Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Technology Troubles Part Two

The problems described here proceeds my Digital diary disaster in time but I thought it was worth retelling here so that I could get a cheap laugh at the end. (And it is vaguely Educational Computing related at the end... honest.)

The youth worker at our church was getting married just before Christmas. Ordinarily, I would have liked to attend his wedding but he was getting married in India, so that made it a bit trickier. However, our minister was going and was going to be taking part in the ceremony. Just before the minister left for India he said that it would be good to set up a Skype video link during one of the Christmas services. This would allow us to see our youth worker and his family and would allow them to see us. I agreed to set this up with a confidence that was misplaced!

The church has a broadband connection in its office and for reasons unknown they use AOL (or Internet Lite as someone described elsewhere). Plan one was to use my own wireless router with the church's connection and hope the signal would reach the sanctuary. Problem one was that the church router had an USB connection and no Ethernet. Scunner.!

Plan two was to connect the church's Macintosh laptop to the router and run a long telephone extension into the church. The problem is of course that I need to download all the setting files etc. which I can't do in the church because I don't have an Internet connection. So I download the stuff at home, run round to the church to try it out, run back home to download more stuff and check the online help, run back again... You see the problem? Eventually I got to the stage where the Mac was making contact with the Internet but was dropping the connection after no more than two minutes (and usually significantly less than two minutes). The really annoying thing was that after being thrown off, the only way I could get back on was to restart. This meant I wasted hours connecting, getting thrown off, restarting, tweaking a setting or two and then starting all over again. Scunner!

Eventually, on the Sunday afternoon before the link was due to take place, I got it working with a Windows laptop. Windows 1 - Macintosh 0. Scunner! :-) However, at least it was working and in due course the connection was made, we talked to India, they talked to us and everyone was impressed. So, all's well that ends well I suppose.

Two things about this experience seen relevant to educational computing. Firstly it brings to mind the Arthur C. Clark quote:
"Any technology, sufficiently developed, is indistinguishable from magic."
I often say that part of the job of the ICT/Computing teacher is to open the box and show how the magic works. While the computing industry is saying, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!", I want teachers to lift the curtain and show pupils what the levers do. The problem is, I think, that networking and communications is not yet, "sufficiently developed" and experiences like the one described above are still too common. The technology gets in the way of the learning rather than supporting it. (I may return to this theme in a future post.)

The second thing that started me thinking was one of the help pages I accessed while trying to get it all working. I took a screenshot. This is from an official help website not just an amateur/enthusiast page. Have a look at point 7. It was the "alot" that first caught my eye as I skimmed the page - I then re-read point 7 more carefully. Oh dear!

My spelling is not very good (understatement) and my writing style could be better so perhaps I shouldn't criticise, but it seems incredible that despite (or because of?) all the wee red and green squiggly lines that Word displays, we can still produce gibberish with surprising ease. My favourite example of gibberish comes from a students essay. The student confidently wrote that, "The computer is not a pancreas." We assume they were aiming for panacea but just took the first suggestion the spell checker offered. If you can offer a better example of a spell check error I'd be interested to see it. :-)

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menndel said...

Your blog is interested! good job!

Chris said...

See church? see technology?

But do check out our new blog - link on mine.

Ruby said...

Oh, joy! What a great blog:
1. brilliant quote from AC Clark
2. PC worked when the Mac didn't (what fun to remind people of this in the future)
3. BT help pages should be avoided at all costs
4. there is no other word to use than "scunner" for certain occasions
5. have temporarily lost my list of interesting student mistakes but when found will share ...
On a day with never-ending meetings and committees in sight, you have lifted my mood!

Victoria said...

Another amusing example of spell check gone crazy.

During my final year i was researching formaldehyde and aldehydes in general. Word kept wanting to change 'aldehydes' to 'bald heads' HAHA!

The sentence would then have read "Pararosanaline is a compound which turns purple in the presence of bald heads!"