Howard Gardner and Katie Davis have authored a fascinating book entitled ‘The App Generation’, which focuses on how today’s youth navigate identity, intimacy and imagination in a digital world. The book is based on their extensive research, conducted over several years, which includes interviews, focus groups and, interestingly, an examination of young people’s creative output (e.g. artworks, writing etc), sampled from a twenty year period.
Unsurprisingly, like any text which seeks to ‘define’ a entire generation, the text has garnered praise:
“Gardner and Davis have offered a challenging and thought-provoking book: particularly rewarding for educators who are interested in thinking about how young people are changing, and how we might preserve the best practices of our profession while adapting the tools that define a generation.”—Justin Reich, Education Week (3/11/13)
and some criticism:
“While Gardner and Davis valiantly try to avoid the clichés and stereotypes typical of discussions about culture and technology, their work still feels trapped in a kind of nostalgia, pining for a lost world.” – Jenna Wortham, The Times (1/11/13)
In many ways, the text confirms what many educators already knew, and what is, essentially, common sense: that the ‘app generation’ are different in some ways to their predecessor generations, and, in some ways still the same.
What piqued my interest more than anything was the idea of being ‘app-enabled’ or ‘app-dependent’ – the terms used by the authors to describe two possible outcomes for a life immersed in digital technology.
Those who are app-enabled use apps as a launchpad to lead a richer life, with experiences enhanced by the access to information and connections to others that mobile technology allows. This contrasts with ‘app-dependent’ individuals, who let the gated garden of the app world direct and focus their life encounters, and, in many ways, limit their potential.
I believe these terms can go far beyond a description of those within the ‘app’ generation. They could be used to describe an attitude to technology that can often be seen in education; those who see technology as a key to opening up new worlds of learning could be considered to be app-enabled; those who see apps as tools that simply replicate what has always been done, yet digitally, could be seen as app-dependent.
The challenge is to model the true potential for technology to transform learning and life experience, so that young people do not see apps as the outer limits; so that rather than seeing apps as an ends, they see the tools as a means to reaching new potential.
Being ‘app enabled’ means working towards the ‘redefinition’ level of Ruben R. Puentedura’s SAMR Model. This model proposes that educators use technology at a variety of levels; none are necessarily bad, however they reflect both the purpose of the technology use, and the level of confidence and competence the user has to truly take advantage of the possibilities the technology affords. Not every tool or learning opportunity has the scope to fall in the ‘redefinition’ category – however being aware of the possibilities allows educators to always consider how digital tools enable students to achieve things never previously possible.
The levels can be seen below:
Being app-enabled in the sense that I am referring to does not mean that every time a teacher reaches for a technology tool it must be transformational; it simply means having the commitment, confidence and positive attitude required to think outside the box when using technology – for seeing how it might be used in ways not previously considered, and for not allowing the ‘rules’ of the tool to limit learning possibilities.
How does one begin? Perhaps by searching for creative ways of using the apps already in the teacher’s toolkit; those free and easily accessible tools that may be currently in use. The image below has just some ideas to get you started. These ideas are not necessarily at the redefinition level of the SAMR model – but they do demonstrate how one tool may have many different uses.
Being app-enabled or app-dependent in this way goes beyond the tools; it is an attitude that we can model to students, and a belief in the creativity and potential possible using the huge array of tools so readily available.
Are you app-enabled? Share in the comments tips for how you use technology tools creatively!