Is “Cool” an Appropriate Consideration?

Posted: March 31, 2008 in digital culture, edushifts, ipod, iPod in Education, Mobilelearner, tools

I’m struggling with something. I am struggling with the issue of the WOW factor. When it comes to educational handheld technology, is the “cool” factor even important? Opinions are going to differ on this point. Some will say that it is the functionality and only the functionality that matters. The choices we make about which handheld device to use with students should be based solely on it’s ability to help kids learn. Cool shouldn’t matter – only results matter.


I respect this opinion. If we in education are going to invest precious public funds, we need to make sure that there is an educational return on this investment. However, given two devices that both help meet learning goals, should the cool factor even come into play in the decision? Why can’t learning have the optics of being cool in the eyes of kids? We all know that for over a century, teachers have successfully fostered the idea that learning is not cool and not fun. I don’t know about you, but when I am learning something new in an area that I am interested in, I have lots of fun. Why can’t we use these tools to undo some of that damaged perception?

I’m going to take a risk and say that “cool” should play some role in the decision when selecting a device. I’m not sure yet that I am totally convinced, but after observing ELL students recently as they used the technology to creatively engage in language development and after noticing how motivated they were because they were using the iPod and iMacs, I’m becoming convinced. After all, even I would rather read a ebook on an iPod than on a clunky and ugly Amazon Kindle!

I’m going to admit my bias straight up and state that I love the Apple iPod. I have a 5G Video iPod and I love it. I would much rather watch a video on it or on an iPod Touch than on a clunky, ugly, Archos device. Now that this has been established, let me restate the question: “should schools be investing in iPods or other “cool” devices because they may potentially motivate students to learn and to help develop an image of coolness to learning?” My answer is that if the device achieves the stated learning goals, why not? I have had a number of conversations with colleagues who argue that marketing and image making has as much to do with the success of the iPod as a media player as the hardware itself. That may be the case but maybe we can learn a thing or two about this marketing strategy. Do we always have to maintain this utilitarian and frugal attitude about everything? We are human and we like nice things – can’t learning look cool as well as be cool?

Here’s a thought – we as teachers know that our students will come to our classes everyday – after all, it’s reinforced by law. As a result, we spend no time marketing ourselves. I wonder what the turnout would be like if there was some sort of alternative to out current school system?

I know what this sounds like – superficiality. Actually, I’m simply looking at the point of view of motivation. I know what the criticism is – what happens when the WOW factor wears off? What will happen is that this cool tool that everyone was avoiding because it was cool will become a ubiquitous learning tool.

What do you think?

  1. With the pace at which technology changes I think that the WOW factor WOFs(wears off fast). Bad humour. 🙂

    It also depends on how often a teacher uses a bit of technology. I enjoy comparisons, so here goes. I love the food at Caribbean Queen. It is a great treat whenever I go and eat there. But if I ate Caribbean Queen every day, the great treat might be bringing my own homemade lunch everyday. Not exactly WOW factor, I know. So I would say it plays a role in order to help gain acceptance into our culture of practice, but should not be the sole “Raison d’être”.

  2. Clark Quinn says:

    Rob, nice to chat with you at the Sharples preso. Two things:

    We should choose devices that are well designed. The cool factor (emotion is important in design, cf Don Norman) is really a manifestation of a well thought out design, which is a reason for Apple’s success. The reason you love your iPod, after the initial infatuation, is that it does what it does very well.

    On the other hand, cool shouldn’t trump functionality. The excitement factor will wane, and we’ll want to be left with a device that does what it does really well. I was talking with an iPhone fan, and he admitted that the lack of cut/copy/paste was making him crazy, and he was just holding on assuming it’d get fixed!

  3. Agreed – functionality should always be the key consideration.

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