Getting to Know Students and their Tech Interests


(img: Raspberry Pi + Lego computer, Flickr: pikesley)

In “The Computer in School: Tutor, Tool, Tutee,” Robert Taylor viewed the computer as serving three potential roles for students: 1) a tutor, delivering instruction to students, 2) a tool, which students would use to achieve learning, and 3) a tutee, which students would instruct through programming and design activities and thus themselves implicitly “shift the focus of education in the classroom from end product to process, from acquiring facts to manipulating and understanding them.” My observation is that most of our current ed tech field focuses exclusively on the first of these roles– viewing computing as a tutor (online/blended instruction, adaptive testing, flipped class, Khan Academy, etc).

Part of the underlying philosophy of a 1:1 program is a desire to expand the use of the computer as a tool, since each student then has a computer as part of their school toolkit. This is especially true in a program such as ours where students own and administer the device, since the students can now customize and develop the tool to best fit their own needs, uses and interests (Do I remember right that in Star Wars, you had to build your own lightsaber before you could become a Jedi?). Our work embedding computer science into math and science classes, as well as our robotics and physical computing projects through our maker space, are explorations into the tutee role of computers, and using the programming as an oblique strategy towards non-computing curricular goals.

In my own Digital Media class this year, I am challenging myself to create as many tool and tutee opportunities for students as possible, so that they may understand and master a concept that I consider to be crucial to modern responsible technology usage: computers are not meant to be accepted “as is” and used off-the-shelf. Modern technology usage must involve the skills and confidence to modify and customize a piece of technology to fit each person individually. While it is quite dated now, I highly recommend reading Neal Stephenson’s “In the Beginning… Was the Command Line,” available as a free download from the author’s website for more on this concept.

Over at A Recursive Process, Dan Anderson shared an activity called “My Favorite” with his math students. The concept is to pick a favorite math topic from anything, and share it with the class. I love this idea, and am modifying it for my first day of class.

My Favorite

(Inspired by Dan Anderson, on his blog A Recursive Process)

You are going to present your favorite use of technology for two minutes to the class. This does not have be a school use, or even related to your iPad.

  • What is one thing you’ve done with technology that really “blew your hair back” the first time you did it or saw it?
  • What do you wish you could learn more about how to do with technology?
  • What is something you want your friends to know about or know how to do?

You’ll only have two minutes, which isn’t very long, so you’ll have to think about how you want to present this.

  • Can you demonstrate the whole thing in two minutes?
  • Can you show a “before and after?”
  • Would it be helpful for your audience to see slides, or a video? Explain Everything? A demonstration?
  • If you’re showing a YouTube video from someone else, what do you want to tell us about it?
  • Is there a way that the audience can participate or make it hands-on?

You have a little under 30 minutes to produce your presentation. Before you start, ask yourself: “What can I realistically get done in 30 minutes?”

After you’re done, think about what you did and saw today. Post some comments in your Reflective Journal (go back to the home page for the course) about your experience in class today.

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