You Are Not A Beginner Unless You Have Begun
February 15th, 2010 by Karen Montgomery

Mount Hood, originally uploaded by klmontgomery.

If you have yet to put on snow skis, are you a beginning skier? When a beginning skier decides to take lessons to learn to ski, their skiing ability needs to be determined in order to place them in a class at the appropriate level. Skiing ability is based on a scale of ability levels from Level 1 to Level 9. In general, you might assume, Levels 1-3 are for beginners, Levels 4-6 are for intermediate skiers and Levels 7-9 are for advanced skiers. There is no Level 0. In order to be a beginner, you have to put on skis. You need to learn how to fasten your ski boots, step into your bindings and get your balance before you really begin. Beginner lessons focus on how to gain control, go at an easy pace and most importantly how to stop. Even after mastering these simple skills you are still very much a beginner, but well on your way! Whether you are four years old or 28 years old, if you just sit in the lodge drinking hot chocolate and watching the bustle on the mountain you are not a beginner, but an observer.

Over the past few years, it has often occurred to me when I am working with educators that when it comes to the use of technology by teachers and administrators we have to start redefining beginner. The Internet is loaded with websites dedicated to computer literacy for both students and adults. In computer classes everywhere, schools focus on computer literacy skills for students that include both fundamental hardware and software knowledge.

Computers are commonplace in our society and have been for a very long time. Can teachers be expected to use online applications and resources with their students if they are not even “computer literate” and comfortable with basic computer skills and using web-based applications? Are you a beginner if you cannot attached a document to an e-mail, save a file and find it later, tab browse or work in multiple browser windows, copy and paste or sign up for an account online? Is it a beginner or an intermediate user that can download photos to a computer from their camera? Should a beginner know how to save to a flash drive or the desktop? What about administrators who only read their e-mail from the hard copy printed by their secretary? I would argue that knowing how to carry out these activities are analogous to strapping on the skis before you start your first lesson. Never mind integrating the technology into the curriculum if the beginners have not learned how to accomplish basic tasks.

Instruction on how to use blogs, wikis, photo sharing, VoiceThread and social bookmarking with students inherently starts at an intermediate level. But is signing in to your Yahoo! account an intermediate skill? Teachers who do not use online applications personally will certainly struggle with using them for the first time in an in-service or workshop setting. Frustration is imminent in these situations when some participants lag behind. It frustrates the lagging participant and other participants and often the instructor. It is frequently not the function or use of the online resource that creates this frustration but the lack of familiarity with using the computer.

Just like in snow skiing, several levels of beginners are going to exist. There is a range of proficiencies and abilities at every level, but if you are at Level 0, you are not yet a beginner. As part of our Powerful Ingredients for Blended Learning (PI4BL) framework, Wes Fryer and I have divided our levels of use into four levels: awareness, personal use, adoption and invention. At Level 1, awareness, “PI4BL educators may comment on a blog or forum post created in the Powerful Ingredients Learning Community” We feel a beginner be able to comment on a blog post written by someone else. Setting up their own blog comes at the personal use level and using a blog with students at Level 3.

So how do you define beginner? Is a beginner someone who observes and watches others engaged in an activity? Is a beginner someone who knows about goings-on, but doesn’t actually participate? Is a beginner someone who is aware that technology exists but is not engaged in exploring and using technology? Are you really a beginner if you haven’t yet begun? Would love you to contribute your thoughts.

5 Responses  
  • Jeff Thomas writes:
    February 16th, 20108:27 pmat

    I agree 100% with your post–but I’m not sure many others will. It seems that within the world of education it is okay to be afraid of the technology. It is okay not to put effort into technology–it’s not your fault–we’ll find someone to teach you. It’s okay to go at your own pace, etc. Of course, there are plenty of educators who have embraced the tech–but they are few and far between. Unfortunately, the most common response when teaching someone new tech skills is: “I can’t do that.” Educators wonder why the “tech” people look at them incredulously when the same question is asked for the 20th time. However you define a beginner, you will stay a beginner unless you continue to practice and learn. I will end up by paraphrasing Leo LaPorte–a computer (tech) is like a piano; you can’t expect to walk up to a piano and start playing Beethoven–it takes time and practice.

  • Jeff Yearout writes:
    February 26th, 20102:14 pmat

    Aside from simply practicing and trying things out, the other thing I notice is the difficulty some have in helping themselves when they get stuck. I am amazed as I work with teachers at how many either can’t or are not willing to look for built in help screens, or search on the internet as I do when I get stuck and the existing help isn’t enough. For some, I know they still have that fear in their minds that they will “break” the computer. Of course, many of our “digital natives” aren’t really good at that either, so its not just an age thing.

    Great line from good ol’ Leo! I really miss him and the rest of the old Tech TV gang.

  • figuring it out « Mysteries and Meaning in Education writes:
    March 1st, 201010:23 pmat

    […] But as Wesley Fryer (quoting Karen Montgomery) says: […]

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