The Myths of Technology Series – “Technology equals engagement”

For ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, I will be presenting on the “Myths of Technology and Learning”. As I am really thinking about what I will be sharing at the conference, I wanted to write a series of blog posts that will help myself and others “rethink” some of these statements or arguments that you hear in relation to technology in school.  I will be writing a series of blog posts on different myths, and will be posting them on this page.  I hope to generate discussion on these topics to further my own learning in this area and appreciate any comments you have on each idea shared.

Myth One; Technology Equals Engagement

I saw the picture below shared online, and I will have to admit, it made me laugh.

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 12.44.03 PM

Often you hear statements from educators, such as “when the kids are on the computer, they are so engaged”.  Sometimes it is true in the initial stages of trying something for the first time.  I have even see students insanely excited their first few times on “typing” programs, yet that quickly wears off when the mindlessness of the task presents itself.  As educators, we have to be able to differentiate between “novelty” and “engagement”; they often look the same at the beginning, but one will quickly fade.

The other idea that we need to focus on is the notion of “engagement” in itself.  There is a strong difference between “engaging” a student and “empowering” them.  “Engagement” to me, seems like something that we often try to provide for our students, yet “empowerment” seems to be focusing on having students provide for themselves.  Yet the notion of “engagement” is so much better than the idea of “compliance.  Thinking about these three terms (compliance, engagement, and empowerment), the following ideas stick out to me on what each represents.

Compliance – Do this because I told you.

Engagement – Do this because you are excited.

Empowerment – Do this because you have the power to do something meaningful for yourself.

So if we want to get to this idea of “empowering” our students, we are not going to have to be the “sage on the stage” or the “guide at the side”, but “architects of meaningful learning opportunities”.  Understanding our students, their interests, abilities, and strengths, will help us better design learning that gets them to, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes, a state of “flow“.

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity

With the world now literally at our fingertips, “engagement” should not be the highest bar we set for our students.  If we can develop meaningful learning opportunities that empower our students to make a difference, our impact will go beyond their time they spent in our classrooms.  Technology alone will never provide this.  We need great educators that think differently about the opportunities we now have in our world and will take advantage of what we have in front of us, and help to create these experiences for our students to do something powerful.


  1. Beth said:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, George. I am embarrassed to admit that I used to think that technology was the silver bullet, that when used effectively, would magically transform the classroom. It took me a while to realize that technology does not engage students (well…. it does until the novelty wears off), but great teachers and good lessons do. I was fortunate to hear Krista Moroder speak about this at a Google Summit. I look forward to attending your presentation at ISTE. Krista’s blog:

    May 1, 2014
  2. Laura said:

    Yes, Thank you George,
    I look forward to the rest of your blogs. I am a home-educator and in the classroom as well in an after-school setting with teaching. I am currently going back to further my education as an educator. I prefer to call myself an catalyst instead. Educating is different in that is what the school nurse does for those who need information to make wise decisions. I am a catalyst. “an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action”. My personal definition is, a neutral party that seeks to stir and direct towards a specific path that may have been undiscovered so far.
    I have read books by Daniel Pinkerton and have yet to read the books that encouraged him in his study. (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) I look forward to reading your blog so I can have a better understanding in how to encourage other teachers. This is a touchy subject because it has the appearance of productivity and makes those outside the classroom feel involved. Helping our students use it as a tool, but not look to technology as the magic cure, is what we need today.

    May 1, 2014
  3. Gloria Jacobs said:

    Excellent post! I’ve railed about this a long time. I wrote an article along similar lines, accessible at
    But you’ve brought out difference between engagement and empowerment, which I really like. That’s a powerful concept. Best wishes on your presentation.

    May 2, 2014
  4. Steven Cohen said:

    I think this is a hugely important distinction. It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement and novelty of what can be done and lose sight of what should be done. Yes, it’s cool to make a Prezi, and it’s cooler than a Powerpoint, which can be more easily slicker than a shoebox diorama. But why are you doing it? Is it providing a deep learning experience? The power of an educational experience happens on so many levels and rarely does it come from the tool we use in the process. I don’t think advancements in paint brushes are responsible for powerful art. They might affect the form that art takes, but great artists produce great art with whatever tool they have at their disposal.

    I’d also argue that empowerment is what many young people get from the playing video games, or at least an experience of empowerment–whether it is actually real or not or healthy is a question–that goes beyond the latest in graphics or most advanced chip sets. It’s the experience of the game that makes the game engaging for them. We need to see technology this way in learning. What are the experiences students need to have in order to learn, to feel connected to their world, and to be empowered?

    May 3, 2014
  5. […] Should educators look beyond technology, student engagement? – In this blog post, George Couros, a division principal in Alberta, Canada, reflects on the myth that technology is […]

    May 4, 2014
  6. Thanks for posting this series George. I am often explaining the difference between engagement and empowerment. This is going to be an article I re-post for my staff to think about and react….

    Looking forward to reading new posts from you. I am so sorry I am going to miss you at ISTE this year! I will have to look for the recorded session.

    May 22, 2014

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