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Gadget Avalanche: A Technology Literacy Course for Novice Adults

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

New Approaches and Applications to Enhance Technological Literacy - Part II

Tagged Division

Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.630.1 - 23.630.12



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Paper Authors


Katy Luchini-Colbry Michigan State University

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Katy Luchini-Colbry is the Director for Graduate Recruiting at the College of Engineering at Michigan State University, where she completed degrees in political theory and computer science. A recipient of a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, she received her Ph.D. and M.S.E. in computer science and engineering from the University of Michigan. She has published nearly two dozen peer-reviewed works related to her interests in educational technology and enhancing undergraduate education through hands-on learning. As a volunteer for Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering Honor Society, Luchini-Colbry facilitates interactive seminars on interpersonal communications and problem solving skills for engineering students across the U.S.

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Dirk Colbry Michigan State University

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Gadget Avalanche: A Technology Literacy Course for Novice AdultsAdvances in consumer technology have led to a dizzying array of “gadgets” to support everydaytasks. Advertisers promise that the latest smartphones, tablet computers and electronic bookreaders are easy-to-use and will transform the way that consumers work and play – yet many findthese gadgets to be confusing and frustrating, in part because they lack a fundamentalunderstanding of the underlying technology and how to select gadgets to best achieve their goals.We describe the development of a non-credit, personal enrichment course for adults that explainsthe fundamental technologies underlying popular consumer gadgets, guides participants inidentifying their goals for using technology, and helps participants find appropriate solutions.This course was developed as part of the outreach activities of a large research university in theMidwest, and has been offered three times in the last two years, with approximately 50 adultsparticipating.The course begins with an explanation of some of the basic concepts and technologies that allowgadgets to access information in an “anytime, anywhere” model. We discuss basic connectivityoptions, specifically “wireless” versus “cellular” networks, and explain common terms such aswireless/Wi-Fi, modem, router, 3G/4G, smartphone, tablet, ereader. Practical examples are usedto explain the concept of “cloud computing” and give a basic answer to the question “where isthe Internet?” We also detail the differences between storing information “in the cloud” and “ona device.”Building on this foundational knowledge, the course then explores three common goals for usingtechnology: staying connected, consuming media and getting organized. Professional andpersonal uses of various technologies are discussed, including email; text messages; shareddocuments; photos/videos; voice/video calls; calendars; contacts; task lists; and media (tv, music,audio/text books, etc.).After discussing what can be done with technology, the course turns to an examination ofspecific hardware and software tools. The differences between Apple and Android platforms arediscussed, and the concept of an “application” is described in detail. Participants are encouragedto bring their own devices and ask questions throughout the course, and also have theopportunity to try out various gadgets provided by the instructors and university.This curriculum was designed to meet the needs of adults in the community who want to makebetter use of technology in their personal and professional lives, or who want guidance inselecting a new gadget to meet specific needs/goals. The course has been offered three times todifferent groups of adults, and this paper will present the curriculum materials in detail alongwith lessons learned and suggestions for institutions and instructors desiring to adapt thematerials for their own community outreach efforts.

Luchini-Colbry, K., & Colbry, D. (2013, June), Gadget Avalanche: A Technology Literacy Course for Novice Adults Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19644

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