The First Question

questionAs 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 its 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 it access Word?  Can I find an iPad app to help me teach <INSERT CONTENT TYPE OR STANDARD HERE>?  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 representative 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.   Please 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.


  1. I enjoyed this article David. Do you think technology has watered down the research skills of students or enabled them to be more productive?

    • davidjakes says:

      Drew: I think it could do both, depending on the expectations of the learning experience. There is a huge potential for tech to make a difference in how students engage in research…I see Diigo, Evernote, and Google Docs as prime tools that can take research to a new place. Unfortunately, I don’t think much of this is happening at scale right now, but with 1:1 programs, that has a real possibility to change. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Great post David! It’s one I’ll share with teachers who start to put up walls when I show them the transformative potential of technology because they can’t see past the school issues: blocked sites, wireless connectivity etc etc


  1. Think Bigger says:

    […] when you look at new things, new opportunities, what do you wonder about?  What’s your first question when you see something potentially disruptive to the status quo of […]

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