I reached my hand out to swipe it past the tiny black box with blinky red light that’s supposed to let me into my building on campus. I hear the familiar beep and the red light flashes to green. I’m in. I pull back on the door but it doesn’t budge. Must be sticking. There’s humidity in the air for once, maybe it’s because of the rain. I swipe my hand past the box again—familiar beep and red flashes to green. Circumspectly this time, I pull on the door, harder to overcome a possible swollen jam. Nothing. The door’s not moving at all, which means that they’ve locked my key out, a severance package is on the way, and somehow I missed the email, or, my key doesn’t work. So, I simply sat back and waited for Leslie. She would be there in just a few minutes, arriving around 7:30am in the summer. She arrived and opened up the door with her key, no problem. She ushered me through the door and I was finally in. I was ready to hit my office and get a jump on the fall semester. I thanked Leslie and on my way passed I asked, “Has anyone else been having trouble with these keys?” holding aloft the new “key” that denied me access to building three.
“Having trouble with what? I don’t know what that is?”
“It’s my key to the building and it’s not working!” I said.
“That might be the key to something, but it’s not to this building” she said. “We have key cards remember?”
It was only then that I recognized my folly. I had been trying to scan my church key fob with YC’s card reader! The card reader and the key fob reader look so similar that I confused the two. I was trying to open my campus building door with my church building key. They functioned in such a similar way, that even when I was meeting with no success, I felt like it should have been working, and I never recognized my mistake. After all, the little blinky light even turned from red to green. That sent me a message that I was using the right tool to access the building, but I wasn’t.
How often do we use the wrong tool in our teaching efforts and not even realize it? In considering this example, I thought first of Internet web browser applications, such as Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, etc. These tools are so similar that, for the average user, it is quite easy to treat them all the same. They all basically serve the same purpose and have the same functionality. Some are faster than others, or lighter weight as far as the resources they consume, but they all do basically the same thing—they browse the web. Or do they?
In reality, each web browser has its own strengths, and what is even more maddening is that these strengths are constantly changing. As companies that own the browsers enter into short term sponsorships and partnerships with Adobe, Oracle and other tech-companies that produce Flash, Java, and other essential Internet webware, our favorite web-surfing applications are constantly fluxing between fast and slow, useful and useless. As we update these browsers, as a matter of course, like we do with all other things Interne, we see, first hand, the results of these partnerships. Firefox 22.214.171.124 played well with Canvas, but Firefox 126.96.36.199 can’t load any of my Panopto videos. The last version of Chrome allowed my content to show up in my course, but this version of Chrome blocks it as “insecure content”.
Our new VP, Ron Liss, said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Unfortunately, today’s Internet-based world has conditioned us to try things over and over again, and indubitably, receive vastly different results. Yesterday my web browser loaded my videos, today it doesn’t, or vice versa. Yesterday I told my students to use Firefox, today I tell them things seem to work better with Chrome. We have to use the right tool for the job; unfortunately, all of our web browser tools are so similar, it’s almost impossible to know whether we picked up a wrench or a screw driver. The point of today’s online world is that, for most of us laymen/women, we have to simply try all of the tools in our toolbox until we stumble upon the right tool for the job. Usually, after about three attempts, you’ll find what you need. The big three, of course, are Chrome, Firefox, and Edge (formerly Internet Explorer). Safari is running a close fourth. If these browsers don’t work, you probably shouldn’t be viewing what you’re trying to view anyway. But, you might try, as a last resort, Opera, Whitehat Aviator, Citrio, or Midori.
The point is, in today’s world, you have to use the right tool to get the job done. I nearly always have three different browsers open at any one time, sometimes four. Students need to get this message as well. If at first the door doesn’t open, odds are, you are trying to use the wrong key. Don’t get mad at the door, or even yourself for not being able to tell the difference between your keys (differences are subtle and nuanced), just take out the old key ring, and try a different key. Soon, you’ll find what you need. But, don’t be surprised if the key that works today isn’t the key that works tomorrow.
See you in the Internet Looney Bin!