How Much Is Enough? Focused Research

too much orange juice

One of my students came back to visit me after more than a year working with African refugees. During the time that he was away, he said that one of the things that he dreamed when he got back to US was drinking a tall glass of cold orange juice. When he got back his home in western New York, he headed down the the local Wegmans grocery store make his dream come true–only to find that he had to chose from more than 60 kinds–pulp, no pulp; with calcium or without; from concentrate or not from concentrate. After a year living with virtually no choice of what he would eat or drink or wear, he was so overwhelmed by the possibilities that he left without making a decision.

Most Americans assume that choice is a good thing–and that more more choice is better. Psychologist Barry Schwartz challenges central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz’s estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied. For a great introduction to Schwartz’s thinking on this topic, check out his Ted Talk.

We see the problems with too much choice all the time as we help users integrate technology into their teaching and research. Few users even scratch the surface in using the software they purchase. Experts find that most Word users utilize fewer than 5% of the features–even those for whom word processing is the central productivity tool for their work. One of the most difficult–but most important–tasks for those of us in the Technology Integration Program is to find the balance between unfettered choice and a unwarranted centralization that chokes off creativity. We need to take the leadership in exploring new technologies, recommending those that have the widest potential to improve learning and then developing support mechanisms that help faculty adopt new tools quickly and efficiently.

I’ll be writing more about these focused research projects as the summer goes on, but I owe Susan three posts in the next three days, so I’m going to bring this one to a close.

4 thoughts on “How Much Is Enough? Focused Research”

  1. K-12 ed tech professionals face the same problems and it often originates with us. I was at the national conference and heard twitter referred to as an old technology! I would guess the majority of teachers and administrators have not even heard of it yet. This leads to them being labeled as luddites, barriers to successful technology use and school reform. It doesn’t seem fair if we just hop from one cool new technology to another without taking time to investigate where it might fit, as you so wisely say, to improve learning, either that of the students or the teachers. I purposely haven’t plurked yet, mostly out of obstinance. And my avatar has been sleeping soundly in Second Life for at least a month. I see that you have a tumblr sidebar…I’ve got an account but not enough time to figure out even how it fits in my life, much less my classroom. If techies like me are feeling overwhelmed, I can imagine how the average use feels.

  2. Gene, thanks for another healthy smattering of pragmatism. As I read your thoughts I couldn’t help but think it’s our role as technology leaders to act as a filter for those we support and offer our expertise, limiting their exposure to every blessed cool technology that is available. Sure, I think Twitter is a cool tool in which I’ve learned a great deal about things I wouldn’t have in the past, but I’m still not seeing how or even why it should be widely adopted to affect teaching and learning. However, a tool like del.icio.us or Voicethread, which has in my opinion more obvious uses, is well worth going to bat for because they’re simple concept tools that people are more likely to understand without too much explanation thereby boosting their chances of finding some traction in the K-12 or higher ed. classroom.

    I think Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations is still a must read for those of us in this field. An innovation’s relative advantage and complexity certainly affect its adoption rate. We’re human and we generally like to use things that make sense to our situation and that are just easy to use.

  3. Jason,

    You’re right on point about Diffusion of Innovation– we’ve been studying obstacles to innovation for 50 years and we should be getting better at understanding them.

    I think Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations is still a must read for those of us in this field. An innovation’s relative advantage and complexity certainly affect its adoption rate. We’re human and we generally like to use things that make sense to our situation and that are just easy to use.

    I’m very much a delicious fan. Have you followed the way the advisory group for the Horizon Report has used delicious to do real work?

    http://horizon.nmc.org/wiki/Main_Page

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