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The first question

3 min read


As a teacher, you can see it right away.

The excitement on the faces of students. A whole classroom of laptops, lids raised. The expectation that the learning experience can and will be different.

Seeing this, what would be the first question that you would ask?

It can be anything. But make sure it’s good.

Adding devices into a school is potentially one of the most disruptive things that can be done to the educational climate of a school. A classroom with devices is a different place, capable of a different learning dynamic, capable of a different conversation about how students learn, and capable of developing new types of relationships between teachers and students.  So, that first question is critical.

What is the first question you would ask? What would you want to know?

I have a pretty good idea of what the first question is.

I’m betting that most would want to know about how the device works with things they already do.

That question is about familiarity and comfort and about gauging the capacity of the device to support the current classroom use of technology.  Can a Chromebook run this Web resource that was built with Java? Can I find an iPad app to help me teach? A logical approach to take I guess, with logical questions, but I’m not starting there.

The danger in this question is that it’s reflective of rear-view mirror mentality, looking backwards with a small view and perspective instead of looking forward with a wide-eyed view to what’s ahead.

As educators, shouldn’t we look in that direction, to things not yet imagined?

Why would you start with what you’ve always done?

This is my first question if I know every kid has a device: “What should the student learning experience be?”

That’s a question that can be addressed through design. And like any design provocation, you begin by deeply understanding the needs of humans first, in this case, the learner.

And then you make sense of that, you find what you want to design around by developing a set of design drivers (such as skills, habits of the mind, the physical and digital learning spaces, etc.) and then you ideate, ideate and ideate.  Ask a second, third, fourth question … Yes … and … what if … how might we?  Ask those questions. Prototype an experience, put it out there, find out what works, what doesn’t, and refine and adjust.  Make it better.

Place the student and the learning at the center of the first question that you ask. Make it about them and what they should experience in your school as a learner. Don’t make it about whether or not the device supports Shockwave.

What you ask first says everything.

Don’t make the first question the wrong question.

David Jakes (@djakes) is a Digital Learning Strategist for Cannon Design and The Third Teacher Plus in Chicago, Illinois. He is a veteran educator with 27 years of experience in the classroom.