Archive for Institutional Stuff

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

The Optimist and the Skeptic

To generalize wildly, many people who work with educational technology like technology for its own sake. Not all teachers love it quite as much, especially in traditional fields like law. So how do you move from the enthusiasm of the early adopter reaction – “yay! Toys!” – to encourage widespread adoption of useful technologies in a field that may include more tech skeptics?

It takes trust and some clear applications to prove any learning curve is worth it. And it is the job of the tech guide to make that learning curve as gentle as we can, applying the same learning theories in our internal tech training that many excellent faculty use in the classroom.

Avoid information overload. Give the big picture and the step-by-step perspectives succinctly. Scaffold new concepts from familiar ones using relevant examples. Use questions and activities to gauge comprehension and reinforce new concepts. And, of course, peer to peer explanations and collaborations will usually be the most effective.

Besides these teaching strategies, the other basic requirement to build trust is empathy. Sometimes this means we need to take a step back from our own enthusiasm for the new and innovative and shiny. What is fun to us may be frustrating, confusing, and possibly intimidating to others. This doesn’t mean we need to hand-hold each person through every process, but we do need to factor in the basic barriers that people are likely to face.

Faculty and students have limited time, so how do we make sure the product and our training is as simple and effective as possible? We’re living in a multi-platform, multi-device world: pushing products that require universal adoption means a lot more preparation work on the start up side. Of course technology can also work to solve these problems, but any steps we can take to make the tool get out of the way will help when you’re dealing with a tech skeptic. Jump as quickly into the benefits as possible.

As an example, take anonymous in-class feedback, a teaching strategy that deals directly with confusion or competition that leads to intimidation and prevents full comprehension. A non-tech solution would be index cards, distributed to students and collected for later perusal. This gets the job done, but slows down the class and doesn’t you to directly address the issues raised.

Clickers were the first solution, but the hardware was an added expense that students often didn’t see pay off when faculty found the software cumbersome to work with and didn’t apply it in the classroom. Frustration with a failed product often leads from skepticism to cynicism and makes it harder to bring up the original problems they were intended to address.

CALI’s Instapoll (free) and other products like PollEverywhere or ClassPager (which include a variety of pricing plans) address the issues directly. Setting up the questions is painless – simply type them into the websites. Answering them doesn’t require any specialized devices for students to buy (they can use laptops or smart phones). The results appear on the screen quickly.

Weave seen how a few faculty adopting tools like this, designed to solve a specific need quickly and easily, will spread easily because it just works. Faculty are happy to tell each other about the benefits. Students ask more faculty about it after experiencing the benefits. We can use a few good experiences to encourage more use, but we’re still looking for further steps we can take: with classroom computers, would adding a clearly-labeled bookmark to all the browsers also encourage more use?

As we invest time in training and funds in new equipment, finding ways to gauge their impact can be tricky. Tracking actual usage can be very subjective.  Alleviating problems quickly is only possible when you hear about them immediately, and not everyone reports them. Faculty and students can be quickly disillusioned by a few frustrating moments, unwilling to invest in new experiments.

This can be a discouraging for anyone who’s hoping for immediate payoff, but many times asking questions about goals and barriers can refocus on the larger issues. The more positive examples you can offer that show the immediate benefits in the classroom, the easier it is to build trust as you take on the stubborn problems.

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

My IT, Your IT, Everyone’s got IT

Educational and Instructional Technology has always fallen in between faculty and IT groups.  It is explicitly related to improving pedagogy, conducted by the faculty, yet is reliant on a responsive IT department for implementation.  If the implementation is flawed in some way, then assessment becomes impossible.  The intersection and interaction between Ed Tech and IT groups is critical to overall success.  Yet every school seems to structure IT differently.  How does one navigate these pathways to achieve success?  Understanding this specific organizational structure is critical to anyone involved in Ed Tech.

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