A book by any other name …

I just read an interesting post by David Warlick, where he discusses the general misconception by adults that “kids love computers.” He was responding to someone who suggested picture books be put on iPhones because “kids love computers.” This seems like a logical hook to get kids interested in something they might otherwise avoid. When I was teaching 3rd and 4th grade I used to make that very claim. Students who seemed to have no pulse would suddenly become animated when they heard me talk about going to the computer lab. This was before interactive whiteboards, so I can only imagine their response had I started moving things around the board with my finger. However, I don’t think their enthusiasm was directed at the computer, but rather at what the computer represented.

One finding from my dissertations was that students in general seem to like using computers in school. However, they like using the computer in different ways and for different reasons. Some students liked the tool they were using — a web-based storyboard maker. Some students liked the activity — visual discovery – – and reported they would have liked it just as much without computers. Some students liked visual discovery better with the storyboard tool, and some students thought the whole assignment — the tech and the activity — were not that interesting.

David Warlick’s says this about kids and technology:

First of all, kids do not love computers any more than I loved my baseball bat, shoulder pads, or box of legos.  They were merely the apparatus of the play that I engaged in.  Computers are no different, except that they are NEW to my generation and in almost every respect more compelling than any Louisville Slugger (JU’s Thinking Stick notwithstanding).  Our children do not go to their mobile phone because it is their “tech of choice.”  They go there because it is where their friends are.

I found this to be very insightful, and it reminded me of this quotation by Esther Dyson:

The Internet is like alcohol in some sense. It accentuates what you would do anyway. If you want to be a loner, you can be more alone. If you want to connect, it makes it easier to connect.

People are drawn to technology because of what it will let them do, as well as what it represents. My mother and her friends have become heavy users of Facebook, not because they love Web 2.0 or social networking software. They love it because they can reconnect and keep up with the people they otherwise might lose touch with. Applications like FB give you a sense that people aren’t that far away, a comforting feeling in an age when people seem to constantly move around and get farther apart.

So, while computers and other technology may be a hook to get student attention initially, we can’t expect that initial fascination to be sustained over time. Unless these students associate the technology with things they find enjoyable, challenging or rewarding, we run the risk of giving them one more thing to roll their eyes at. It’s more than an object of fascination; it’s a conduit.