply comfortable with being uncomfortable.

It might look like they’re calm and collected, but they’re not resting in the familiar. They don’t know everything is going to work or exactly what they’ll do if it doesn’t. Instead of confidence in what they know, they have a confidence that they can figure it out.

It’s a step back from knowledge on the surface or all the emergency tools within reach. It’s being at ease with adapting and learning quickly, even if it’s in the heat of the moment.

This is a change in thinking, but you can start moving in that direction immediately.

Obstacles to get past

You might still see some looming obstacles keeping you from the first step.

If you’re afraid you’ll mess something up, start with something simple and small. I have my favorite example for easy exploration at the end of this article.

And remember what I said before about the tech being easier now. It’s very unlikely you’ll do serious damage when using a tool as intended. Deleted files can be recovered, crashed programs restarted and the physical equipment itself is built to take a few blows.

If you’re afraid of failing in front of others, practice will lessen this. Also (unless we’re talking tech for brain surgery) fail a few times (or have the tech fail) even when it matters. You’ll see life goes on. The times it does work will be well worth the experience in comparison to those minor setbacks.

Encouragement to move forward

If you still need encouragement, keep in mind...

Flexibility is a good thing. It is an essential skill in our quickly shifting world. Think about all the benefits to being able to deal with change. Obviously it makes for less anxiety, but think about the positive side. Being able to adapt to the unexpected will help you feel better about the situation and yourself. It’s a great relief for me to feel competent with new technology when I’m with people who are twenty or more years younger than me.

And beyond self-image, I’ve seen firsthand how important it is for others to view you as flexible. I work with administrators who oversee adults. I know how teachers view students. Whether we like it or not, flexible people are valued over inflexible. When you’re perceived as flexible and capable of learning it opens up more opportunities for you for growth and success.

I’m sure genetics and personal experience factor into our level of flexibility in new situations, but if it’s a skill, it can be developed. That won’t happen if you don’t start practicing the right thinking and the right actions.

Remember the overall goal. As I stated in my previous article, the goal of technology is not to make things simpler, but to accomplish more amazing things. The quality and quantity of your best work will improve and that’s exciting. Let the promise of accomplishing impressive things overshadow the discomfort of taking on a new tool. The clumsy first steps, the new tools you have to use but don’t care about, those are all just practice for eventually doing something big.

How successful people move ahead fearlessly

Tip #3: Know how to get back. 
Find Undo and locate the Home button. Save frequently or be sure the program automatically saves. We all make mistakes when we’re learning, but if you can get back to familiar state (even if that means rebooting the device) you can explore freely.

Tip #4: Trust the programmers.
When you forge ahead, trust that the people who set up the program did it with some logic. Trust you’ll be able to figure it out. I see some people struggle with new tools because they perceive the first error message or unexpected result as something wrong. It’s that stupid technology or that confusing computer stuff again. On the other hand, those who pick it up quickly will try to understand what caused the “problem”. They know there’s a logic behind it. There’s something to learn and they know they’ll be able to learn it given some time and effort.

Tip #5: Start with something that doesn’t matter. 
The quick studies do this a lot. When the trainer is telling everyone else where to click, the self-starters are zipping through menus and trying out buttons as they make a sample whatever. It almost certainly isn't something they'd use later. They’re not worried about doing it right. They don't feel they're wasting time. They just want to see how everything works. Try it. You might be surprised that you can do all that and still catch it when the trainer points out the real important stuff.* Better yet, do it before anyone even offers the training.

Your first assignment

So as an example of doing something relatively simple that doesn’t matter, I suggest playing around with Pixlr Express to edit a photo.

It’s a great application for fledgling explorers because it’s intuitive. It works on computers, iPads or Android devices. It has useful tools for cleaning up an image, but it's also filled iwth fun tools for adding effects and text. Just in case anyone has already used it, there’s always more to explore, better images to create and different devices to use it on.

So take 30 minutes right now to edit a photo with Pixlr Express. Use it to make something that didn't exist before. For extra credit, stick your results on Facebook when you’re done and tell everyone you wanted to do something new.

I’m not going to link to the site or tell you where to find the app. Just start with Google if you can’t find any other way. I’m resisting my teacher urge to give you a step by step** on getting a picture or importing it into the app. I'm not even putting an example here of a final result.

Your 30 minutes starts at whichever point you need to begin learning. Find the tool and do something with it.

Every minute is an investment for your future success.

Now, GO!

*If you do mess something up or you have to ask the person next to you what the trainer just said, so what? As long as it’s a rare occurrence, laugh it off. Have your impressive experiment on the screen when attention is drawn to you. Say something like, “I learn best by exploring on my own.” Maybe you’ll be an example to those around you.

**OK, I couldn't resist. If after five minutes you are still hopelessly lost, you can watch this short tutorial I made for the teachers and students in my district. Just don't count the tutorial time in your 30 minutes and be sure to do more than what I show there!

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