Why reach for the stars?

It feels a little strange to introduce myself now:  “Dr Linda McIver, Head of Learning – Digital Technologies@JMSS, and 2017 Superstar of STEM”.

Really, who goes around calling themselves a superstar? I’m not one for self-aggrandisement. I just want to get stuff done. I want to make change.

But for some of the things that I want to change, I really need a megaphone. There’s a message I need to get out there. So I need better messaging skills, and a platform from which to use them.

I work at a Science School that has outreach as a key part of its mission. It is an essential part of our job to raise engagement with STEM for students around Victoria, not just the students at this school. A key part of that is raising technical skills everywhere in the education system. From kindergarten onwards.

I’ve been working as a High School teacher for nearly 7 years, and I am starting to understand something fundamental: while the key role of Technology in Science is obvious to me, it’s not necessarily obvious to everyone else.

In fact, even at my school, with its intense science focus, we get a startling percentage of kids who think that technology isn’t relevant to them.

And that’s not really a surprise because, although science is fundamentally interwoven with technology in practice, it is still largely disconnected in education. The education system largely teaches science as a world of test tubes, petri dishes, and microscopes, when real scientists are using technology as a massive proportion of their day to day work.

For most of my career, from Academic to Secondary Teacher, I’ve been working on the assumption that the importance of technology was obvious. I have come to realise that I could hardly be more wrong.

As long as we have kids saying that they can’t do tech, and it’s not relevant to their lives…

As long as we have teachers saying that tech is great, but it’s not that relevant to their subject…

As long as we have technologists loudly declaring that not everyone can learn to program

As long as anyone believes that tech is not a girl thing

We have a problem.

Because tech impacts us in every field of life now. Tech is in shopping. In Art. In Traffic. Tech mediates our relationships (whether we want it to or not), even down to texting our partners. Tech is fundamental to the modern practice of science – we simulate, we analyse, we visualise, and all of these things are tech based. Tech is everywhere in medicine. Tech is already integral to our lives, but it can also solve problems in ways we haven’t even thought of yet.

Whether we go on to be tech professionals or not – many, of course, won’t – we all need a fundamental understanding of technology, and a level of comfort with it that means we embrace its possibilities, know what it can do, and how we can use it to solve our problems.

I am constantly astounded at how many occupations don’t make full use of technology. Imagine if your GP’s software kept a list of symptoms you report, and each session the GP checks whether you still have those symptoms. She ticks off the ones you don’t have, and keeps the ones you do. The software then automatically throws up a list of possible health conditions to investigate. In a 10 minute consultation, the GP can’t go back through all of your visits. At most she might trawl the last one or two, so serious diseases, like MS, Diabetes, even cancer, can get missed.

This is technologically trivial to solve. The reasons we don’t yet have technology like this are actually sociopolitical, not technological. Maybe GPs don’t know it’s possible. Maybe they are resistant to it. But I suspect solutions like this would happen fast if all of our GPs were technologically savvy.

That’s just one example. There are so many more. So many inadequate technical solutions. So many problems we could solve so easily if we could make the tech usable and reliable. So much more we could achieve if everyone was technologically savvy by default.

So this is my mission. This is why I need a bigger megaphone. And this is why I applied to become a 2017 Superstar of STEM. Until I can persuade

  • Everyone that tech is a girl thing as much as a boy thing.
  • Students that tech IS for them. All of them.
  • Teachers that tech is a fundamental part of science. All science.
  • Policy makers that tech is important and crucial to all of us – and worth investing in.

I will keep using my megaphone.

Stand back, please. There may be some shouting. 🙂





About lindamciver

Australian Freelance Writer, Teacher, & Computer Scientist
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