A teacher once argued with me about digital natives and digital immigrants. He asserted, in a public class
- digital natives are a myth
- that “millenials think differently” is a ploy
- the multitasking brain is a scam.
He may be right but I believe I have observed an improvement in student outcomes when they are allowed to work with music playing and a chat client running alongside their work.
His argument was that technology in the work place was a big business plot to drive greater productivity from workers purely for profit.
I love my technology and discounted all he had to say - once I stopped being cross.
I remembered him today in a conversation with a colleague.
Laptops for teachers
She reminded me there had been a feeling when we first issued laptops to our teachers that it was a ploy by the school to get more for less. She told me that some teachers felt this was repeated when we rolled out iPads to staff. It was a ploy to get more working hours from our hard working teachers.
This joins the discussion of work life balance.
I argue that if you work at something that makes you happy, then your work life is in balance with your home life. I ask what is wrong with your work being a good and pleasurable part of life? If your work is not a good and pleasurable part of life, work life balance may be enjoying your work more or getting different work.
Simplistic I know, but it works for me.
So what about these iPads? Are they just a ploy by bosses to get more out of workers?
At that point the discussion turned. My colleague used a term new to me but one that I came to really like.
“The iPad facilitates softwork.” she said.
I had to hunt out references to softwork.
I found a reference in a boxing training manual. They talked about the need for 1000 hours of practice to become an expert at anything. See the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell for a great description of this idea.
They said that for a Boxer to do 1000 hours of hard practice would make them about 40 before they could be an expert hence the need for softwork. They called it the preparation and development that surrounds boxers as experts. It was promoting TaiChi for boxers. I am sure it was not the source of my colleague’s use of softwork.
After a time on Google I found the reference in a word press blog called Balau.
“Softwork: the planning, organisation, preparation and optimisation done in order to work on a task with more efficiency.”
I like this definition. I am sure it is what my colleague was talking about. We suggested the iPad was not exploiting teachers but allowing them to embed softwork in daily life.
The problem with softwork is that it can become a distraction. We discussed a shared affliction. We use the dictionary embedded in our ebooks.
Whenever a word puzzled me in my olden reading I would skip it and infer the meaning from context. I read avidly and could not bare to drop out of my text and grab a dictionary each time the novelist defeated me with their choice of word. She and I now tap the word and follow the dictionary and wikipedia references to that word. Another half hour passes and are no further along in the novel.
This is softwork as a distraction. I know a whole lot more, but I haven’t finished my reading. I happen to define knowing a whole lot more as part of my work life balance so I am happy again.
Softwork is the stuff you do to ensure that the hard work you do goes easily. Teachers do it all the time. As a teacher walks through a museum it is softwork all the way.
A joy - not a ploy.
The joy for me was that the iPad supports softwork and is not seen as an intrusion on a teacher’s life. It was described to me as a delightful way of making what teachers do as part of their life, just that little easier, assisting them in the efficient delivery of their curriculum.
Softwork - what a wonderful term. I had never heard it before. However it is not a new idea.
I am sure that Abe Lincoln was talking about softwork when he said
"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." (Abraham Lincoln, 1809-65)
Maybe the iPad is just a tool to help sharpen the axe.