Help brainstorm ideas for lesson on the importance of tech skills
August 22, 2014 3:54 PM   Subscribe

I am doing a college session on the importance of tech literacy. I will focus on the differences between browsers and apps and the importance of browsers to finding information. If you have tips, read on.

The students are 18-25 and know the web through phones. I want to demonstrate that using a browser opens the door to a world of information. I would like to give them one or two tasks to demonstrate the utility of browsers. They will do them in-class, on lap-tops.

I would like these tasks to involve two or three steps and be practical or related to their post-college lives. So looking up a news story is just one step. If just one step, it would need to be a bit hard to find, but not too abstract or hard to find. I'm having brain block on this one.

What "treasure hunts" could make this point?

Example: To demonstrate the difference between browsers and apps, have them use the internet (on whatever device they bring to class) to figure out the difference between "app" and "browser."

Point: they need to use browsers (and open source materials) to get that answer. Complex or important data (job advice, reference materials, scholarships) cannot be found with an app.

What other kinds of searches or tasks can you think of that would demonstrate that you need a browser to find things out and get things done?

Note: You might take issue with one or more parts of what I wrote above. I know it is a simplification and it could be debated back and forth. I am not interested in debating whether it's a good or bad place to start. I have my students' needs in mind, and they need to know how to use the internet. They need to be convinced they need to use it the way that "old people" use it-- through browsers, on the laptops they apparently own.

Thanks for your suggestions for ways to make this point to them with a hands-on task.
posted by CtrlAltD to Technology (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Not totally sure if the message is anti-app or pro-laptop, but I'm assuming you want to specify browser stuff specifically and not just computers generally. Some of these aren't things I totally believe but I think they'd work in a classroom setting.

Well the big thing for me is that browsers are sort of a portal where you can interact with files. So if you want to write, edit, share and print a document, for the most part you need to do that with a computer. You can use a browser to do all of those things thanks to websites like Google docs and etc. Use a browser to get a PDF and ready it and cut an image out of it and use it in a paper. Use a browser to find free content on Wikimedia Commons and share it with your class groups and edit it and put it in a slide deck.

If you know a URL you can often learn a lot more about a system and you can edit it and find other things. If you get a bad URL you can often rework it by hand and find the thing that was missing. You can cut and paste between tabs and edit bigger chunks of text than people would reasonably want to do with phones.

Apps are basically closed systems that you can't do anything with (oversimplified but you get my general drift). You might want to look at things you can do to customize a browser (from skins to search engine add-ons to smart keywords to ad blockers to book burro). You may also want to look at things that used to be app-only (location awareness, spell-checking) that now work pretty well with browsers. It's significantly easier to get (some level of) privacy in a browser and much more difficult in an app.

Part of the issue too is that a lot of worthwhile websites still look like crap on phones but are designed to be decent on laptops. If there are resources that students need to use (or just really want to use) it might be worth showing some of these to them and explaining why that is.

The biggest deal to me is that you can create your own stuff on a laptop, tinker with your browser, move files around and generally make your computing environment what you want it to be. Apps are mostly walled gardens that can interact very little with the data you might want to use them with and never get much smarter or customized (however much Siri sounds like it's "learning" it's really pretty stupid as these things go) or able to interact with the entire rest of your digital world outside of consumable media, games and Daily Me sorts of things.
posted by jessamyn at 4:20 PM on August 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's probably better in terms of demonstrating the usefulness if this was a real life problem that was age appropriate. Speaking of some post-college examples, it could be how to deal with some issue involved in maintaining a house (or apartment), dressing oneself appropriately for a job interview, learning how to properly cook different types of meats, dealing with office politics, etc. Any one of the typical "how do I..." or "how can I deal with..." questions that come up every day.

This is typically going to be done primarily via Google, but you may also want to introduce them to the existence of other search engines (for example, Duck Duck Go, Bing).

They can do it with an app if the app is Safari, Chrome, or Firefox. Opera may have a version available for iPhone and Android. The point as I understand it is to teach them how to tap into the vast repository of information that is on the internet. A browser is the best way to search everything. Other website specific apps (for example Zillow, Yelp) are helpful but insufficient because they are limited to a website.
posted by jazzbaby at 4:24 PM on August 22, 2014

You could demonstrate the utility of Greasemonkey!
posted by oceanjesse at 8:19 PM on August 22, 2014

If I were you, I would take a look at their most common apps and open those exact things in a browser and notice the differences. Use Facebook or Yelp or some banking software to see that there are usually more choices in the browser version. You will probably end up with a list of pros and cons for BOTH the browser version and the phone app, since there are things that a phone can do better (location-based searches, depositing checks with a photo, etc) .

Another one you might try is a shopping exercise - pick an object and have them do the shopping on the browser vs the phone and see which one works better. Try a very specific object like a specific model number of a coffee maker, then try a nebulous thing like "a blouse to match this jacket/pants that doesn't cost more than x". Or shop for plane tickets and hotel and rental car for a vacation.
posted by CathyG at 10:01 AM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

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