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Tech hits the kitchen

In the kitchen environment, these technologies need to be properly harnessed and utilised if they're going to serve us well

With the digital revolution spreading its influence throughout virtually every facet of modern life, it was inevitable that sooner or later it would find its way into the kitchen. Not since the appearance of microwave ovens nearly 30 years ago has technology had such a widespread impact on how we prepare and cook food in a commercial context.

At Sydney TAFE, many of our younger commercial cookery students in particular are quite digital savvy. But in the kitchen environment, these technologies need to be properly harnessed and utilised if they're going to serve us well. These (mainly)  young people know how to access and share data but they don't always know how to apply those skills when we throw them into a kitchen. It's practical, hands-on. They have to actually do and show – they can't hide behind a screen. As educators, I believe it's our role to not only embrace these technologies but to strike the right balance between utilising them without compromising the learning and cooking process.

The emerging presence of digital technology in the classroom and kitchen often blurs the traditional boundaries that have existed between teacher and student for decades. At Sydney TAFE's The Apprentice Restaurant, we often have scenarios where the chef is trying to get the food out as quickly as possible but the student chefs are all wanting to take photos of the food first. This younger, digitally-savvy cohort is much more proactive, not necessarily ready to accept the norm. They'll think nothing of questioning the teacher. And they're not being rude either – they've simply grown up in a generation where this is the norm. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. We need to embrace it. Because ultimately, it's all about instilling problem-solving and critical thinking  skills – that's what we're focused on building with the students.

Many of our older students are flummoxed by all this. Back in the day, the learning environment used to be so much more regimented. There was no way a student would say to a chef; "hang on, I need a moment to take some photos". The more established chefs and kitchens aren't used to being questioned (or asked to wait) by apprentices.

In spite of these occasional growing pains, I believe digital technology in the commercial kitchen environment is a good thing that has the potential to enhance the learning and cooking process. At Sydney TAFE, technology is supported during our commercial cookery classes. We encourage the students to utilise all forms of digital media - from selfies to blogging to live streaming to portfolio work. The way we see it, the media is just another part of the food journey. There's no way we'd say to a student "put that technology away".

From an education point of view we've decided to embrace these new media. Since they're all about the sharing of information, images and ideas, this encourages collaborative learning. This was clearly seen at last weekend's Sydney Cellar Door event. With over 50 participating students over the three days, the excitement of snapping their work, their teams, themselves - to upload, share and record, to take back to the classroom or workplace, for reflection and to show their friends exactly what they can do - was a great example of harnessing the enthusiasm and having immediate, visible outcomes of their work.

But as educators we're still learning how to harness it properly. We need to keep asking ourselves "How can we better embrace this?" That's the big challenge for us – we need a better way to capture it - not just the technologies themselves, but the students' enthusiasm for them. We have to allow for that excitement, if we're going to keep them and inspire them.