What Socrates Can Teach Us About Introducing Computer Skills

March 26th, 2018 Mike Gecawich

Socrates may have never seen a computer, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have some tricks up his sleeve that would be useful in a computer class.

What, you ask?

Socratic seminars, of course! Socratic seminars are a fun teaching practice that engage students in rich, text-based discussion about a given topic.

Think that using a discussion-based model to teach tech literacy seems counterintuitive? Think again!

Sure, there are lots of “technical” skills involved in tech literacy, but there are also many overlooked soft skills.

Students need to understand complicated and nuanced issues such as digital responsibility, online etiquette, and professionalism in written communication.

By giving students an open-ended forum in which to explore some of the “big questions” related to tech literacy, the messages are more likely to stick.

Even if students don’t remember every computer shortcut or formatting detail, they will remember the big ideas around effective and responsible tech use.

Using Socratic Seminars to Teach Tech Literacy

Sold on the idea of incorporating socratic seminars into your classes but aren’t sure where to start? Let’s look at an example.

Say you want to introduce lesson 4 of the EduTyping word processing curriculum “Technology in the Workplace” with a socratic seminar.

Your first step is to choose a related text that you want students to read and discuss. This article about internet security and online identities could be a good place to start.

Your chosen text should be appropriate for the grade level you teach and should leave room for students to ask questions and form opinions.

Students can either do the reading as homework or in class. It’s essential, though, that all students read the article before the seminar. It’s also useful to have students take notes or form some questions about what they read.

How you format your seminar should depend on how many students you have in a class.

Ideally, you want to have between 6 and 12 students participating at a time, though you can go with a larger group if need be.

It may make sense to split your class into two or even three groups, where only one group is talking at a time, and the other students are observing, taking notes, or even evaluating their peers.

Go over the rules and expectations for a seminar (check out the non-negotiables section of the Teaching.com post) and post a thought-provoking question to students.

When thinking about the content from Lesson 4, “Technology in the Workplace”, the following questions are all worth posing:

  • What are some of the risks associated with irresponsible computer use?
  • A what age should students be allowed to use social media?
  • What constitutes responsible computer use? Irresponsible computer use?
  • Is it ever ok for someone to create a fake identity online?
  • Do you think there should be a punishment for irresponsible internet use?
  • Should a company be able to read employee emails?
  • Should employees have to abide by company expectations for email etiquette?

Socratic seminar questions should be open-ended with no clear answer. Typically these questions are opinion based, but students should be able to support their answers with evidence from the text the read, personal experiences, or other content they’ve already covered in class.

Pose one question at a time to students, and then let the conversation take its course.

As the teacher, you want to intervene as little as possible.

You’ll likely need to remind students to talk to each other and not to you or to support their ideas with evidence from the text, but otherwise, remove yourself from the conversation.

If it feels like students have exhausted one topic, pose a new question. You can also invite a student to pose a question to the group.

Once the allotted time is nearly up, have students do some reflection.

Some possible reflection questions you might ask are:

  • How did today’s discussion change your understanding of technology in the workplace? (I used to think… now I think…)
  • When it comes to technology, do the risks outweigh the rewards or vice versa?
  • Share one idea or comment from today’s socratic seminar that you don’t want to forget.
  • What did you enjoy about participating in a socratic seminar? What did you not enjoy?

This reflection piece is an important step for allowing students to process the ideas and information they heard.

You can have students reflect as a whole class, independently in writing, or verbally with a partner.

And there you have it! Who said there’s no room for discussion in computer class?

As you guide students through many of the soft skills and compelling questions that are increasingly a part of tech literacy, you’re likely to find that socratic seminars are the perfect way to get kids thinking about technology in a deeper way.

Socrates would be proud!

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