Tuesday, 13 April 2010

"Savvies" vs "Unsavvies": What web skills should contemporary professionals possess?



What web skills should contemporary professionals possess? To hear many educators, you would think that "web-savviness" was something that could be outsourced to a personal assistant or some other "non-professional". This view is just plain wrong and the consequences for Australian professionals will be disasterous.

There is a great deal of interest in online and blended learning in the higher education sector. However, many of the complacent views about web technologies are held by those in positions of power - often the same people who do not know how to use the technologies.

There is nothing new about some people lagging behind others in terms of "tech-savviness", but there is a divide in higher education between the "savvies" and the "unsavvies". The "unsavvies" want to make sure the pedagogy is sound and that there is some theoretical approach to the use of web technologies in the classroom. The "savvies" know that these normative questions have already been answered. The trick is how to implement new technologies in a setting which is not geared up to do so.

What is not clear is what web skills contemporary professionals should possess. Clearly, the higher education sector is the place where most of this skills development will occur. But why are web skills desirable?

With Australian broadband lagging the rest of the developed world, the time-lag between infrastructure development and skills development is ever-widening. This means that Australian professionals are already at a disadvantage in comparison with professionals from abroad. Further, a quick glance at the higher education sector and the state of Australian "Government 2.0" initiatives demonstrates that web interactivity is far from being a priority in Australia. But it should be.

Why? The first reason is productivity. The rise of neoliberalism in the West saw not only the end of free tea and coffee at work, but executives operating photocopiers and using fax machines. Just about every minute detail of day-to-day administration is now conducted by the professional - the once-ubiquitous personal assistant is reserved for only the very-well-to-do.

Web technologies enable more minute-to-minute tasks to be undertaken by professionals, rather than by a throng of support staff. Professionals might not be happy about this for a while, but who remembers when it was a "right" to have free tea and coffee at work? [International Roast Caterers Blend was hardly something to cry about losing anyway!] The point is, the efficiencies which were produced by reducing administrative staff were consumed by the system the same way web technologies would be - I am surprised the closet neoliberals haven't discovered this one yet.

Second, there is a growing need for professionals to establish a Net identity. Like it or not, it is only the few at the end of their work life cycle who can hold out to retire before web technologies are just plain normal. Think of Sir Robert Menzies - avoiding television and retiring before it was the political norm. Now imagine a politician who avoided television because they weren't familiar with the technology. Now imagine the inefficiencies created by a professional who needs to pay someone to set up their blog, social networking sites and so on. Can you even imagine paying someone to set up a Facebook account? But watch the "unsavvies" trying to do it by themselves.

Third, technology has changed. Again. Imagine a professional who refused to use a word processor, favouring the humble pen. Granted, there are a few of these people around, but they are either VERY senior or VERY VERY rich. But what about using a wiki for collaborative work? Why would you use a MS Word document when you could use a wiki? Maybe because you don't know how to use a wiki? Now watch how long it takes a handful of people to put a MS Word document together from 50 or more other Word documents. Days. Sometimes weeks. A wiki would have solved this dilemma in real-time but only if people know how to use a wiki.

I haven't even mentioned the non-organisational/non-administrative good bits yet. I could go on but I won't. The simple answer to the question posed here is that professionals need all the web skills they can reasonably get. If they don't, someone else will. But in the meantime, our productivity could improve at a rate that beggars belief. And that is the trouble - some people just won't believe it.

The trick now is to get universities geared up to teach web skills. Maybe not as a matter of direct teaching, but as a generic skill (or an assumed skill like the ability to use a word processor). But before we get ahead of ourselves, we need the infrastructure to teach these skills.  Think of the "Medieval Helpdesk" but this time the helpdesk is behind the technology curve. This brings us full circle - if the dominant professionals are not also "savvies", are they best placed to make the right decisions about what skills contemporary professionals should possess? I think not.


Creative Commons License Except where indicated otherwise, Le Flâneur Politique by Michael de Percy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License. Based on a work at politicalscience.com.au. Background image ©Depositphotos.com/ @redshinestudio