This past weekend, I spent several hours trying to rid my family desktop computer from a particularly nasty trojan virus. This particular virus posed as antivirus software which someone in the family inadvertently installed when a pop-up came up warning them that the computer was infected. What made it extremely difficult to eradicate was that whoever engineered this particular virus apparently had thought of all the ways I had rid my computer of viruses in the past. As I searched for a solution, I tried many of my old tried-and-true tactics, only to find that solution would not work. This went on for several hours, until I realized none of the tools in my current toolbox would work. I told a family member at the time, “This is one of the worst computer bugs I have seen. It’s like it knows my every move and it blocks it.” I spent an entire Friday evening trying to get rid of it, finally surrendering at 3:00 AM, with the computer still infected.
The next day, I did some web surfing, and by searching with Google Images, I found an exact image of the fake antivirus messages on one of these computer forums devoted to do-it-yourself computer troubleshooters like myself. I read the solution presented there, and it looked similar to another one tried the night before, so I decided to look for other options. I even looked up the Best Buy Geek Squad to see what they could do for me, and their web site stated that they could get rid of the trojan virus for about 200 dollars. I decided that would be my final fallback position. I wanted to try to solve this problem myself before spending that much money on it. The computer was not usable in its current state, so I doubted I could do anything to make it any less usable. To make the story shorter, I used the instructions from the computer forum and the suggested freeware tools provided, and by that afternoon, I had cleaned the virus from the computer, installed up-to-date antivirus software, installed a malware blocker, and optimized the whole system.
I share this incident, not to brag about my computer wizardry, though it does make me feel pretty good to have solved a very complicated problem like this one. I share this incident because it illustrates, at least to me, all the kinds of thinking our schools should be having students engage in. I began with observation---examining how my computer was affected by the virus. Next, I gathered information about the problem. I used the Internet and Google search to find out if anyone else had problems similar to mine. After I discovered information about the problem from the Web, I began to evaluate the usefulness of the information and the solutions offered. I hypothesized which solutions would work given the aspects of how the virus affected my computer. Then I began testing the solutions to see if they would work. When none of the solutions would work, I had to reframe the problem: I can’t just get rid of the virus, I have to disable it first. Finally, I found new solutions to fit the new way I had reframed the problem. Ultimately, I was able to solve the virus problem.
This computer virus aggravated me to the point of muttering a few expletives, but as I think about it now, I think we are past trying make arguments about providing students with a 21st century education. Our failure to provide engaging real-world 21st century learning experiences that ask them solve real problems is now mal-practice. Admittedly, my problem solving venture was successful because of a tiny bit of luck combined with a whole lot of experience solving computer problems, but if we want our students to be able to think critically and solve problems, then we need to give them lots of opportunities to do so, and does not involve textbook exercises or bubble sheets.