Balancing Optimism with Pragmatism

Audrey Watters this week posted a talk she gave at Coventry University earlier this year entitled “The Top Ed-Tech Trends (Aren’t ‘Tech’).”  Good talk by someone I like to follow in my feeds…primarily because she is the contrary voice I sometimes need to hear.  Now I am trying to balance the optimism of Friedman (and me) with the pragmatism of Audrey.

Since 2010, Audrey has published a series of articles covering the trends of the past year in educational technology – a huge undertaking!  She summarized her flow of trends in her talk.





Audrey offers her yearly well-researched articles as a counter to the short bulletted list of “must have new cool” technologies that seem to roll out every December and January.  As her list illustrates, her trends are more ideological than technological…which in some ways aligns with Tom Friedman’s mega-trends of simultaneous accelerations of technological change, market change, and climate change.  In both cases, as Audrey noted so well:

“They’re not “trends,” really.  They’re themes. They’re categories. They’re narratives.”

…and as she noted, they are US-centric and even California-centric.  She discussed the narrative flowing out of Silicon Valley…the “dream factory” of California.  This narrative supports an optimism for science as the solution for all the world’s problems.  The focus on skills, personalization, learning to code, disruption … all flow from the California Ideology as described by Watters.  Audrey noted that she chose “the platforming of education” in 2012…and wondered if 2016 saw the failure to platform emerge as a theme.  An interesting observation, as I recall the 2012 optimism associated with A Domain of One’s Own and personalized platforms as the vehicle to lifelong learning.

In many ways, Friedman shared this optimism when he noted that we had entered a world in which”…connectivity was fast, free, easy for you and ubiquitous and handling complexity became fast, free, easy for you and invisible.”  Any problem could now be solved through the combination of fast, free connectivity and fast, free crunching of data in the cloud.  And that is probably true for technological problems.  Within the agriculture economy, the decline in immigrant field workers will probably be solved with automated field workers.  Friedman noted that we have reached an age where you only have to dream about a solution and you can achieve it.  You can build the platform to make it happen.  But Audrey closed her talk by noting that platforms are not substitutes for communities.

Both Friedman in Thank You For Being Late and Kevin Kelly in The Inevitable make an optimistic case that as technology displaces workers, it also creates new jobs requiring new skills. But Friedman also noted that when the Industrial Age displaced the Agricultural Age, it took about a generation for old ways to die off and new ways to surface.  While the rate of change has accelerated since 2007, will our rate of adaptation – both as individuals and as educational systems – match that change rate?  Audrey quoted Neil Selwyn, who identified three contemporary ideologies intertwined with the technological ones – libertarianism, neoliberalism, adnd the ideology of the new economy…to which she added a fourth – technological solutionism.  These four align with concepts of venture capitalism, the gig economy, the shared economy, the attention economy…all happening fast, free, easy for you, and accelerating.

To riff off of the video below, have we become so enamored with personalization that we have lost sight of the person?  One of my students shared this video by Prince Ea with the class…and it is worth a listen.

It is another way of saying…balance optimism with pragmatism…

{Graphics: Watters}

Faculty Development in An Open World


I just finished reading Curtis J. Bonk’s new book, The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I will tell you that Wiley, the publisher, emailed me after I reviewed Dan Willingham’s book in a previous post and asked if they could send me Bonk’s book for possible review (with no strings attached).

I said yes and the next week received a copy of this book at no charge.

With that said, this book has resonated with me and I found Bonk’s approach interesting.

In many ways, Bonk is as much a fan boy of Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat as I am.  Just as Friedman had ten flatterners, Bonk has ten openers:

Ten Openers: (WE-ALL-LEARN)

  1. Web Searching in the World of e-Books
  2. E-Learning and Blended Learning
  3. Availability of Open Source and Free Software
  4. Leveraged Resources and OpenCourseWare
  5. Learning Object Repositories and Portals
  6. Learner Participation in Open Information Communities
  7. Electronic Collaboration
  8. Alternate Reality Learning
  9. Real-Time Mobility and Portability
  10. Networks of Personalized Learning

WE-ALL-LEARN provides a framework for his book and the premise that anyone can now learn anything from anyone at anytime.  Bonk  spun out chapters on each opener, illustrating each concept with stories, a bit of research and statistics, and implications for education in the future.  Working in the field, I recognized some of the people he named, but I also learned new pioneers.  Bonk continually reinforces that these openers ought to be changing education as we know it, as our world is quite different from our parent’s world.

In Bonk’s view, these openers need to viewed through three overarching trends.  First, the pipes are getting bigger allowing access to tools and infrastructure.  Second, more and more pages of content is becoming available as free and open content. Third, a participatory learning culture is evolving around social media.

One of the things I found fascinating was my own reaction to the book.  I buy the basic theme that openness ultimately improves education, and I consider myself someone who is part of a participatory learning culture.  I was pleased that Bonk provided a companion website with hyperlinked references and other resources.  But my first inclination was to begin following Curt Bonk’s Twitter account…and I could not find one for him!  Other than his blog, I did not see Bonk participating to the same degree that he discusses in his book.  I have never met him and may be way off target, but I was somewhat surprised that I could not immediately connect with him the way I did with some of the people he mentioned in his book like Stephen Downes, Vicki Davis, Clay Shirky or Dave Weinberger.

So I was thrilled with the content and miffed a bit by the author!  Weird reaction!

I also found that increasingly with books like this one, I read it with a laptop nearby, so that I can quickly go look at something new and immediately start the learning process for myself.  I had never seen Dancing Matt before, so really enjoyed viewing his Youtube video while reading that section of the book.  This bouncing between the web and the written word is a new but interesting process…and it suggests that in many ways, this should have been an e-book as opposed to a print book.

His final opener has to do with personalized learning…something we reflect on often in faculty development.  Bonk stated that we should be striving to move from where we see personalized learning as the ideal to a culture where personalized learning is the accepted norm.  With the pipes, pages, and participatory culture, anyone can establish their own learning path on any topic, whether it be improved teaching, learning a new language, or finally programming the VCR (…just kidding).  The implications for faculty development are huge!

Bonk has fifteen predictions at the end.  I will leave it to you to check them out, but I liked that he is questioning the status quo.  With the availability of all the world’s knowledge in our pockets/cellphones, the typical four-year college process no longer makes sense to Bonk.  He suggests that formalized education will expand rather than contract.  But informal learning with global partners will play an equal role to the formalized higher education model.  Learning will be authentic from passionate teachers…but those “teachers” may no longer be credentialed.  Bonk also served up a dozen issues that will have to be solved for openness to succeed.

I work with faculty daily on best ways to incorporate the internet into their teaching practices.  In the past three years since I came to VCU, the access to learning on the web has exploded.  Bonk’s book is pushing me to reconceptualize how I should facilitate faculty development in an open world.  I recommend the book to you and would be interesting in your thoughts on the evolution/revolution of faculty development in these exciting times!

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The Digital Divide – Students versus Faculty

As you know from my last post, I spent Friday with Jeff Nugent co-facilitating a full-day workshop at the INFORMS Teaching Effectiveness Colloquium.  It was rather exciting to spend a full day with a room full of mathematicians!  I am still reflecting on what transpired, but wanted to share some thoughts on one aspect, triggered by a couple of articles today.

The October 17th issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education contains an interesting article by John Seely Brown entitled “How to Connect Technology and Content in the Service of Learning.”  Brown noted that:

“Web 2.0 has blurred the line between producers and consumers of content and has shifted attention from access to information toward access to other people.”

In a view similar to Clay Shirky‘s Here Comes Everybody, Brown illustrated how the internet offers incredible opportunities for like-minded passionate people to connect and explore their passions.  These niche communities provide an environment which supports lifelong learning.  If we are not tapping in to these social aspects of the internet, we are missing an opportunity to connect with our students.

Meanwhile, the corporation CDW-G released a report entitled “The 21st Century Campus: Are We ThereYet?“.

Key findings of this corporate (and probably biased) study include:

  • More than 80 percent of faculty teach at least some of their classes in “smart classrooms,” yet just 42 percent of those faculty use the technology during every class session
  • Topping students’ technology wish list is online chat capability with professors; just 23 percent of higher education IT staff say their campus offers it
  • Faculty and IT staff agreed that lack of technology knowledge among faculty is the biggest barrier to technology on campus

Biased or not, the findings do not surprise me.  They illustrate that – contrary to conventional wisdom, our students DO want to connect with us, their faculty.

I do not believe in faculty-bashing, but I do fear that a new form of digital divide is developing.  Outside of class, our students are developing skills in connecting and communicating via text, chat, IM, FaceBook, blogs, and video.  With the exception of a few early adopters, few faculty have these same skills.

This brings me back to our workshop last Friday.  I had the 21 faculty brainstorm their assumptions regarding the Net Generation.  Some of their assumptions included:

  • Students want to be in control of their resources
  • Students take a consumer approach to education
  • Students want to be spoon-fed
  • Students want to understand the relevance of what they are studying
  • Student are focused on grades first, learning second
  • Students use the internet to find information and communicate

When I asked whether allowing students to bring technology into a classroom was a good thing or a bad thing, the comments made indicated that some of this group of faculty saw technology as a distraction which broke the rhythm of the class and prevented students from “getting the basics.”

One participant made the interesting comment that he wished students would just take what he was teaching on faith rather than immediately wanting to know why.

I wish I had Jeff Utecht‘s eloquence, but he said it best today, so I simply will quote him:

I have come to hate the phrase “21st Century” whatever: Learner, Thinking, Teacher, Skills.

Has anyone noticed it’s 2008…well 79 days until 2009!

We’re 9 years (depending on how you count) into the 21st Century and we’re still calling for 21st Century things.

I’m sorry we’re in it! These are just skills! They are just what we should be doing and if we’re not teaching them, helping students to understand them then we’re letting them down….big time!

So that’s it…I’m done. No more 21st Century for me.

They just are today’s skills

They just are today’s schools

They just are today’s students

They just are what we should be doing!

No more putting them off.

No more pretending we are thinking of the future.

Either you are a 21st Century school working on preparing students for today or you are a 20th Century school that just doesn’t get it.

That goes for teachers, skills, content, curriculum, students.

Amen, Jeff!

{Photo Credit: Dubber, Unhindered By Talent}

Not Net Gen – Oh No!

I think I am in trouble!

In 9 days, Jeff Nugent and I are doing a full day training session at INFORMS Teaching Effectiveness Colloquium in Washington DC.  Jeff is starting off with a session on How People Learn.  I then spend some time exploring the Net Generation.  Then we tie it together with Teaching, Learning, and Technology.

We submitted our plan months ago, and at that time, “Net Gen” made sense.  But recently I have been rethinking this term…influenced by some recent posts I will note below, and something Jeff said today in a podcast that really moved me in a new direction.

First, I recommend you listen to the GenTech podcast in which Michael Kelly, Steve Whitaker, and Mark Hofer interview Jeff about his work in our Center for Teaching Excellence.   Jeff did that, but then the conversation shifted to his Learning with Digital Media class he is teaching at the undergraduate level.  Jeff made the distinction between introducing social media to faculty we work with versus the students he teaches.  He noted that faculty rarely have any frame of reference for the sharing aspects of tools like Delicious, SlideShare, or Twitter, and so see little value in the sharing.  His students, on the other hand, come to these tools with experiences such as FaceBook, where the social aspects are paramount.  He introduced Delicious to his students last week, and within 15 minutes his class had added each other to one anothers’ networks, created subnetworks, and begun sharing bookmarks.  One noted that this was “just like Facebook.”

What Jeff was seeing was that this rapid adoption was not generational in nature so much as it was experiential.

This ties in to a post Dean Shareski made last week entitled “Digital Resident Makes More Sense Than Digital Native.”  Dean was building off a post made by Dave White back in July – “Not Natives & Immigrants But Visitors & Residents.”  I had not seen this earlier post, but it really resonated with me (and obviously Dean).  A resident lives a portion of her or his life online while a visitor goes to the web to use a tool and then leaves.  Under this definition, the students in Jeff’s class, as well as Jeff and myself, would be classified as residents.  The faculty we work with for the most part are visitors.  They may be aware of applications but they do not have the experiences with them that a resident would, and so have difficulty seeing the value that a resident would.

As with most stereotypes, there are teens and college kids who are also visitors, not residents, just as there are “chronologically-challenged” individuals like me who are not immigrants.  So labeling our students “Net Gen” no longer makes a lot of sense.

It is too late to rename my presention on October 10th, but it is definitely changing and evolving.  I would be interested in your thoughts about lessons we should share with teachers based on this new insight.  Rather than natives and immigrants, I am thinking more along the line of walled communities versus hostels.  Faculty need to spend some time in the digital hostel and experience the value that their students are intuitively picking up.

{Photo Credits: Lend Me Your Eyes, 733}

No Teacher Left Behind

Darren Draper had an interesting and thought provoking post Monday, which is no surprise from Darren.  In “No Teacher Left Behind?,” Darren began by noting that he believed the positive message David Truss had posted in “Who Are the People In Your Neighborhood?“, but then asked if:

  • In spending so much time to create (shallow?) connections with such a wide range of educators on a global level, isn’t it possible that one might also neglect local relationships that are equally (if not more) important?
  • What can we do to consistently maintain a healthy perspective?

Shifting gears to a higher plane:

  • Do we really think that all teachers need to be this connected?
  • Can every teacher (human being) handle all of the information? Are they “bad teachers” if they can’t?
  • And what about those teachers that take 25 minutes just to create a Gmail account? Will it really be worth my time – and theirs – to help them enter the 21st Century? Or are the benefits of such efforts simply not worth the costs?

I guess what I’m really wondering is this:

  • Is it ever OK to simply leave some teachers behind?

He DID note that he was tired as he posted these questions!  🙂

I think many of us that work with faculty wonder some times if it is okay to simply leave some teachers behind.  However, let me suggest an alternative view.  I have been excited this week as my online class of graduate students – all older K-12 teachers and many self-labeled technologically-challenged, began to submit their projects on Web 2.0 tools.  My 21 students have each taken a different tool, explored it, and then begun to share their exploration with their fellow students in ways that reinforce Web 2.0.  So I am starting to see teachers who had never ventured beyond Powerpoint suddenly using some of the tools CogDog lists in his 50+ Ways to Tell a Story.  I am finding new tools that I have never seen before, such as RockYou.Com, which allows someone who has never published multimedia before to mix photos, effects, and music in compelling ways.  SlideShare, Camtasia and Jing are being used.

It is early yet, and only a quarter of my students have posted so far, but I am excited by what I have seen so far.  It reminds me that it is worth the time to get teachers excited about using 21st Century skills!

{Photo Credit: Saffanna, weinnat }

How Much Hand Holding?

On Friday, I attended the ECVA Conference at Virginia Tech along with Jeff Nugent and Bud Deihl.  Two delightful companions with whom to do a road trip – we left Richmond at 5:30am and got back at supper time.

At the conference, we had the opportunity to hear two excellent keynoters.  Michael Wesch talked first about the new literacies required for teaching in the 21st Century.  Sarah “Intellagirl” Robbins-Bell then followed with a discussion about implementing technologies in ways that solve pedagogical issues.

Much of what Wesch covered was similar to a talk he did at the University of Manitoba last June.  He maintains that the old literacy involved reading and writing, but that what needs to be taught today involves reading and writing on the web.  Students today have access to unlimited information, so can find the typical questions one asks on multiple choice tests.  It is more important to teach critical thinking with that information than the information itself.

Wesch made several points that I had not really reflected on before.  First, he noted that the technologies he was using (wikis, YouTube, NetVibes, etc.) did not exist five years ago, so our students have not “grown up” using them.  They have learned them during the same time period that he had.  This goes a long way in my mind to putting a nail in the Digital Native / Digital Immigrant discussion.  I would also suggest that while students today may not have necessarily grown up with the tools in use now, they did grow up with a comfort level to technology that their teachers still do not have in many cases.

The second point he made led to this blog post.  He maintained that he does not need to teach reading and writing to students in college – it is assumed they have these literacies when they come into his class.  In a like vein, he does not see it as his place to teach the use of tools in the Read/Write web to students – it should be a given that students either know how to use the tools or know how to figure out how to use the tools.


I am currently teaching a graduate course in Instructional Uses of the Internet to a bright group of K-12 teachers.  During the first two weeks, we have been focusing on Web 2.0.  Many of my students – some of whom have been teaching twenty-plus years – are frustrated and overwhelmed by the myriad of tools and options afforded by the web.  Several have stated that I as the instructor am not doing enough to “teach” – I am not providing detailed step-by-step processes for each thing I am asking them to do, such as build a homepage in Blackboard, set up accounts in delicious, wikispaces, and Google Reader.  In some ways, I am attempting to model the “messy” way in which learning occurs today on the web, but I am seeing some pushback by these colleagues (and I do think of my students as colleagues).  So I have been struggling with this concept of just how much hand-holding I should be doing with graduate students in a Web 2.0 environment.  From Wesch’s viewpoint, it sounds like the answer is “none.”

I might agree with 18-year-olds, but these K-12 teachers are in many ways just like the university faculty with whom I work.  As a faculty developer, I am mindful that my job in many ways is to act as a problem solver for them.  They do not have the same motivations to “play” on the web that I have as an early adopter.  They have become successful as faculty and researchers using an older paradigm, and are only now slowly awakening to the need for a new one – if they are awakening at all.  Part of this awakening is driven by their students and a visceral feeling that these students know more about technology than they do.  I think Michael adequately addresses this (they do not necessarily – this is stereotyping and students enter with wide diversity of capabilities), and some recent blog posts at NetGen Nonsense back up the growing realization that students are not as tech savvy as we give them credit for being.  But the fact remains that most faculty, and many in my class, remain fearful of trying out these new technologies.

This shifted me into thinking about what Intellagirl said in her talk.  She stated that the process she used in introducing new technologies was to ensure that she had talked through three aspects with her students – The Promise – The Tool – and The Bargain.  She promised that the technology would help create bonds and connections, and also add fun to the course (which I agree is a good thing!).  She tied the use of the tool to the learning outcomes.  She recognized and helped students realize the learning curves associated with technologies and tools.  So, she ensured the students had the time to become familiar with the tool.  She wanted students not to escape into the tool, but to use it as an extension of their learning.  She helped students understand that they left footprints in the web when they interacted with the tool and each other…and she wanted them comfortable with that.  Finally, part of the bargain was that she was going to use technologies to help achieve learning ends, and not because it was just cool to use some tool.

I like Sarah’s approach.  I will discuss this with my class and see where I can assist their learning curve and their comfort level.  I have a wide range of students, so I suspect that I can co-opt some of them into helping others grow in their abilities to effectively use the opportunities afforded by the web.

I would be interested in your thoughts on the balance between hand holding and expectations of self-learning.

{Photo Credits: Steve Rhodes, batega}

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Using My Father’s Method

I know this is not really true, but all kids grow up thinking that their father taught them to swim by throwing them into the pool/lake/river/bay.  And most of us did learn to swim!

I was thinking about this as I watched (in a virtual sense) my graduate students swim for the first time in Web 2.0 waters.  During their first week of their first online class, they found out that they could post material to a website, upload pictures, resize those pictures if necessary, set up accounts in GOOGLE, DELICIOUS, and WIKISPACES, and record an audio message to each other in the class using Wimba recorders.

I know that they think I simply threw them in … and some of them felt quite overwhelmed.  It is hard for them to see right now that the successes of this week will translate into practices in their lives and their classrooms in the near future.

Yet I am encouraged!  I took the 80 posts that the 18 students made in the discussion board and collected all the text, then placed the text in Wordle.  This was the resultant wordcloud:

I had asked the students to watch Michael Wesch’s The Machine is Us(ing) Us and then reflect on how (or whether) Web 2.0 was changing how they as K-12 teachers should approach teaching and learning.  It is therefore good to see that the top two words that emerged from 80 posts were “students” and “technology.”  I am also seeing words such as classroom, time, internet, can, world, and new.  You have to look very hard to find the word “overwhelmed”…it is there but tiny compared to other words that pop out.

I was fortunate in that my emersion into the Web 2.0 stream occurred over an 18-month period, with supporting friends locally and globally helping me out.  Where I paddled, my students are now being hit with a firehose (mixed metaphors…but you know what I mean).  There are some excited swimmers in the lot, and my role is to create that same sense of excitement in the rest.  I think that it is going to be fun.

Photo Credit: zanzibar}

Living In the Real World

Stephen Downes is one of my heroes – a pioneer in online learning.  However, I think he missed the mark with his post yesterday entitled “My Take on the Top 25“. Stephen took Jane Hart’s Slideshow of the Day list of the top 25 technologies – and commented on where they fit (or did not fit) in his own world.

A quick disclaimer, I may have took notice because I was one of 192 professionals that submitted our top ten tools to Jane, who compiled them into her Top 100 Tools for Learning. Given the number of submissions and the depth of expertise of the submitters, this list strikes me as pretty balanced and interesting.  But I may be biased.

However, in reading Stephen’s post, I was struck by a feeling that I have not had since my Pentagon days – one of “NIH” – or “not invented here.”  NIH was a condition that sometimes struck officers of one branch of the military if an officer from another branch suggested a solution.  Stephen seemed to be unimpressed with many of the tools because he had already written a script or code that did similar functions and saw little utility in the tools listed.  He basically downplayed or outright stated that he had no use for 15 of the 25 tools.

I would suggest a different take.  Most faculty (and I include myself) are not as inherently gifted at coding or programming as Stephen is, and instead are simply looking for tools that solve problems in their very real world.  Many of the tools in Jane’s list meet these needs.  They have for me.

What I find interesting in Jane’s list are the possibilities it has suggested.  Rather than saying “I do not use this tool”, I looked at the list for suggestions on tools I might use to solve problems I have with my online teaching (and my students’ online learning).  I now routinely use 21 of the top 25 tools (though that was not true two years ago).  The four tools that make up my PLE (delicious, Google Reader, blogging with WordPress, and Twitter) are all in the top fifteen.  I am using Camtasia and Wikispaces in my online Blackboard class.  Firefox is my default browser.  Pictures in my blog come from Flickr or SnagIt, and I routinely network with others through Ning and Slideshare.  In fact, I continue to be blown away by the fact that one of my powerpoints I uploaded on a whim to SlideShare, Teaching In A Flat World, now has over 7,000 views in just the last 5 months – not to mention nearly 600 downloads and 16 embeds in others’ websites.  Long winded way of saying that I find tremedous value in these tools.

What is your take?  Do you find Jane’s list unhelpful (does it not fit your world)…or is it helpful – does it open up new possibilities for teaching and learning?  Be interested in your thoughts!

{Photo Credit: LexnGer}

Backwards Translation

I spent most of today mapping out the first four weeks of my Fall graduate course, Instructional Strategies Using the Internet – a totally online course with students scattered over three states. As this is now an Ed Leadership course, Jon Becker and I are taking it from a strictly Web 1.0 classroom focused course into a school leadership-focused course. The intent is to explore Web 2.0 initially, but then shift towards the administrative planning necessary to implement Web 2.0 instruction in a school or district.

As I thought through the first four weeks exploring Web 2.0, I was reminded of something Jeff Nugent comments on often – the challenge of backwards translating Web 2.0 by an early adopter to a late majority population.

This is not a criticism of my upcoming students – they are typical school teachers that did not necessarily grow up with computers like their students – the NetGen generation – have. So while I am probably generalizing, it appears from meeting with them this summer while they were on campus that most of my students will fall in to the late majority category. Rogers noted that the drivers for adoption of an innovation are different for each adopter category, and I think it is safe to say that my enthusiasm for Web 2.0 will not easily translate into the class norm (at least, not without some work).

So as I mapped out the course, I broke the course down this way. I thought that we would spend a week simply exploring the Web 2.0 concept (Michael Wesch videos, O’Reilly article, Cofino First Steps), and have them dip their toes in with RSS feeds in Google Reader and accounts in Delicious. The concept of creating content online might still be foreign to some of them.

My worry with backwards translation is the potential for information overload as we move in to Web 2.0 tools. I am thinking a starting place is Jane Hart’s Top Tools For Learning list, but even that is intimidating to those uncomfortable with technology. Yet, this is a graduate course, and I neither want to water it down nor spoon feed “my” tools to them. My goal is that in week 4, the students will be using some of these tools to present (asynchronously) tutorials on a specific tool that they research to the other members of the course. I do not want to even specify “how” they present – though I do want to introduce them to CogDog’s 50 Ways To Tell a Story.

So, this suggests that we spend a week “exploring” tools, and then spend a week exploring those who have successfully used these tools instructionally. To me, this means setting up a wiki and getting the students comfortable using it in order to map out possible tools that they then would split up to research. They also (with help from lists like this and this) would begin exploring the blogs of fellow educators who ARE using the web instructionally.

This would then culminate with a week of sharing their individual research with me and each other.

See any pitfalls, issues, alternative approaches? This is still on the drawing board, so any input would be greatly appreciated!

Bridging the Education Chasm

I blogged yesterday about the role we early adopters need to play in bringing social media to the masses. Got some very thoughtful comments back from a lot of folks. In particular, Colin Warren of Deakin University in Victoria, Australia, made a follow-on post at his blog, in which he referenced Geoffrey Moore’s book Cross the Chasm, and also a related article by Alex Iskold who suggested that maybe early adopters are currently being diverted by so many new technologies that they can’t keep up, and that they keep abandoning good technology to try something new. Boy, that struck a bell!

Iskold’s article “Rethinking Crossing the Chasm” discusses the difficulty companies have in bridging the gap between early adopters and the mainstream markets of early and late majorities. In a nutshell, early adopters love new stuff but make up too small a percentage of the population to ever be profitable. Iskold discusses the success that Apple had with the iPod, but also noted that there is real difficulty in getting a particular technology widely adopted. He stated:

The problem is that compared to a few years ago, the speed with which new technologies are coming to the market has increased dramatically. All these technologies are aimed at the early adopters. And they love it and they try it. But the question is what happens when your early adopters run off to play with a new great thing before you have a chance to take your technology mainstream?

For example, some people who used to blog regularly, blog less now because they discovered Twittering (microblogging). Or, early adopters who have discovered Second Life might not have as much time to spend on MySpace anymore. These are not even necessarily competitive technologies, they are complimentary, but the fact is that they all compete for peoples’ time and attention.

His main point (and my point last night) – “The early adopters are the pillars needed to cross the chasm; without them the whole scheme falls apart. You can’t make a leap and bring on board the masses if the very foundation you are standing on, the early adopters, leave to do other things.”

The true innovators (Rogers’ 2.5 percent) are the ones that need to keep moving ahead, forging a path for the rest of us. But there is a danger if too many early adopters do not become evangelists for Web 2.0 and stick with helping bridge the gap. This month’s MIT Technology Review (one of my favorite magazines/ezines) has several articles on the future of Web 2.0 – and they do not paint a bright picture. Interestingly, the cover photo shows Leah Culver, cofounder of Pownce, blowing a big bubble (which bursts when you get into the articles). Jason Pontin, the editor, compares the current euphoria over Web 2.0 to the craze of the Nineties, and noted that both have the same structural weaknesses – no clearly understood business that is floating on investors’ capital. Check out the whole issue, but pay attention to “Social Networking is Not a Business (…But It Might Be Soon)” by Bryant Urstadt.

Urstadt also points to the attention deficit of the early adopters and the issues Web 2.0 companies have in making a profit. He noted that most Web 2.0 apps are seen as portals – and portals are (in his words) “walled gardens” where inexperienced web users congregate for a while, but then grow restless and leave for another spot in the Web 2.0 stream.

Many of us have been extolling the educational value of using Web 2.0 in classroom settings. We do not need this bubble to burst! If we are to be successful, we have to bridge the gap with the majority of our fellow faculty. I therefore like what Jeff Nugent said in his comment to my post yesterday:

We have had several conversations about the “long nose of adoption” and the role this seems to play as an innovation makes its way through different levels of adoption…or not. … I think there has also been trend over the last year or so for folks in the edtech camp to hunt and gather the latest tools, to be the first at the site and to announce it and pass it along. I think this has been a fun and fascinating time, but it may have come to define too much of the work we engage in.

…the excitement and interest that innovators and early adopters share in the early stages of using the innovation is not often shared by the early and late majority bands. These adopter groups tend to come to the table for different reasons. This creates an adoption dilemma for those of us involved in the work of sharing the potential educational benefit of an innovation. The language of the innovator is often a second or foreign language for the early and late majority. It seems to me that the real challenge in supporting the diffusion of an innovation lies in our ability to engage in some translation that can serve to support broader adoption.”

I think Jeff is on target. My question to you readers is this – What are the reasons mainstream faculty SHOULD come to the table? What language should we use to translate our excitement into their needs? I look forward to your thoughts.

{Photo Credit: Trenchfoot}