What’s an OS? An EdTech Failure

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Published on: December 1, 2015

A young woman purchased a laptop with the Ubuntu operating system, didn’t know how to work with it, and the frustration made her abandon her plans to start online college courses. Then a local news reporter picked up on the story:

It seems this news report is trying to say Dell, or perhaps technology in general, is at fault for this young woman’s problem, despite the reporter contacting the college and her ISP for additional assistance. Meanwhile, there are several reaction videos online as well, with people calling the woman stupid and blaming her for not knowing what she was purchasing and/or not being able to figure things out.

Unfortunately the problem is not that simple, in either direction.

The video was posted in 2009, but I hear of similar stories today, often with Chromebooks. It’s 2015. Let’s consider:

Students should not be graduating from high school without any clue what an operating system is. Even if they haven’t been exposed to ChromeOS or Linux, even if they only use Windows at home or at school, they should understand that there are indeed different operating systems out there and they should be able to recognize the difference in product literature.

Students should also understand what they’re asking for when they’re talking to Internet providers. If she’d purchased a shiny new MacBook Pro today, would the disc from her ISP have Mac software on it? Or if she’d purchased a MacBook Air with no drive, would she have been just as lost? If she went the cheap route and purchased a Chromebook, would she have the same problem? (And just wait until she tries to print.)

If she can’t connect to the Internet or set up an email client without a disc from an ISP, then it’s safe to say she will be just as lost when she visits a coffee shop or other public hotspot. She hasn’t learned the basics of what a network is, and probably not what a browser is or how they work. It’s probably safe to say she doesn’t even have an understanding of how the Internet works.

And yes, while Ubuntu will work just fine with all of her courses as the college confirmed, she’s going to be facing an uphill battle by learning her way around an OS while studying (and probably working a day job, too). The same is true if she’d purchased a Chromebook. There are plenty of online resources to help her learn, but that’s more time spent not working on class materials.

With enough basic information on operating systems, file systems/structures, networking, and software, a student should be able to sit down in front of any operating system and find the settings and software they need. It may take a little tinkering or searching, but networking is networking and a browser is a browser. At worst case they should know how to find the information they need with a Google search on a phone or a friend’s computer.

Unfortunately most classes teach “click here.” When “here” is not there anymore, students are lost.

I don’t know how many schools address these things in curriculum, but it’s something that needs to be taught. Any student who graduates without being proficient in computing—not just specific apps like Office—is only going to fall behind.

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