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Education Technology

Kissing the Office Goodbye

(Note: This is not about me leaving my current school. I love this place too much to leave.)

When I first traded my paintbrushes for a computer lab 7 years ago, I was shown a written description (on paper, even!) of the Middle School course I would be teaching. The only content it covered involved Microsoft Office products.

“Naturally,” the Principal said, “We would expect you to do more than this.”

Naturally, I agreed.

Since then, what I do in my school has only expanded. I took over Morning Announcements. I wrote (and rewrote, and rewrote again and again) a gamified curriculum that combines art and technology. I was put in charge of our school’s Media Arts major.

And Microsoft Office is still there.

ExcelsampleEven now, I still have a lesson or two that involves an Office Product. Granted, they aren’t always used for their intended purpose. My favorite Excel lesson teaches students how to goof off in a higher level math class more than it teaches them how to make pivot tables.

But why am I doing that?

At this point, there is nothing that I have ever done outside of a college level prob/stat class that required me to use Microsoft Office.

Nothing.

And if I retook that prob/stat course I could probably have gotten through with LibreOffice. I’ve been using that and its predecessor OpenOffice longer than the majority of my students have been alive, and the software’s only gotten better with time.

That said, I really only need LibreOffice for a few specific tasks. For everything else, Google Drive/Docs/Sheets/etc. does everything I need and then some. Better yet, we’re a GAFE (That’s Google Apps For Education) school system, so all of our students from 3rd through 12th grade get a Google account with “unlimited” storage. As someone who regularly has students creating video content, I am thrilled that my students have unlimited cloud storage.

So why am I doing anything with Microsoft Office at all?

One word: Inertia.

I write plenty of lessons every year, but I still fall back on some old standby projects – particularly when they are well received by the students. As much as I’ve been phasing Office out of my own curriculum, there’s still a few shreds of it remaining. By the end of the year, next year at the latest, it will probably be gone entirely, its last vestiges replaced with similar assignments that make use of Google apps.

All things considered, I’m doing better than many of my peers. I am still more likely to be sent an Office document that needs to be modified and returned than I am to be shared a Google Doc that I can modify and forget. Quite often, I am told I need to print the Office document before returning it. My mind is boggled at the backwards nature of such a request.

(Once already this year I was required to print AND FAX a Word document to another office in my district. Because why waste one set of paper when you can force the office on the other end to waste their paper, too? Does this make sense?)

We can overcome this. We have the technology.

There are plenty of educators who have embraced the new and far more useful alternatives to Office applications. Alice Keeler (blog) (Twitter) is one of the more prominent GAFE evangelists I’ve seen in my Twitter feed, and she’s far from the only one out there.

In my own district, I need to be more like Alice. I need to be constantly showing the benefits of GAFE over Office. Every time I’m sent an Office Doc to modify, I need to send back a link to a Google Doc. Every time I see a student in my lab writing a report in Word (or worse, come to me and ask if they can print their report in my room), I need to show them how they can set it up in Docs and then share it with their teacher electronically. If they tell me their teacher requires it to be printed, I need to ask the teacher why.

And, oh yeah, I’ll be presenting on this topic at this year’s Powering Up With Technology conference, so you can expect to hear more about this over the next few months.

So what are you doing? Are you teaching Microsoft Office skills to your students, or focusing on a newer, less expensive, more disruptive alternative? Why or why not? Leave a comment, let me know.

By theartguy

Aaron Smith is a Media Arts & Technology Teacher who spends most of his time on computers. In his free time he plays video games, edits videos, and misses his wife dearly.