Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

You don't know what they know

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I have always wanted to give back something to the community but didn't know what. I am successful by anyone's standards -- I own a beautiful home in an affluent part of Winnipeg and I have a great job and a wonderful family.

I am also an Indian. This is probably what motivated me to take up teaching computers in Winnipeg's North End at the Eagle Urban Transition Centre. I felt this is the program I would make the most impact on.

After convincing the program director of my desire to help and the need for computer training, I had approval for five classes to teach basic computing to the youth. I immediately went to work. I'd spent a few days preparing lesson plans on basic computing. I always meticulously plan projects weeks or months in advance.

You see, my profession is in iPhone and Android application development. I am a software programmer by trade. My work has taken me many places in Canada and the U.S. and even overseas.

I understand how to do amazing things with computers normal people couldn't even imagine, like making websites and creating great Photoshop images.

I remember the first day of class. My first impression after arriving early and looking around: I was slightly intimidated. The students looked a bit menacing. The classroom was pretty loud and standoffish for only 18 students. They gave me fake names along with the usual first-time teacher treatment.

I was to kick off a full week of new and exciting learning, including how to turn on a computer and monitor, computer parts and basic software.

My experience in the next hours would give many Winnipeggers, as it did me, some valuable insight that can crush prejudices and stereotypes and maybe change people's ideas about expectations.

I opened up my PowerPoint and went into my presentation. I was already on the fourth slide when I saw something. I had lost them. The class wasn't following along. Something about my presentation wasn't hooking them.

Maybe it was my graphics or the template I'd chosen or my presentation style? I really didn't know. At that moment, one of the students stopped me and said he already knew "how to do all this stuff." That was when other students started to listen and speak up.

Ten minutes into the first class, I came to a realization. These youth already had extensive computer experience and some of them even had programmed their own web pages. They'd even made their own graphics using Photoshop.

I had to know: Was this school-learned or not? It was actually all self-taught. One student in particular didn't even own a computer, let alone have an Internet connection at home.

He went to a friend's house to use Photoshop and design his own website. He taught himself how to program in XHTML and used other people's Internet connections to upload to his site.

At that moment, I decided to open a PowerPoint along with course material that I crafted and taught at a local university. I opened up an XHTML lesson and proceeded to teach them HTML5 and dynamic scripting. I couldn't believe the response.

This class really got into programming and began asking questions about other projects.

After the five classes, I taught them XHTML, HTML5 and Java Script. I also taught them how social-media tools work within Wordpress sites and even touched on Google analytics and app development.

It was an intense few weeks and a huge amount of learning for the students. These subjects are difficult for experienced professionals and yet these students understood how to use the tools. Although I felt great about how quickly they'd learned, I knew the realities of the world. Their job prospects were bleak. I know what it's like to be an aboriginal applying for jobs and going into interviews at that age.

As much as those students learned in those weeks, I felt that I'd actually learned more. These young people taught me some important lessons. The one thing I really learned is to never underestimate a person's ability, and never to make assumptions based on environment.

These students gave me a lot of inspiration and even more hope that our future is in good (computer-savvy) hands.

Darrick Glen Baxter is born and raised in Winnipeg and educated at the University of Winnipeg. He owns and operates Ogoki Learning Systems Inc. and develops educational software, iPhone and Android apps.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 29, 2012 J1

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