Teaching Students About Transferable Skills Rather Than Tools

Let me start this whole article by stating that ~ Yes! I am a Google Guy. I am not an employee of Google, but I am a definite fan. I have been using Google tools since 2010 and am a Level 1 & 2 Certified Teacher. I have my GSuite for Education Trainer Certification, and am also Google Administrator certified. While my opinions definitely do lean in one direction, I still feel the following article is important in terms of how we teach students about digital skills.

Recently in a discussion about the use of Google in the classroom, some of our teachers expressed the concern that adding a Google education on top of Microsoft Office might be confusing and sending the wrong message to students. Specifically cited was the widespread use of Microsoft by businesses. Their concern was that by teaching students to use Google tools, students would be confused by the process once they enter the world of work.

Without getting into a debate about which tool is better, I want to focus on the idea of transferable skills and students. While I do feel there is a place for teaching students about a wide variety of tools, including GSuite, Microsoft Office, Adobe and others, which may be widely used in business and industry, I feel that teaching students about the tool rather than the process is the real problem.

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Think back to the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when WordPerfect had taken the business industry by storm. WordPerfect had a toe-hold on the market for years, until Microsoft Office came into play as a strong competitor in the 1980’s. And yes, while WordPerfect had a slightly different toolbar than Word, the prevalence of icons had taken hold and it was easy for users to transfer their knowledge of one word-processing tool to the other.

It isn’t just the world of Microsoft Office that we are truly talking about here. Keep in mind that while one business may feel that one tool is the standard in terms of production, others may lean on another. For instance, in video production, many feel that Adobe Premiere Pro is the best tool ~ and we do see that tool in widespread use in schools. However, some technical schools teach by using tools like Avid Pro instead.

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Couple the debate of which tool is best with the cost of the tool, and you find that a high percentage of schools are leaning on Google and Chromebooks to cut costs. This is especially concerning to those in education and industry who feel that GSuite gets in the way. But don’t forget that although schools are saving money by using Chromebooks, users can still access many cloud based services such as GSuite and Office 365, as well as a host of other programs for other uses, including Abobe Creative Cloud, from these same devices.

If students truly need to earn industry certifications in a specific program, schools will, and do, provide programs and labs for those. But in terms of widespread access to the internet and research, students need a way to connect, create and produce work in Math, Science, ELA and Social Studies classrooms – not just career tech classrooms.

That thing that we have to remember is that Career Technology Centers across the country don’t focus on the tool. Yes, while they work hard to show students how to use tools, the also dig deep to hire instructors from industry who have seen the use of a wide variety of tools, and what they will tell you is that skills such as communication, planning, leadership and problem solving are much more important.

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What is least important in this discussion is deciding which tool is best. While these industrial giants all create wonderful digital productivity tools, the way in which we are failing students is by teaching them about a tool rather than a process or skill. While certifications in a tool are great, transfer-ability of skills is much more valuable to an employer. Rather than pick one tool, why not teach students how to navigate multiple platforms, and teach them the benefits of using one or the other for their strengths. Teach them to use the skills they have learned to find the answers for themselves, rather than us deciding for them.

To give you an example, this article was created using GSuite, WordPress, and Adobe Spark. I didn’t stick with just one tool to complete the job. I found the ones that I felt would get the job done the best, and had to know how to access and use each tool. But no one taught me how. I figured it out on my own, using skills I had acquired elsewhere.

One of the reasons that I love the Applied Digital Skills program that Google offers is that the curriculum can be used to teach students about concepts such as “creating a document”, “setting up a budget”, and “communicating clear ideas”. The courses do use GSuite tools to teach these concepts, but the curriculum goes beyond that by helping students and teachers understand that these are skills that can be transferred to other platforms and programs. If you haven’t seen this program, take a look.

This program makes me think of the many job descriptions you see today for jobs in industry. If you haven’t done so in a while, look online at job descriptions in your own industry. They don’t care which program you are certified in unless it is a very industry-specific career. Most careers in business don’t care how fast you can type – they just care that you know how. Employers are looking for digital skills, soft skills, and problem solving skills.

So rather than continue to debate over which tool is better, let’s focus on giving students exposure to multiple platforms, while helping them understand how to solve problems on their own. Teach them how to transfer what they know about one tool, and use it to learn how to use others. Teach them to research ideas and find answers on their own. Because once they enter the workplace, there won’t be a teacher sitting next to them telling them the answers and there won’t be a textbook with step by step instructions to follow. They’ll have to figure it out on their own.

One comment

  1. […] Shaun Beard, Superintendent of Teaching and Learning in the USA argues that it is important to teach students why we use certain tools or programs, rather than simply how to use them, and it is argument is valid. […]


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