Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Hands-On Teaching Method

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Hands-On Teaching Method

Article excerpt

They're changing the computer system in The Washington Post newsroom - switching from video display terminals linked to a mainframe to networked personal computers - and I'm reminded of high school all over again.

The switch-over, you see, involves retraining - perhaps even testing - and the risk of being exposed as stupid. The yet-to-be trained among us hear colleagues as they return from their five-hour training sessions, muttering about Windows and mice and hideously complicated software, and we are filled with the dread some of us felt on being warned that the algebra final was a lot tougher than we'd expected.

We know (as we knew in school) that some of the moaning and groaning is phony - an attempt by the computer-comfortable to establish themselves as fellow sufferers with the computer-allergic. It reminds me of the kids who used to profess utter unreadiness for the chemistry exam and then aced the darned thing with 20 minutes to spare.

But some of it is real - from people who never became fully comfortable with the far less complicated system we're now abandoning. It's like trying to learn to "complete the square" in a quadratic equation - do they still do that? - while still unsure about the basics of factoring.

But there's a big difference between school and what's happening here. And it's a difference the schools might want to think about.

We can't fail. It will take some of us weeks to master what our average colleague will comprehend during the allotted five-hour training session - and what a few seem to have known at birth. But we will learn it because the company can't function unless we do learn it.

Our high school teachers may have wanted us to learn the rules of exponents, but for our sake, not theirs. And after a while, they had to move on, whether all of us had grasped the concept or not. Those who hadn't would have to settle for poor grades.

The Washington Post's managers do not merely want us to learn the new computer system. They need us to learn it. For their sake, not ours. They have no interest in handing out gold stars or distributing scores along a bell-shaped curve. They need us - all of us - to become competent at the system they've introduced. …

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