Hello from CT

February 25, 2011
by Jessica Porteous (jep96)


Thanks to Lee for putting this group together and I hope some great connections come out of it. My Hampshire education was a combination of early childhood and elementary education and computer science. My Div. III involved working with a class of fifth-grade students to design and develop a math computer game. In doing this project, I asked 2 questions: what educational concepts can students learn through creating a math computer game? What could the software development industry learn by developing new programs in partnership with children? The short answer to both questions was “lots” and it was a great experience.

After graduating from Hampshire in 2000, I went on to graduate school at the University of Maryland in College Park. While all of my research and most of my time was spent in the Human-Computer Interaction Lab, they didn’t have their own degree program at that time. Therefore, my classes and degree were through the College of Education’s Human Development department. While at UMD, I worked on several research projects, including designing the kindergarten classroom of the future and developing StoryRooms, immersive, digital, storytelling environments for preschoolers. One of the things that I liked best about graduate school was working on an interdisciplinary team, which included engineers, computer programmers, child development experts, and children. When the kids had an idea to create an interactive Sneetches room, the education experts could say what was developmentally appropriate, the programmers and engineers could make it come to life, and we all built it together. That was really fun! I left UMD after earning my Master’s Degree, though I had been enrolled in a Ph.D. program. I decided to spend some time getting “real world” experience.

After UMD, I held a couple of teaching positions, including as a long-term substitute teacher at the Hampshire College Children’s Center. Then I taught for and managed a local franchise business called ComputerTots/Computer Explorers. We provided technology education classes for preschoolers through middle schoolers in daycare centers and after-school programs. As the manager, I did everything from hiring new staff to overseeing programs to determining pricing for our programs. My favorite part of this job was designing and testing new curricula to teach robotics to elementary school children.

In the midst of all that, I managed to get married and have a child. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for the past 4 ½ years, since my son was born. Given my professional background and my personal philosophies, I have been debating appropriate technology exposure for my son. My husband and I decided to greatly limit our son’s TV and computer exposure before age 3, as well as really wanting to ban toys with batteries (we did restrict them a lot). As he continues to develop cognitively, we are expanding those horizons. At 4 ½, we did just build his first robot, which was lots of fun!

I have some questions for this group of Hampshire-minded people. How do you balance the technology you use in work/play with your family? Have you changed any of those habits since having children? How have you dealt with mainstream companies or universities after your Hampshire experience? Any creative ideas about research opportunities involving children and technology use?

~ Jessica

2 Responses to “Hello from CT”

  1.   lspector Says:

    Hey Jessica! Great to get the updates.

    On your question about families and technology you might want to check out Sherry Turkle’s new book, “Alone Together.” I’m pretty sure you know some of her earlier books, but this one seems to take on exactly the kind of questions you raised (including both “what to consider doing” and “how to study it”). I haven’t read it yet but I’ve heard two interviews with Turkle about it, and it’s one of the books we’re considering for the first year student common reading next year.


  2.   Adam Schwartz Says:

    Hi Jessica! Long time!

    For better or worse, our daughter has been given free reign to use technology as she sees fit. She’s got her own computer, which she uses quite capaibilty (we just set up shortcuts for her to go to her favorite sites like NickJr, PBSKids, etc.) and she’s an accomplished iPod Touch and iPad user. She even has her own digital camera. For her, it’s completely second nature.

    Though I’m familiar with concerns about TV and reported correlations to ADHD, we really haven’t curtailed her use of any technology. We do liimit the duration of technology use and get out of the house to experience the real world (parks, zoos, museums, etc.) as often as we can. In addition, I make a particular effort to assure she gets exposure and encouragement in math and sciences (we do lots of kitchen science experiements together), as the highly commercialized websites do enforce gender stereotypes I’m not that fond of.

    Regarding your “life post Hampshire” question… I’m afraid that by any definition, I now work for “the Man.” I had always known that I’d be joining the corporate world, though I thought it’d always be as a programmer. I’ve found that corporations have a desire and a place for individual thinkers, but that lining up a good match is a bit more challenging. In my case, as I noted in my post, I’m using what I learned at Hampshire to challenge cultural norms which are preventing us from achieving new levels of productivity and quality. I feel strongly that I can make a difference that results in a win-win for the employees and company. And I sleep well at night knowing that I haven’t abandoned my values in exchange for a paycheck.

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