Sunday, March 1, 2015

Answers to what "You Asked"

Time magazine online has a weekly feature (every Wednesday) that started at the beginning of July 2014. It's called "You Asked: ..." followed by a question, and the short article answers the question.

I first became aware of this column through finding material on ESP topics as model texts for students' technical description essays and presentations. But the topics include not only questions about the latest technology, but also about health, nutrition and exercise.

The link:

The topics I'm focusing on are -

You Asked:
  • How do virtual reality headsets work?
  • How do driverless cars work?
  • What is Yik Yak?
  • How does the internet work?
  • What is Venmo?
  • What are podcasts?
  • Do brain games really improve memory?
  • Can computers really ruin my eyes?

Some articles have accompanying videos, but not all. For example, "How do driverless cars work?" has a video (1:20) of a news report about recent developments. The texts themselves are not too long, and are written simply enough for students at intermediate level and above.

This material is very useful for showing students how to explain technology and technological innovations to non-experts -- for example, people outside of their own field of study. Being aware of how to communicate with non-technical audiences will be essential for our students in their future careers.

For my students studying Information Technology and Telecommunications, I will use "What is Venmo?" For those of you who are not familiar with this (I wasn't), it's explained as, "a way to send money from person to person through the web."

I would first ask students to work in pairs or small groups to write a short explanation of what it is to me (a non-technical audience). Then we can compare answers to see which ones are the clearest and/or the most accurate.Which information should be included, and what can be left out? How can it be explained most clearly?

Then, after students read the text (in class or for homework), we will compare their answers with the text, and see what they have in common and what the differences are.

Since my students' curriculum includes giving presentations in which they must explain concepts to a variety of audiences, this seems like it will be very good practice.

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