Saturday, December 28, 2013

The App Generation by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis

The App Generation by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis is a short book that packs a lot into those pages.  Gardner is the Harvard graduate education school professor famous for identifying the multiple forms of education, specifically beyond linguistics (valued pre-19th century generally) and logical-mathematical (valued more today).  He is a huge influence on my thinking and, to my mind, one of those people who can think past accepted ideologies to really forge new and important paths.

I was therefore excited to read his new book, written with co-author Katie Davis.

But I want to digress for a minute.  I grew up in and out of Silicon Valley and worked in the tech industry so I do know something about apps.  I also am very skeptical of their true impact and importance, viewing them more as a diversion than a central area of importance.  I watch my kids and think they benefit more from technology than are harmed and I really hate reading about how these new generations are lesser from technology’s impact.  They are also empowered and self educating (at least my kids are).

But when a groundbreaking Harvard professor (whom you respect) focuses on appa, even I need to take a look.

And I’ll try to be somewhat brief as I hate writing long reviews, being someone who doesn’t read them.

First, Gardner and Davis have taken on more than apps and technology and the related impact of them on today’s younger generation.  This book is written in a somewhat light and conversational tone but the actual contents are groundbreaking.  Apps are definitional not an encompassing term.

The authors suggest that generations will no longer define themselves by historical events but rather technologies.  New generations will then potentially define themselves as separate earlier.  Ideology also has a place…but the new technologies share ideologies so much faster and effectively.

Importantly, buried in the back, and the key point of the book, is that today’s mix of technology into education is just dumping the old media on kids in a new way.  Since the educational system is so slow to change, these incremental “improvements” might actually make the system worse - but be hard to correct.

The authors then point out that the new technologies make drawing out and developing multiple types of intelligence easier.  Yet those changes aren’t being implemented in education but rather in the collaborative and creation based “apps” that allow kids to make something.  And kids do create in massive amounts online, then share their content (both through apps).

Are these apps limiting creativity and defining options such that they hinder rather than enable innovation?  Perhaps the process is too new to identify.  Gardner and Davis see both the upside and the risks inherent in the massive social and educational changes new technologies have bestowed.  But they do point out that we can all continue, and indeed must continue, to educate ourselves in and out of school.

To end, this book tackles education from a new angle.  I get frustrated with the pat analysis and easy solutions I read…most of which I dismiss.  Education is too often reformed within the confines of what exists and ideologies which are assumed to be true but are too often just retreads of popular myths.  I don’t agree with all of this book.  But many of the issues it tackles and conclusions it draws are too new to be substantiated with concrete and demonstrable data.  Still, someone needs to take a stand and look at the problem from new angles (it’s only the future of our children and country at stake).  No better duo than Gardner and Davis.

And, some of the stories are really more anecdotal than substantive.  Perhaps that compromise was to broaden the potential audience.  It didn’t work for me; the book did despite that decision.

Another groundbreaking work from Howard Gardner.

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