5 ways to create smiles when teaching tech

Jessica Jones is a 2017 Digital Inclusion Fellow.

With smartphones, tablets, Google apps, and more, when was the last time you completed a task without using your tech? Let’s be honest: How many of us even remember a time when technology didn’t rule everything around us? Cash may rule everything around me—but so does technology.

As a 90s kid, I find myself reminiscing with friends about texting with the Nokia brick, using AIM and Myspace, and of course the cringe-y yet memorable dial-up sound when trying to go online. However, the bigger picture is that though these experiences were a reality for some, it is not the reality for all.

“Most everything is computerized, and we are lost without computer knowledge.” – Ethel Brown, Student (97 years old)

For first-time users as well as some senior tech users, learning a new tech concept can be a difficult experience. Because of this difficulty, it can cause these users to feel animosity towards technology. Negative criticism plus the continuous growth and change in technologies and trends creates a user experience that I call “technology overwhelm.”

“Technology overwhelm” is becoming overwhelmed by the massive amounts of tech tools out there and not having the knowledge or support to explore, understand, and master these tools. In fact, the following barriers influence this tech overwhelm experience:

  • Discouraged to learn, ask questions, or even ask for help
  • Embarrassed or lacking confidence
  • Feeling left behind by the generational tech gap (those born with tech vs. those who did not)

Despite these instances of fear and embarrassment, we can combat tech overwhelm with digital empowerment: the ability to use technology independently to achieve your goals. By using digital empowerment as the framework for tech education programs, you can target students’ specific needs and interests, creating an effective and interactive learning experience.

The most important realization I’ve learned with my students is how left behind they feel—teaching them concepts that do not apply to their lifestyle is detrimental to their learning experience.

“I’m a beginner. I really want to learn, but the computer classes I’ve taken don’t make space for me at my level.”

Here are five ways to beat the tech overwhelm, and cultivate a positive outlook on technology within your students:

1. Assess your students’ needs

Perform an assessment to determine your students’ needs, interests, and experience. This assessment can be a printed or electronic survey. To create an interactive experience, allow students to share their experiences with one another openly.

One way is the World Café method. Create your survey questions, with maximum of 5 questions. Write one question on separate sheets of paper. Split your students into 5 groups and give them 5 minutes to answer the question. Then have each group rotate. That way, everyone has a chance to answer your survey questions and feel supported by learning the other experiences of their classmates.

2. Establish community rules

Because everyone has different learning levels, experiences, and even moods, take time to establish community rules. As a class, ask each student individually to state one rule. Ask the class as a whole if they agree with this rule. If yes, write the rule on a large sheet of paper. If no, instead of dismissing the rule, take the time to workshop it until everyone agrees. Continue this process until you and your students are satisfied. Keep the rules posted throughout the duration of your program. This helps set the tone of your class and keeps everyone in check, preventing potential friction between students.

3. Create an accountability buddy system

“I get by from a little help from my friends” applies to education as well. Pair students together to create an internal support system both for in-class activities and after class support.

4. Break up the monotony

Avoid boredom by incorporating interactivity into your program. Play music that your students enjoy at the beginning and end of class. Use icebreakers to help introduce or enforce new topics. In fact, explore these top 10 icebreakers that are flexible to fit your specific topic.

5. Collect feedback to improve

Most importantly, be sure to receive feedback from your students. If you don’t, you have no idea how your current teaching model is truly impacting them. You can create a printed or electronic evaluation form. Or create an interactive experience with the Keep, Delete, and Include model: Write each word on large separate sheets of paper. Have each student grab a marker and write their thoughts on each sheet of paper. Then review each section as a group just in case some of the evaluations are unclear.

The key to empowering your students is by meeting them where they are and helping them grow from there. Once you’ve mastered that, you’ll see nothing but smiles as a result.

Jessica Jones
Jessica Jones, from a small city in the Bay Area, is a Digital Media Production graduate from UC Santa Cruz. With over five years of experience in theater, graphic design and content writing, she believes her passion for digital storytelling and creative collaboration will aid her community in bridging the digital divide. In her remaining spare time, she enjoys writing, acting, and making plans for her next travel destination—all while playing some feel good music.