Because I clearly don’t have enough on my plate I recently picked up the guitar. One of the songs I’m learning is a simplified version of “Feelin’ Alright” by Traffic. The chorus resonated with me: “Ya feelin’ alright? / I’m not feelin’ too good myself.”

To be honest, I’ve struggled a bit for the past few weeks. Part is due to the change to my routine, which now includes much more reading: RSS feed, Flipboard, Diigo, online journals, other blogs, Twitter feeds, additional research…only my novel remains stuck on the same page.

Even more than that, I’ve become despondent over my role as an educator. It seems that wherever I look people are doing great things with digital literacy—either teachers teaching skills or students “naturally” learning. Part of me says to simply step back and don’t get in the students’ way as they will eventually “geek out” or simply “mess around”. It’s part of their culture, this generation, so why not just provide them the opportunity to explore? Clearly, I’m behind the curve. If I want to produce a great unit, I’m going to need to go BIG.

But something happened last week which made me realize that while the report from Connectivism: A Learning Theory For the Digital Age describes some students’ behavior and approaches, those descriptions don’t encapsulate all students. I was questioning one boy about some notes he had created when, in order to show me the article that inspired him, he found his mouse pointer and took a few seconds to move to the open window with the article; he then took a few more seconds to move back to the original notes. Perplexed, I asked why he didn’t use the shortcut ‘Ctrl + z’. He just stared. I realized that this “digital native” didn’t know what I considered a relatively simple shortcut. So I started asking other students about similar shortcuts—Googling questions to tech problems, using RSS, even saving links. There seemed to be a polarity: either students used these shortcuts or they didn’t even know of their existence.

This ignorance, oddly, made me rejoice inside. It seems that there are digital tools I can teach students. Still unsure, I described the unit I was devising with some non-teachers. I considered it a cheap attempt that didn’t go far enough. The results were heartening:

“Creating a QR code?! Wow! That’s what companies do!”

“Could you share the information with me so I know how to do it?

“That seems real.”

“What’s a QR code?”

It seems that my inundation into Coetail has partially blinded me. I hadn’t realized this way of thinking and these skills don’t come naturally to people; in fact, many are still ignorant of their relative ease (for example, if you want to know how to create your own QR code just click on the link above).

People, including HS students, are busy. In order to “mess around” one needs time—a commodity that is in short supply in any high school. As a teacher, I’m realizing, my job is to create “structured messing around”: provide goals, introduce strategies and tools, and let students explore those tools on their own.

Feelin’ alright? Maybe not alright, but a bit better.