Output or compliance?

George Couros
4 min readApr 11, 2017

This article from the New York Times, “I’m Not Texting, I’m Taking Notes”, is pretty interesting. The basic premise (I suggest you read the whole article) is that a 17 year old working at BlackBoard (a technology company), is ridiculed for using their phone during a meeting by some older adults, because it looks like he is texting, while he is actually taking notes. He refers to himself as a “digital native”, and acknowledges this is a norm for him and his friends, while not perhaps the norm for others in the company.

The ending (spoiler alert!):

What really upset me at the meeting was the assumption that by pulling out my phone, I wasn’t paying attention. I’m a digital native. My friends and I have only known a world where phones are smart. My iPhone is a computer, and it’s natural to take notes on it.

I thought I was being diligent, yet they thought I was being rude. I even thought I was being efficient by quickly looking up something online and not missing a beat, and they thought I was playing video games. Clearly, my generation cannot assume the older generations know how we use technology.

Rather than allow others to see our phones as a distraction, we have work to do to prove that our phones are vital tools that we need to get the job done.

Just as I was feeling better about what had happened, my phone buzzed. It was a text from Craig that said: “Hurry up. We are starting again soon.” And so I walked back to the conference room.

As much as I hated the feeling of being reprimanded, I was glad that Craig had pulled me aside and had given me a heads-up. So before we resumed the meeting, I told him that I had been taking notes on my phone, and not using it to text or check Twitter or any other social media.

Craig (vice president) seemed to appreciate that. And he was nice enough to announce after the break that if anyone needed notes from the earlier presentations, I could text them from my phone. I knew what he was doing and why. My generation will need mentors like Craig who will listen to us and look out for us.

A few things.

  1. This is something that many people are struggling with in education and has nothing to do with age. I have seen many younger educators bring pen and paper to a meeting while the veterans have access to technology. Whatever the case, we shouldn’t make assumptions about how other people learn because it looks different from us. Even if a person is doodling, that could be how some people process information.
  2. I appreciate the young person writing this article is being an advocate for their own learning, but I also appreciate a leader stepping up for them to shift how we see what is going on in a room to others. Is the measure productivity or compliance? I would rather have someone on Facebook in a meeting that does amazing work than a person who is writing notes that do a crappy job. Output should be the measure, not compliance. (I believe this applies to classrooms and in employment)
  3. Acknowledging that people grew up in different times with different norms of technology is important, but we also shouldn’t separate people by age. I have been told several times that I am more comfortable with technology because I grew up with it, by people that are younger than me (Thanks Maybelline!). This has nothing to do with age, but mindset and how we embrace opportunities.
  4. Thinking less of someone at work because they use a phone or computer, is as bad as thinking less of someone for using pen and paper. If someone is upset because I am on a computer during a meeting, I consider that a “YP”; Your Problem. Same goes if I look down on someone for using pen and paper. Start from the learner, and move backward from there.

I have been surprised how many leaders in education still ban devices from their staff during meetings or personal learning days, because they are worried what they might do or they are not paying attention. One of my favourite images on the topic from Scott McLeod.

Screen Shot 2017-04-09 at 8.00.08 PM

Don’t expect much to change in classrooms if our time together looks the same. People create what they experience, not what they hear about.



George Couros

Innovative Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Consultant. I also like dogs.