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Making noise about technological fluency

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SALT LAKE CITY — At the University of Utah School of Computing, students learn a lot from preschool toys by taking them apart. They disassemble keyboards, guitars, Elmos, Buzz Lightyears to learn something about technology.

The class, Making Noise: Sound Art and Digital Media, is the brainchild of associate professor Erik Brunvand, developed under an honorary University Professorship post he holds. It’s designed to teach non-majors what’s called technological fluency.

“It occurred to me that in our general education curriculum there is very little technology very little engineering,” Brunvand says. “I want to explore what a general education technology class would look like.”

Students learn how to program an Arduino microcontroller to make music, to record electromagnetic transmissions from circuits in toasters to Trax trains, to build circuits and they hack toys — take them apart and modify the circuits inside to make different noises.

Katie Wilhite, an art major, embedded musical keyboard into a painting of anthropomorphic cacti. Thomas Sonntag, a business major, added a potentiometer to a train toy to change the pitch of the sounds.

“I think in this modern age if you don't know some technology, if you don't know some programming, if you don't know some electronics, you're gonna be left behind,” Brunvand says.

“We have students that are sometimes called 'digital native,'” he says. “It's one thing to know how to navigate applications on an iPhone but it's a very different thing to understand something about how those applications are made, what are the limitations and what are the capabilities of technology.”

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Peter Rosen


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