Being a Pitchman in the 21st Century Classroom

Malcolm Gladwell, kicks off his most recent publication, “What the Dog Saw” with a brief biography of Ron Popeil, the pitchman known best for his infomercial sales of the Ronco “Showtime Rotisserie & BBQ.” Over the first thirty-one pages appropriately titled, “Pitchman” Gladwell shares short stories encapsulating Popeil’s great success. One such story refers to how Popeil understood what it took to ‘sell’ an innovative product (in this case, the Chop-O-Matic) to his prospective buyers:

“[the product] was, after all, an innovation… it required consumers to rethink the way they went about their business in the kitchen. Like most innovations, it was disruptive. And how do you persuade people to disrupt their lives? … You have to show them exactly how it works and why it works, and make them follow your hands as you chop liver with it, and then tell them precisely how it fits into their routine, and, finally, sell them on a paradoxical fact that,  revolutionary as the gadget is, it’s not at all hard to use.” (Gladwell, 15-16)

Personally, when introducing students to new technology, I feel a bit like a pitchman. I show students how to use it, often times over and over to students who miss a critical step or are struggling with applying the new features on their own. The pitch does not stop there. The technology must then be used again in the future to allow students to practice using the tool and introduce other ways in which the technology might be applied. My ‘sale’ is complete only when the student recognizes how the tool can benefit him or her in their own ways, and ‘buys-in’ to using the tool independently to improve their own lives and productivity.

I’m curious to know how others feel about this assessment. Does “selling” the technology take this charge of tech integration too far? Is our mandate to get students to buy into the technology or instead simply introduce it as a possible tool? How much do we push the students to use technology, particularly those who are already showing great capacity and results as students without the technology?


About MrMusselman

K-5 Science Specialist for the Burlington Public Schools of Burlington, MA.
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