Friday, March 11, 2011

Are You a Techno-Cheerleader?

My 13-year old son sometimes entertains himself with “Hold the Button,” a free application that he downloaded to his iPod Touch.  He touches the fingerprint image on his iPod for as long as he can and the application records how long he stays in contact with the fingerprint image.  He then checks to see if he earned a spot on the day, week, or all-time leader board. 

A few years ago, my daughter, now 16 years old, would occasionally visit  Although is no longer in operation, is very similar.  Mysteryseeker is, like mysterygoogle was, a search engine.  My daughter would type in a search query, select search and then receive google search results of a different query that was submitted just before her query was submitted.  So she would receive the results of someone else’s query.  She never received the results for her query.  For example, if one enters “Alan November” as a query, one will receive the results for a previous query, such as “stop spamming” or some other topic.

Now, technology can be a great tool, but, if our students were using the “Hold the Button” application and, would we consider it rigorous work?  Of course not.  Some students might find it engaging, but it certainly would not be rigorous, regardless of what your concept of academic rigor is.  The brief video below certainly makes this clear.

I opened our school division’s Leadership Academy last August by describing my kids’ use of “Hold the Button” and  I spoke of the importance of not being techno-cheerleaders. High school cheerleaders are great in that we count on their automatic support, enthusiasm, and school spirit.  However, Mark Bauerlein uses the techno-cheerleader label for anyone who unthinkingly accepts the premise that the use of technology will yield automatic gains in skills and knowledge.   Bauerlein criticizes young people and the way they use technology.  He even offensively refers to young people as “the dumbest generation.”  In his book, entitled The Dumbest Generation, he writes,

All the ingredients for making an informed and intelligient citizen are in place.  But it hasn’t happened . . . Instead of opening young American minds to the stores of civilization and science and politics, technology has contracted their horizon to themselves, to the social scene around them.  Young people have never been so intensely mindful of and present to one another, so enabled in adolescent contact. . . Adolescents have always wasted their time and chances, of course, but the Dumbest Generation has raised the habit into a brash and insistent practice.

Bauerlein goes on to cite educators who acknowledge that students have a lot to learn when it comes to technology.  He refers to “teachers who noticed that, for all their adroitness with technology, students don’t seek, find, and manage information very well.  They play complex games and hit the social networking sites for hours, the educators said, but they don’t always cite pertinent sources and compose organized responses to complete class assignments.”   

Bauerlein is obnoxious and off-base at times (many times) in his book, but I certainly agree with him that we should not be techno-cheerleaders who assume that technology automatically is beneficial. Fortunately, many examples exist around the world of teachers skillfully tapping into students’ interest in digital tools to engage them in rigorous work.  These teachers are using digital tools to informate, not automate, as Alan November(@globalearner) emphasizes. Drawing on the work of Shoshana Zuboff, he writes "Automating essentially means 'bolting' technology on top of current processes and procedures."  With informating, "students assume much more responsibility for managing their own learning."  For example, he notes, "educators can challenge students to serve as co-authors with students in other countries to publish their work for a global audience."

Why are teens willing to spend hours playing “Hold the Button” or entering queries on Do teens have a sense of membership in a “Hold the Button” global community stemming from the ability to compare results with others around the world? If so, that reinforces the notion that we need to tap into opportunities for students to connect, collaborate, and even compete globally to create and share work.
“Hold the Button” and are fun non-examples of using digital tools to engage students in rigorous work. I invite your assistance in identifying additional non-examples.  Contrasting interesting non-examples with examples of effective, valuable use of technology can play a small part in helping build a shared understanding and ownership of a vision for students’ use of digital tools.  So, what applications, web sites, or other digital tools capture student interest without having obvious educational value?  Why do they capture student interest and what are the implications for the work we provide students? Please add a non-example or two to the GoogleDoc posted at

P.S.  My personal best on “Hold the Button” is a very unimpressive seven minutes and thirty-seven seconds!

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