Lessons from War Games

I recently, like three days ago and yesterday, rewatched the Ferris Bueller, I mean Matthew Broderick, classic 80’s movie War Games. The tension and danger and suspence that was so present and palpable when I watched it as a teenager, was, interestingly enough, completely absent from the movie. Is that a result of me getting increasingly older and grouchier; the poor acting and scripting and directing of the movie, the complete and total annihilation of our sensitivities to anything that’s isn’t overtly outrageous or shocking or in-your-face, or a combination of the three? I don’t know, but I do know that I saw something in War Games this time out that I missed as a teen.

I saw the advancement, the pioneering ideas, the rogue computer hackers, the fear of those not in control, and the ultimate demise of brand new and the outdated and outmoded technology. There has always been a cutting edge, in any field really. What we don’t like to admit though, is that the cutting edge gets dull and needs to be resharpened. Dull, resharpened, dull, resharpened, until the tool is no longer reshapenable, and you throw that one away in favor of a shiny new one.

Enter The Teaching Jedi and his quest to use and infuse meaningful technology with his students in a middle school English classroom. Okay, that’s all fine and good TJ, but what does any of this have to do with an ’83 classic?

Allow me to (kind of) illustrate…

  1. If War Games is any indication of advanced technology, then we need not fear the newer, bigger, better, more concept that is so pervasive in any and all tech companies. Their job is to keep advancing and our job as consumers is to play keep up (at least that’s what they want us to do, right?). If we play their game as they want us to play it, we will never hold onto one electronic device, app version, OS longer than 3-6 months. So, from a user/consumer stand point, we are (rarely) ever at a place where we have a deep comfort level with a product before we drop that one in favor of another one that we have to relearn, or at least force the new one to work like the old one we just got rid of. Edtech to me doesn’t seem to be much different. The are dedicated edtech companies, there are established companies with edtech divisions, and there are a million voices shouting into the void about what they think you should and shouldn’t use. And then after you buy into what they’re selling/telling you, their post tomorrow will tell you to go and get something completely new. Ugh… (*this illustration might be a stretch. Oh well)
  2. New technology always seems to carry with it a very steep learning curve and a lot of bugs to work through. Now in this case, for me as an edtechnoob, even some of the old technology carries a steep learning curve and a lot of bugs to work through. Edtech seems to have one additional step that normal consumer tech doesn’t, and that is a classroom full of students. It’s one thing that we need to learn a technology, but it’s a completely different monster when we have to learn to use the technology, use the technology seamlessly in the classroom, and teach our students how to use the technology responsibly. War Games showed us that just because something is fancy, shiny, and new (WOPR anyone?) doesn’t mean it will work and play well with others. Or be all that user friendly either. Learning it takes work, and sometimes it’s best not to listen to the creators; but it might be better to break out and learn it on your own. Which brings me to my last point…
  3. David Lightman didn’t go to computer hacker school, he didn’t enroll in a computers elective at his high school, and he definitely didn’t go to the manufacturer for insight on how to properly use his computer and modem and 5 1/4 inch floppy disc drive. What did he do? What did anyone do at that time? They were on their own to learn how to best use their tools that would best serve their own individual needs. Sure, there were a few usenet groups that one could tap into for help and pointers, but one was generally on his/her own. This is how I plan on approaching my own incorporation of tech into my own classroom with my own students. Now, I’m not going rogue, but I certainly feel like a trailblazer at my school by going all in with edtech this year. I’m not going whole hog with all the latest and greatest of the edtech out there. I am, though, reading and learning everything I can about a few simple tools (GAFE most notably) that I will begin using this year. And I am doing all of this, for the most part, on my own. I’m not opposed to getting pointers from wherever I can; however I still feel though that for me to really truly learn, I have to really truly do it myself.

Now that I’m at the end of this post, I’m not sure how War Games relates to my current or future teaching situation, but it was fun reminiscing in the 80’s for a bit. Let’s just not bring up the feathered hair styles, parachute pants, or Culture Club.

May the force be with you,

-TJ

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