Autobiography of a Computer User: or, Am I Still a Technology Padawan?

As far as I am concerned, my husband is a Luddite, but upon receiving a Blackberry for work use, the look on his face was priceless. Like one of my little boys having a dream that he’d graduated from being a Padawan to a full-fledged Jedi knight. My husband doesn’t use his Blackberry very effectively, mind you. I don’t even think he has any Force sensitivity for computer technology, let alone Web 2.0 at all, actually.

I believe I am more Force sensitive. But, I am still working on becoming a computer technology/Web 2.0 Jedi. Hence the reason I am taking EDES 501 online at the University of Alberta.

But before I continue, first please excuse my Star Wars references (there are actually only just a few sprinkled here and there in this post). While I have always liked Star Wars, I’ve never been obsessed enough to know all the minutiae around it. But my little boys are obsessed. And since the eldest is only just beginning to read and therefore needs help with the books, and because both of them regularly make me visit Wookieepedia, I am developing some Star Wars knowledge. I also thought that it might be a decent analogy, comparing the computer technology learning curve to the experience of moving from being a Padawan (trainee) to a Jedi. The crack about my husband not being Force-sensitive should probably not be used in the analogy, however, as I wouldn’t want anyone discouraged by the possibility that his or her midi-chlorian count was too lacking to ever grasp e.g. Web 2.0.

Anyway, since upcoming posts here, during my current course, will be about my forthcoming experiences with using Web 2.0 applications, I should probably offer some background and context for my earlier experiences. We’ll start off with what I didn’t experience I guess, since I am old enough that I cannot be considered a digital native, although I did get started earlier on computers than many folk kicking around…(if I go back to the Star Wars analogy, I hope that my late entry into becoming a computer Padawan does not make me more vulnerable to the Dark Side, as it did Anakin).

My earliest recollection of using a computer (other than Atari video games such as Pong, or later Asteroids, which I was really good at – I bet Han Solo would have been proud – but promoted a tendency in me to swear like a sailor around my teenage babysitters), was when I was in grade 5. Our school got its first computer, which rolled from classroom to classroom, although we didn’t get much use out of it. I certainly don’t remember what I did with this computer, if in fact I did anything at all with it. My grandfather was an early adopter, spending hours in his early retirement moving a turtle around a screen by inputting coordinates. He tried to show me how to do this, but honestly I wasn’t much enamoured, not being able to see the point and all of moving a digital shape said to be a turtle around a green screen.

I don’t remember using a computer again until grade 10, when I took an AutoCAD course. Again, I remember little from that. I wrote all of my high school essays on a typewriter. Once I entered university, my parents gave me a hand-me-down computer running on a DOS platform and a dot matrix printer for writing my papers. Using Word (in DOS) was the extent of my computer use, until later during my first degree when I used and input material into an archaeological database program. Also, a buddy of mine during 4th year (1994-1995ish) excitedly dragged me down to the basement of the UBC Anthropology building to a computer lab where he proceeded to set me up on some program (again on a DOS platform, I think, to judge by screen appearances), and then he sent me a message from his computer to mine via e-mail, not that I knew to call it that. Since he was sitting next to me, I didn’t get why such a thing was useful. Yes, I was a little short-sighted.

E-mail didn’t take off for me until 1997, when I started working as an administrative assistant for several mining exploration firms. I was immediately given an e-mail address, and since now a number of my friends were also using e-mail on the job, I had people with whom to communicate. I have to admit, much of what we sent each other were forwarded e-mails of a very shocking nature, material which we would not have had access to before the Internet – you see, I knew a number of traders and brokers and for that crew, the dirtier the better (they would have fit in well with the Tatooine Cantina crowd).

At this time I also began using the Internet regularly. It was, as mentioned by Richardson (2010) still only the Read Internet. I used it mostly for business purposes: the companies I worked for had promotional/informational websites, which were supposed to be maintained and updated by me and a couple of others. I had only started working in this business very shortly after the Bre-X scandal had hit, and as a result things were quite slow. Mining exploration companies have to flexible at the best of times, and as a result websites need to be redone. I took an online introductory course through BCIT, in about 1998, maybe 1999 (I can’t quite recall the date), on website development, mostly because I was interested in this still fairly new medium, but also because I thought it might help me professionally. At that time, while there was website design software, it was still important to know HTML. CSS was becoming more commonplace, but not enough to be included in our class. My final project was a website created entirely from HTML scratch that was a sort of online photo album of a backpacking trip I had done several years earlier, and included detailed captions for each photo. My intention was to create a space that my local friends and others I had met on the trip (who spanned the globe in terms of their homelands) could visit to see photos of places and events we had shared. I guess I had an early vision of a social networking site, except it was read only: any feedback or comments to one another had to be done via e-mail.

In terms of the technical side of that site, I found an animation online, the code of which I inserted into my introduction page. It was of a spinning Earth, with my web site’s title orbiting around the earth. I put this on a space (black with stars) background, the code for which I also dug up on the Internet. Clicking on the earth allowed the reader to enter into the rest of the site. I was quite proud of it, although the earth animation didn’t work on all browsers (definitely an issue at that stage in the game). As a result, my instructor couldn’t see it, deflating my balloon somewhat.

I did use the basic skills I developed during this course to create a new website for one of our adjusting companies. Another one of these companies, a fledgling, decided to heck with mining exploration (things were just getting worse by the minute) and went dot-com, a trend which only lasted relatively briefly. One of the ideas that developed out of this company was in fact a sort of social networking site, mostly for dating purposes. I got involved by being an online moderator (at times a weird experience, but I managed not to run into anyone as creepy as Jabba the Hutt with his bevy of concubines/rancor fodder) as well as a writer of various articles of a usually lighthearted/humourous nature and which were admittedly whipped off rather hastily each week (hey, I wasn’t getting paid for them). I remember feeling quite defensive after a woman from New York took issue with one such article of mine on the forums and we spent some time debating over it. But, I guess this was a good formative experience for the potential commentary I could get on my blog here, and she had made a possibly valid point.

Soon after, I accompanied a friend on a shopping trip to set up her wedding registry. My friend was an extremely busy career woman and we literally raced through the department store after work one day, stressfully noting down what she might want as gifts. This was all business: no leisurely shopping trip for us. As a result, it came to me that this should really be done online.

Anyway, I did some research and it turned out there were a couple of registry sites just starting up, but that was all, so I approached the powers that be at the dating website about setting up a wedding site. They were thrilled with the idea and so on we went. I came up with the name (CanadianBride.com – eventually its ownership changed hands to a magazine publisher, with whom we originally partnered), and many of the concepts around it (registry, bridal articles, etc.), but fairly quickly walked away from it, mostly without regrets, because a decision was made to move me to Ottawa to work in partnership with the magazine company. This might have been fine except the pay, benefits, and moving package was very poor (and a friend in the know who counselled people on such things for a living counselled me against it), but also I was becoming closer to the man who would soon become my fiance and then husband, and I was developing a greater interest in becoming a teacher.

And so I turned down the dot-com job and stayed in Vancouver to train to be a teacher from 2001-2002 at UBC. I joined an elementary cohort called FAME (Fine Arts and New Media Education). We were part of a pilot program where we all were assigned Mac laptops, and we worked, as our cohort name suggests, to use technology and the fine arts to teach (we also tried to combine the two). Much of our technology usage was of software programs as the Web 2.0 had not yet blossomed – we did not even know the term existed nor understood its potential.

Shortly after I graduated with this degree, I started working at an independent school at the elementary level. During this phase of my career, I did not use technology all that much. As a new school, we did not have the funding for a real technology presence. I did try to incorporate technology here and there. I would set up pathfinders (not that I was familiar with the term) and web quests of sorts for students, and would occasionally bring in my video camera and laptop so students could create commercials and other videos complementing their classroom activities. I also used the Internet to find some fantastic resources for both myself and colleagues. This was before I was moving toward librarianship, but certainly the librarian tendency was already apparent in me.

Also at this time, I continued to keep in contact with friends from different parts of the world with e-mail, and used it to announce the details of my children’s birth. Now I usually send out an e-mail about once per year, at Christmas (more about that later). I will admit I am not a big Facebook user. I do wish I had the time to keep in touch with some of the people in my past, but may have that time again down the line. I did not pursue any professional development with computers at the time, but kept myself busy trying to troubleshoot my home computers (a PC desktop I purchased used and later a Mac laptop). I wasn’t half bad at the troubleshooting part, as I found that most problems were covered somewhere in a forum online. Of course, since I was no computer whiz, any troubleshooting I did could take hours for me to figure out, which drove my husband nuts. But, I can be stubborn and once I’ve already invested time in a problem I don’t very well wish to stop part-way through. Overall though, I was allowing my interest in technology to stagnate.

After my second maternity leave, I began teaching grade 6 humanities and English. On Meet the Teacher night, I had a number of parents request/demand that I e-mail all the homework to them. I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the idea (I had done plenty of e-mailing such things to individual parents in the past), and so tried to find a way around this. I somewhere, somehow (the memory of which is lost) stumbled across the idea to use a wiki to post the homework and notices, and have students ask questions of me and communicate with one another. Later in the year our school implemented the use of Moodle, so I switched over to this official school format, much to the chagrin of my students who were rather attached to my wikispaces site. That year I also had students create group research pages on another wiki site for a class project which strove to rate and compare different consumer products based on student-determined criteria developed from our study of trade, labour, and commerce.

“Web 2.0”, however, only became a part of my vocabulary just before my entry into the world of librarianship in the Fall of 2009, after I attended a 3-day summer conference with Alan November. What an eye-opener! The possibilities excited me.

Since then, as an interim teacher-librarian, I have worked on expanding my PLN, finding LM_NET and Twitter most useful so far (the nings can be a little slow). I have also helped students learn about plagiarism by taking advantage of interactive university tutorials, and using forums on Moodle to have students reflect and discuss academic honesty. I have also created topic-specific pathfinders for various classes, introduced students to the joys of databases and the benefits of the public library system, worked with them to evaluate websites, and the like.

Other ways I currently use technology include giving in to the Dark Side and getting myself a smart phone (an iPhone specifically). I did so not because I have a great need or opportunity these days to socialize, but because I have entered the world of librarianship and need to be as experienced as I can with technology. I don’t make nor receive very many phone calls nor texts on it, but do use it to check my google calendar, as my calendar is now completely online, although I print off a copy weekly to hang above my desk in case our Internet connection crashes or I just don’t have a computer screen up and running. I also use my iPhone to occasionally read books, although due to time constraints I now usually get my fiction fix by listening to audiobooks downloaded from the public library during my commute. I also use my iPhone to quickly peruse the Globe and Mail application while keeping an eye on my kids on the playground. Before having my second child, we got a daily newspaper, which I read religiously, but after my second it became apparent it was a waste of money since neither my husband nor I had time to read it. Any news I got after that and before I got my iPhone came purely from the car radio or from the television while I prepare dinner. I do still get the print version of National Geographic delivered to me: to me it’s a collectible and I while I appreciate the interactive nature of NG’s website, I still prefer flipping through its glossy pages. This is the same for most other magazines, although I order them for my school library rather than for my home. It’s nice to have them about in the library for people just to pick up and read. Often covers will catch the eye of someone who is waiting around and who might otherwise never think to explore the same magazine online. And with the advent of databases, I can hand the older ones over to teachers for collage and other analog cut and paste needs.

I spend a huge amount of time on computers doing research for myself and colleagues. I usually have numerous windows up at any given time, for my research, my calendar, my e-mails, for storing my finds and ideas, and to address immediate student and teacher requests as they visit me in the library or e-mail me, etc. My library catalogue is online too. I absolutely cannot do my job without this ability to multi-task via technology.

I having been shopping and banking online for years now for sheer convenience. I mostly buy books, sometimes software, and have purchased two Mac laptops online. I can’t imagine now trying to find the time to go into a bank to sort out my financial life, or go out to buy stamps to pay bills. I also connect with my public library largely online, and have for years, including “ordering” books, which I then go pick up at one location. This is an amazing time-saver, and was especially so in my school’s pre-library days, when I’d take out 50 books at a time for my students’ research-based projects. More of my online behaviour includes donating to charity, especially when donating to causes such as the World Wildlife Fund in the name of my students when I taught grade three for a few years, as a Christmas gift to them. I have only booked flights a couple of times for very simple itineraries, but then I haven’t traveled much in recent years.

I mentioned earlier my current habit of sending out an e-mail to most of my friends and relatives about once per year at Christmas. Before I had children, and while I was on maternity leave, I would mail out print cards (especially to my much older relatives) for holidays and birthdays. Nowadays I just send out e-mails. So do most people I know, and it seems my ilk and I prefer to keep things low-key anyway, as we’re all too busy to be offended – a number of friends and relatives (including me and my husband) often forget our wedding anniversaries, but fortunately online calendars do allow us to remind one another (I’m not sure why that only works for remembering each others’ anniversaries and not our own). The older relatives not on e-mail tend to get left out, but I barely know my great-aunties anyway. Is this ideal? No, but that is the reality of modern life, I’m afraid. It used to be that the woman of the house maintained the social niceties as part of her domestic sphere, and I think to some degree us women still do, but even if e.g. my efforts are seriously lacking, they are far better than my husband’s, to whom social niceties are only relevant when I am nagging/guilting him about them.

As you can see, there is a rather repetitive theme of being too busy here (I think I kept the Star Wars references quite limited at least). I guess my hope is that as technology has ratcheted up busyness and expectations, it will at some point help us create balance in life. I’m beginning to see that possibility with Web 2.0, as we learn to harness its powers and overcome the steep learning curve that comes with it as I continue on in the early stages of my grad degree. One day I may just be a Jedi.

Aw, heck, forget the attempt at (ahem, cough) concluding “profundity” or for that matter running analogies 😉 … Web 2.0 is just a lot of fun too.

Cheers all,

Kirsten

Reference

Richardson, Will (2010). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

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Comments
4 Responses to “Autobiography of a Computer User: or, Am I Still a Technology Padawan?”
  1. dwees says:

    An interesting read. I feel like I know a lot more about your background. No wonder you are so tech savvy!

    Loved the Star Wars analogies, very apt. You are definitely becoming a “big Star Wars” geek!

    • tlkirsten says:

      I feel I should just revel in my Geekdom, not deny it. I have been encouraging students to do the same. I have, for instance, recently purchased a collection of short stories for the library entitled “Geektastic”.

      Anyway, thanks for being the first to post a comment. 🙂 Hopefully future posts won’t be quite so long…

  2. Angela Rand says:

    Kirsten
    Nice post. Our tech lives have had a similar trajectory. I too am immersed in tech these days. I’m typing this comment on my iPhone before I’ve even had my first cup of coffee.what a great assignment. I plan to use it in a digital literacy course I’m putting together. You handles it very well and in the process of reflecting on computer usage you’ve probably moved one step further to Jedi-hood.
    Angela

    • tlkirsten says:

      Thanks Angela for the feedback. It seems a lot of people in our class enjoyed this assignment, going down memory lane and all. The ensuing discussions were great, if sometimes a bit offtrack (with us ending up visiting youtube for muppets videos and all)

      But I have to admit, I do the coffee first…

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MYP & DP Libraries

Your virtual learning commons community, accessible 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

TLkirsten's Learning Chrysalid

A Research and Resources Learning Specialist's Reflections and Portfolio

MYP & DP Libraries

Your virtual learning commons community, accessible 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

TLkirsten's Learning Chrysalid

A Research and Resources Learning Specialist's Reflections and Portfolio

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