Children and Technology: A Reflection

I observed a teen attempting to solve a problem having to do with his desktop computer.  He uses Ubuntu Linux, something that can sometimes require a bit of technical know-how.  He is very interested in computers and would like to make a career of programming.

In the situation where I observed him, he had recently uninstalled a piece of software that created a conflict on his computer.  He was trying to open a webpage to access an online textbook required for his class.  The webpage functioned as an interactive site, and do it required more than basic browser function.  The software he had uninstalled caused some kind of problem that prevented the webpage from functioning correctly.  The teen was attempting to solve this problem.

The teen’s general approach to solving the problem appeared on the surface to be to simply click on things randomly until something happened.  This was when I first noticed he was having a problem.  I asked him why he wasn’t doing his homework as he had been earlier.  He explained that the program had crashed, and gave me the brief background I explained above about having uninstalled a key piece of software.  As I continued to observe, it appeared that rather than clicking randomly, he was attempting to recreate the situation repeatedly so that he could observe the behavior.  I assume that he was doing this in order to better understand the behavior in greater detail in order to develop a good potential solution.

What was really interesting to me here was how he appeared to frame the problem in his mind.  He seemed to see it as a situation where because his computer was not functioning the way he expected it to, he had an opportunity to play around with it and better understand the interactions between various pieces of software.  I found myself viewing the problem as one where he needed to access his textbook, and so he ought to focus on finding a way around the problem, if getting the software to work correctly was not going to happen quickly.  I think in both our views the end goal was learning, but when I think about it his approach would have yielded longer-term benefits in terms of learning to investigate and diagnose problems, especially given his chosen career.  I don’t know why I felt such a need for him to hurry, and I believe this feeling was not appropriate.

If it is the case that technology is going to continue to expand it’s role in our lives, and thus that understanding and being comfortable with technology will be a valuable set of skills in the future, then I think it’s important for me to be conscious of opportunities to play and learn like the one that the teen encountered.  What he was really trying to do was learn how to learn on his own.  If I can help my students learn nothing but this, I think I can consider myself a success.  They should then, at least in theory, be able to go on and fill in anything else they might need to know to be successful in their lives.  Technology, because it can sometimes be both foreign and complicated, seems to provide a lot of opportunity for learning to diagnose and solve problems.  As a teacher I need to have more patience and allow my students more time, when I can, to experiment with problem solving, especially in situations involving technology.


1 Comment

  1. Collin said,

    November 24, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    I eventually fixed the problem by reverting back to flash player provided in Canonical’s repos, not the one on Adobe’s website. 64-bit flash is a bit of a pain, even on Windows.

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