Faculty Experiences - Yasmin Kafai

Yasmin Kafai - photoYASMIN KAFAI

Education








Interview Topics


What matters most to you in your teaching?

How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?

How have your students responded to your use of technology?

What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?

How could the University better facilitate the use of technology in instruction?

Pedagogy


Learn by doing

Relate theory to practice

Get students comfortable with technology

Give students choices

Student motivation



Technology


E-mail

Class web site

Programming







Alternate Pathways to Teaching and Learning Technology


There are multiple ways to contextualize technology, to find ways in which technical concepts and content can be applied for educational purposes, for community purposes, and for design purposes. Such applications might appeal to a broader audience in the student population, get them interested in technology and thus provide alternative pathways into technical fields.

A key aspect in my teaching is that students get a thorough understanding of the subject matter in multiple ways — not just conceptually but also practically . All of my teaching is built around the idea that one constructs understanding by making something. But it’s more than just writing research papers; you also need to become actively involved in the research. Nearly all of my classes have field components where students not only read research papers about learning but also conduct research to study learning. Consequently students become learners themselves. For instance, several of my courses center on innovative uses of technology. I want students to read about technology and to study technology in context at the same time. I want students to eventually become learners of the technology themselves so they can better understand what learners possibly go through as they grapple with problems and strive to express their ideas. These are the three components that I emphasize in my teaching: reading and discussing, observing and understanding, and learning and trying.
I use technology in multiple ways from the simple to the more complex. We use email to share information and to update students about course events. We use an online course system with all the readings, resources, and assignments. Student and faculty presentations are uploaded to the class web site so they are available for students as resources. Students submit their assignments and receive their grades and feedback there. The course web site also serves as a repository for students’ essays, field notes and their design projects. It also allows students to share their field notes. Finally, at the more complex end of the spectrum, I also use programming in my courses. Students not only read about programming, but they have access to programming software so that they can program on their own. They can make a direct comparison between what they are reading and what they are exploring.

Students’ reactions vary depending on what type of experience they have with technology. A lot of undergraduates have basic competencies in email, chatting, web browsing, etc. But few have competencies in the creative domain of designing web pages, scripting, or even programming. Some students who come to class with a heavy technology background have felt very comfortable. For others, it can be frightening in the beginning. We try to alleviate in any way we can the fear that is often associated with more sophisticated uses of technology. Some students, in particular women and minorities, think that these types of technology uses are not for them. They are not prepared because they have never had anything like this in high school or even here, in college. Consequently—and probably with good reason—they are hesitant to undertake these courses. I have to admit, I don’t always mention programming in my course descriptions because I know then a lot of students would not even enroll in these classes. However, I have found that when I run a lot of these more hands-on technology classes in combination with seminars after a few weeks nearly all students start to feel very comfortable with technology. We actually have some quite savvy programmers in our student pool. There is great potential in the undergraduate student body, but the university really doesn’t tap into that potential. We only have a small percentage of the student population that is interested in and enrolled in technical and engineering courses. The largest percentage of the student population, however, is comprised of students in liberal arts and social sciences. We need alternative pathways with courses for these students to realize they can be interested, comfortable, and competent in technical areas.

My technology goals revolve around more constructive uses where students make and design things with technology such as robots, simulations or media. I would like to experiment more with different media such as programmable fabrics and to work more with games. These are all exciting possibilities, which connect strongly with students’ interests and experiences with technology in every day life. I want students to think about creatively manipulating or changing everyday technology. I want to introduce students to think about more sophisticated ways in which they can be both learners and teachers of technology.

There are so many different ways and contexts to teach and learn with technology. It doesn’t always have to be in the limited way in which technology is taught in the engineering sciences — large courses and abstract topics. There are multiple ways to contextualize technology, to find ways in which technical concepts and content can be applied for educational purposes, for community purposes, and for design purposes. Such applications might appeal to a broader audience in the student population, get them interested in technology and thus provide alternative pathways into technical fields. We need to create more connections between technology and students’ interests in the liberal and social sciences. We need to create different kind of courses with different kinds of course formats. We must be more creative and allow for cross-disciplinary connections in courses and collaborations between faculty members from different departments. Students are interested in tapping into new areas of knowledge and interest. Here’s where the university can play a supportive and leading role.




Oral Interview, April 2006