“The Golden Apple”: Showing Students that Their Learning Matters

(This post is part of a series called “The Connected Class Community”).

Shelf Life (Kallisti)

Image by Topsy at Waygood via Flickr

The Golden Apple is the most cryptic and strange of all of these ingredients. Not surprisingly, it’s also difficult to explain. I think the idea will make sense after a couple stories…

The Golden Apple is an object or symbol that reminds the course community members of the great value of their shared work.

My first teaching assignment was at a startup charter high school for Latino students in rural Gilroy, CA. The school itself was located in portable trailers hunched around a disused junior-high school tennis court. Every view from every window was filtered through the links of a 15-foot chain link fence. The computers were few, outdated, and often broken. The school lunch was made up of surplus lunches from the junior high school. The surroundings were a constant reminder to the school community that somewhere, someone thought very little about us and our attempts at teaching and learning.

I went from that school to a charter high school in affluent Marin county, located in spacious buildings between the live oaks and rolling commons of  a community college campus. Clean classrooms were filled with a phalanx of matching white Macbook laptops– which themselves were filled with professional quality software for future professionals to master. This communicated to students everyday that someone somewhere believed in them, their teachers, and their bright future. These subtle reminders of student value helped build a secure, safe place where students felt free to explore– where learning was play instead of work.  The powerful, gleaming Macbooks served as the community’s Golden Apple– a daily reminder that “we are doing something special here”.

The best teachers I’ve known find some nonverbal way to communicate their respect for the students and their pursuit of learning. Some do it by maintaining a neat, orderly classroom, others by wearing formal clothes or giving gold star stickers. My style of communicating the Golden Apple to students was by expressing meticulous care in making high-quality learning materials for them. (Please see my SAT prep vocabulary slides on Flickr as an example). However we do it, teachers need to provide students with a tangible symbol of our belief that they are worthwhile.

The image that floated into my mind when I called this element “The Golden Apple” was a student giddily manipulating an iPad, enthralled in self-directed learning. While this is not meant to be an ad for Apple computers and smartphones, Jobs and co. have mastered the art of creating beautiful baubles that beg to be touched, played with, and experimented on.  Macs make me feel like someone sat around thinking about how I would feel as I worked in this environment– The rough, stupid edges that persist on Microsoft products remind me of a mean lunch lady saying “you’ll eat what you get and you’ll LIKE IT!” Learners in a safe, smooth, shiny, and responsive technology environment spend less time fighting with the tools and more time in a “flow” state of learning.

Mac users pay a large premium for this Golden Apple experience– the hardware and software is all more expensive than its Windows counterparts’ offerings, but we pay it gladly because of how the Mac tech ecosystem makes us feel. We all see ourselves as the “Mac” guy instead of the “PC” guy in the iconic commercials, and we need technology that recognizes that fact. This funny video shows the irrational lengths people are willing to go to to get the Golden Apple feeling.

I believe that students, learners, and workers of all kinds feel better and work better when their technology is smooth, powerful, and enjoyable to play with. When evaluating the demo versions of Blackboard, Moodle, and Canvas, I was struck how clean, modern, responsive, and easy Canvas felt to navigate compared to the older LMS candidates. I got that Mac-like giddiness as I toured its clever gradebook and intuitive dialogues for building courses. Unlike the clunky “early-2000s” feeling inside of the established LMSes, Canvas feels intuitive, snappy, and well-thought-out like the best Web 2.0 tools on the modern market. Working inside of this environment gave me that Golden Apple feeling.

The question I have is: How important is the Golden Apple in relation to the other components of a learning ecosystem? If given a choice between a more powerful but clunkier interface (like the HTC Evo) versus a feature-rich and less powerful alternative (iPhone)– which would you choose? Does it matter?

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Written by

Ted Curran is a Learning Experience Designer/Developer for Autodesk. He is committed to empowering educators and learners to create transformational change through effective pedagogy and technology integration. You can follow Ted on Mastodon, LinkedIn or learn more at my 'About" page. These thoughts are my own.

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