Thinking Like a Student

Categories: Philosophy, The Classroom
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Published on: April 16, 2013

“I don’t see any use for this.”

Sound familiar? Whether teacher, administrator, or technologist, most people tend to evaluate new devices or software from their own perspective. If it engages them, it will engage students. Conversely, if they don’t see the value in it, they don’t think students will, either.

This is not the case.

Many adults say they hate reading on small screens, but our students are used to working and playing on handheld devices. They might have their own iPod touch or Nintendo DSi, and I find it’s not unusual to see three or four children huddled around a 3″ screen.

I’ve been told on-screen iPad keyboards are useless and phone keyboards are impossible to use, yet some of our students’ word counts for a month of text messaging is probably equivalent to a semester’s worth of written work.

The same goes for software and services. A teacher hates Evernote because he thinks it’s too cumbersome. A tech director doesn’t see what can be accomplished in Google Docs that can’t be done in Word. An administrator writes off Facebook as a liability issue due to cyber bullying.

We can’t look at these things from a purely adult perspective; we need to think like a student and look for the possibilities. Or, even better, we need to let the students show us the possibilities.

One student may enjoy the extreme organization capabilities of Evernote, while another may embrace the perceived chaos Evernote’s ubiquitous capture and tagging. I’ve seen students embrace the collaboration capability of Google Docs before their teachers were even aware of it, and other students may find accessing Google Calendar and Tasks via a smartphone is more convenient than lugging an agenda book around. Sure, students are going to use Facebook for leisure time and communication, but that also includes collaboration and sharing notes and homework reminders.

There are going to be times budgets and legal policies dictate some of these decisions, and there will be times where it’s impractical to involve students in the evaluation process. However, we must be as open minded as possible when we look at new technologies, because there’s a good chance our students will see possibilities we missed.

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