Don't Confuse BYOT and iTextbooks with Student Engagement

Some days I get up, look in the mirror and say "You sir, are a closet Luddite!"

Image: Frame Breaking 1812 Wikimedia Commons
It's not that I don't like progress, (as some mistakenly think Luddites do... for the actual explanation of Luddite, go to my previous post - Beware! Lest you turn into a new Luddite!".)

What I'm having issues with is the propensity of press that describe BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) as THE solution to technology assisted education.  What better way to offer choice? Get technology in the classroom? (And if we are honest) Offload the technology costs to the parents of our students?

Schools without technology see this as a way to get technology into the classroom, and we all  (I'm doing air quotes) "know" that technology in the hands of the student means an engaged student. Right?

On a related note, Apple Computer just made a "breakthrough" announcement for the education sector.  They are getting textbooks out of the 16th Century metaphor (Bound Books) and making them more interactive, more "engaging" and more affordable... (as long as you have an iPad to read them on).

Now both of these concepts delight me... I'm the world's biggest proponent of how technology can be leveraged to do things never dreamed possible... that with educational technology properly implemented, teachers can squeeze more into a 45 minute class than they ever could before, or what student or school board hasn't winced at the price we pay currently for textbooks... but at the same time I can't help but feel we are sending the wrong message when we promote BYOT,  or now... iTextbooks.

I often hear the justification for technology in the classroom is that students engage with technology in a way that they don't engage in sitting and listening to someone speak.

It can be true... watch a student's face when you hand them an iPad.  But don't confuse bedazzlement with engagement.  We all become infatuated with bright and shiny objects, but the initial thrill doesn't last forever. It is also true that there are teachers and speakers that can captivate an audience without any props or Powerpoints, or iPads.

Don't assume that just because the students aren't bored that they are learning anything of value.  Angry Birds keep a lot of people occupied, but that's about it.

Don't assume that because textbooks have vivid videos and interactive definitions that there's more retention. Interactive media has been around quite a while... Apple has just (brilliantly) broke through the connection to the textbook publishers, but interactive media adoption in the class has been... well... meh.

In the same way, don't assume that the current model of education works well because students are getting good marks on tests.  Good marks on standardized tests does not mean they are learning the knowledge, skills, and competencies they need for success in the world we launch them into.

So perhaps I've said all of that to say this... If your primary objective is to get technology in the classroom, then a BYOT program or iTextbook initiative will get you what you want, but won't be happy with the result.

If you tie the BYOT program, or the use of iTextbooks to learning outcomes... you'll do much better.

The Luddites weren't against technology (in their case the mechanized looms) they were against the loss of craftsmanship and artisanship. (OK, they were also against losing exclusivity, but let's forget that right now).

Education is about imparting the skills students need for the next stage of life.  It's a scary, different world we are launching our students into... much different that when you and I went to school.

Kid's raised with the Internet do think differently, and we have to adapt our delivery of education to make the most out of our time with students, as well as prepare them well for the world.

Technology is a phenomenal asset, but don't make it your goal.


  1. I do appreciate your point of view and I totally agree that technology should be the tool not the goal but what Apple made in my opinion is a great step in helping others to use technology inside the educational process. We cannot blame them for that..It all depends now on how well others like publishers, developers, and teachers would deal with it. I am happy with the technology myself as I always dreamed to get rid of the heavy bags of my kids and replace it with an interactive environment to enrich their knowledge. Thanks

    1. Thanks for taking the time to share your opinion. To me, Apple's biggest impact is convincing publishers that $14.95 is enough to charge for a textbook. It will be hard for them to charge more for eTextbooks on other platforms.

  2. It would be interesting to look at the relationship between deeper learning and technology. High Tech High has just held a conference about deeper learning: http://www.hightechhigh.org/dl2013/