This past week I attended the 30th annual NETA conference in Omaha. One of the most anticipated sessions for me was one titled “Let’s Duke It Out–Google Apps vs. Microsoft Office”. The presenter, Ramona (Mona) Schoenrock, from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, set the stage to compare and contrast some of the features of both platforms. I didn’t check the odds line before walking in, but it was sure to be a contentious bout!
While initially prefacing the session as being non-biased, it quickly became apparent that this match was skewed in favor of Microsoft Office. One of my colleagues, Alex Wyatt, and I have passionate feelings about the dwindling need for a full-blown desktop productivity suite like Office, so we were quick to defend our champ on a number of points.
During the session’s Q&A portion I posed the following question both verbally and on Twitter:
At what point do we focus on teaching students skills/concepts in word processing, spreadsheets, etc. rather than a specific tool? #neta17
— Wade Gibson (@WadeGibson) April 21, 2017
I elaborated by saying that if we focused on teaching students the concepts they would be able to move fluidly between Word, Google Docs, Pages, or any other word processor application. Alex made a great analogy that we learn to drive a car, rather than learning to drive a Ford. If we rely on executing a series of specific moves to achieve a result we will be thwarted anytime a small variable upsets that sequence.
We have seen this manifest itself first hand when new versions of the Office suite have been released. People who had grown accustomed to “go here, click here” processes were lost when the menu system had changed. We need to teach critical thinking skills and expose learners to a variety of tools that can accomplish a given task. Employers say they want someone who knows Word. What they really mean is, “I need someone who can compose and edit documents.”
Daniel Pink is quoted as saying, “We need to prepare kids for their future, not our past.” This is never truer than during our rapidly evolving information era. It’s not important that you are certified in some specific application. In five years most of that won’t matter. What matters is how quickly you can learn and adapt to the next version. That is a marketable skill.