Paying Attention to Technology: Writing Technology Autobiographies
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As citizens of a highly technological culture, our students see (and often use) technologies as a daily experience. Because of their proliferation, these technologies are often taken for granted and unexplored. This lesson plan asks students to pay attention to these technologies explicitly. In this activity, students brainstorm lists of their interactions with technology, map these interactions graphically, and then compose narratives of their most significant interactions with technology. By writing these technology autobiographies, students explore what their stories reveal about why we use the technologies we do when we choose to use them.
Graphic Map Student Interactive: Students can use this online tool to chart the high and low points related to a particular item or group of items, such as technology interaction.
Technology Autobiography Assignment: This handout provides students with the requirements and directions for the technology autobiography.
From Theory to Practice
In her 1999 Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century, Cynthia L. Selfe urges that educators "must try to understand-to pay attention to-how technology is now inextricably linked to literacy and literacy education in this country; and second, we must help colleagues, students, administrators, politicians, and other Americans gain some increasingly critical and productive perspective on technological literacy" (24). Just learning to use a piece of software or new digital gizmo is not enough. We need to explore technological literacy, which Selfe defines as "a complex set of socially and culturally situated values, practices, and skills involved in operating linguistically within the context of electronic environments, including reading, writing, and communicating" (11). In other words, our classroom activities need to consider not just how to use technology but also to pay attention to why we use the technologies we do when we do.
Technology autobiographies ask writers to examine their interaction with technologies closely. As Kitalong et. al explain, "[T]echnology is taken for granted, invisible, a mere backdrop to their lives. Writing technology autobiographies encourages [students] to reflect upon their own (and sometimes other people's) experiences with technology, which leads them to think critically about technology. In the process, the invisibles become visible, the implicit can be made explicit" (219).
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
- Make copies of the Technology Autobiography Assignment.
- Choose one or more technology autobiography examples sample or use Kristin L. Arola's Technology Autobiography to share with students. Make copies or an overhead for them to read and refer to.
- Test the Graphic Map Student Interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- If desired, share example Graphic Life Maps from the 6-8 lesson plan. While the focus of the examples from this lesson plan is different, students should be able to understand that their own maps will be similar to those linked to the lesson plan.
- explore and expand their definitions of technology.
- identify key moments, people, and places in their personal relationships with technology.
- create an evaluative scale, from high points to low points, ranking the most significant moments or interactions.
- write an autobiographical essay that explores their relationship to technology.
- Explain that you are about to begin an exploration of your relationships with technology.
- To begin, ask students to spend 5 to 10 minutes freewriting about the role that technology plays in their lives.
- Once the writing is complete, explain that students will return to the freewriting later, but that they can set it aside for now.
- Ask students to brainstorm a list of technologies that they use, see, or know about in their notebooks, in order to give students a few minutes to gather their thoughts.
- After everyone has collected a short list of ideas, invite students to share the technologies and write all the responses on the board, chart paper, or an overhead. You will return to this list in later sessions.
- If students begin running out of suggestions, encourage them to think about the technology available in specific locations and situations, such as the following:
- What technology do you have in your backpack or locker?
- What technology do you see in the classroom?
- What technology do you see in other classrooms and locations in the school?
- What technology do you see in the workplace (yours, a family member's, or someone else's)?
- What technology do you see on your way from home to school?
- What technology do you see in the mall or grocery store?
- What technology did you see or use when you were younger?
- What technology do you have in your backpack or locker?
- If students have not included nondigital technologies in their list, share the first two paragraphs of the definition of technology from Wikipedia. The outline of technology available at Wikipedia may also stimulate discussion.
- With this expanded definition, ask students to suggest additional technologies to add to the class list. Encourage them to focus in particular on non-computerized technologies for a few minutes.
- At this point, you should have an extensive list of technologies assembled. Step back and review the entire list with the students. Make any additions, revisions, or deletions students suggest as you examine the list as a whole.
- If any patterns emerge from the list, take a few minutes to talk about the comparisons among technologies. Consider not only similarities among the items but also patterns in how the information was shared (e.g., does the list begin with personal technologies like cell phones and laptops and later move on to industrial technologies such as nuclear power reactors?). Your goal is simply to ask students to think more deeply about the various technologies that they use, see, or know.
- As discussion concludes, ask students to collect a personal list of 20 to 25 technologies that they have had some personal experience with from the class list. Encourage students to be sure to include technologies that have been particularly significant in their lives.
- For homework, ask students to return to the freewriting they wrote at the beginning of the session. Ask students to reflect on their original response in a second freewriting or journal entry, focusing on how their response would change as a result of the class list that was compiled and the personal list of technologies that they identified at the end of the session.
- Distribute the Technology Autobiography Assignment to the class and discuss the assignment.
- Share one or more technology autobiography examples written by Michigan Tech Publication Management Students during Fall 1999.
- Divide students into groups and ask each group to examine at least one example technology autobiography. In their groups, ask students to note specific characteristics that make the autobiography successful.
- Circulate among students as they work, answering any questions.
- Once groups have had a chance to gather four or more characteristics, bring the class together and invite group members to share, noting the characteristics on the board or on chart paper.
- Ask students to suggest similar characteristics that have been recorded. When possible combine ideas to simplify the list, which will serve as a checklist for writers as they work on their autobiographies.
- Ask students to look back at their personal list of technologies and their freewriting from the previous class and circle or highlight significant details.
- For homework, or in class if time allows, ask students to narrow their personal lists of technologies to no more than 15 items, arranged into roughly chronological order. Explain that it's is fine-indeed likely-that technologies will be repeated on the list as they are shifting their focus from all the technologies they have interacted with to those key interactions with the technologies that have shaped how they have become the technology users they are today.
- Demonstrate the Graphic Map Student Interactive, which students will use to gather more specific details about the key technology interactions.
- After typing a name for the project and their own names, students choose a label for the items they are going to list. Their choice will be the label for the horizontal line on their finished Graphic Map (the X-axis on a mathematical graph). Discuss the options for labeling the information. The most obvious choice is "Time"-with students listing the day or year that specific interactions occurred; however, students may find other ways to structure their information.
- After choosing, click Next and show students the options for how they will rate their technology interactions. Students can choose any of the rating options. The "3, 2, 1/-1, -2, -3" option provides the widest range of choices.
- After choosing, click Next. Demonstrate that students can change any of the choices they have made by clicking the Edit tab.
- Enter a technology interaction as an example, filling in the information and choosing a rating. Explain that the information that students enter in the Graphic Map Student Interactive can be used later as they write their autobiographies, so the details that they include in the description field will be useful later.
- Enter two or three more sample interactions, and click Finished to show students the Print Preview, which shows the relationship among the items.
- Explain that the tool allows for a maximum of 15 items. If students want to include more technology interactions, suggest that they focus on specific ranges and complete a different Graphic Map for each (e.g., interactions in pre-school, interactions in elementary school, and interactions in middle and high school each as separate maps).
- Mouse over items on the Print Preview to show the topic title, and double-click on an item to edit the information.
- Demonstrate the printing process. You must change the printer to use Landscape orientation in order to print the entire map.
- Answer any questions then give students the rest of the class period to expand the items from their personal lists from the previous sessions using the Graphic Map Student Interactive.
- Circulate among students as they work, answering any questions. Remind students to print their work, and help them change the printer setting to Landscape orientation if necessary.
- For homework, ask students to use the notes from previous sessions and the information from the Graphic Map Student Interactive to compose their technology autobiographies. Students should come to the next class session with a complete draft.
- Divide students into groups and ask them to share their technology autobiographies with one another.
- Ask students to look for similarities among the autobiographies in their group as well as what the details reveal about themselves and others in their groups.
- Allow students enough time to read the autobiographies in their groups and spend a few minutes in general discussion of their impressions of the pieces.
- Give each group a piece of chart paper and ask them to brainstorm what the technology interactions in their group's autobiographies reveal about them.
- After each group has had a chance to collect a list, ask groups to post and share their observations with the rest of the class.
- After all the lists are posted, ask students to identify patterns among the lists. Add or revise information on the charts as students discuss the information.
- Conclude the session by asking students what the lists and their stories reveal about the various groups that they are members of-their school, their family, their community, and so forth.
- For homework, ask students to review their freewriting from Session One as well as their Graphic Maps and autobiographies. Ask students to reflect on what they've learned about their relationship to technology in another freewriting or journal entry.
- After completing their autobiographies, try the Paying Attention to Technology: Exploring a Fictional Technology lesson plan. In this lesson, students complete a short survey to establish their beliefs about technology then to compare their opinions to the ideas in a novel that depicts technology (such as 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, REM World, or Feed). The lesson plan can also be completed with short stories, video games, films, and other fictional resources that examine issues related to science and technology and their possible effects on society.
- Use the questions from the Technology Autobiography Heuristic as starting points for student discussion or journal prompts for writing that extends the activity.
Student Assessment / Reflections
This activity should be treated as an informal writing and critical thinking assignment. You may give participation points simply for completing the activity, keeping anecdotal records of students’ participation in the process and checking off students’ work during the course of the activity.
Review students’ final journal entry and focus feedback on students’ recognition of significant technology interactions. Provide support for reflections that demonstrate students are able to move beyond their own personal stories to draw conclusions and ask questions about the how technologies influence the world around them and what technologies reveal about the cultures that they are a part of.