Another example of why the adoption of technologies is not dependent only on the technologies themselves but rather on the desire of the users themselves. This reminded me of two instances of extremely popular and seemingly easy-to-use Web2.0 services falling short on usability.

1. Facebook: This is about me. I’m an early adopter of technology and can pretty much figure out how any software works. However, it took me quite a while to figure out how to accept friend requests (causing me to miss some) and do a few other things. It’s simply not as straightforward and I wasn’t all that motivated. I have since confirmed with other Facebook users that they too find some things difficult to do and use certain workarounds as a result. Moral: No matter how difficult something is to use, if you really want to use it (and the sources of motivation are frequently social), you will learn how. Part of it could be that all your friends are on Facebook so it seems inconceivable that you wouldn’t be.

2. Flickr:  I never found Flickr, the poster child of Web2.0 fan boys and girls, to be that easy to use. But a recent episode of the ‘This Week in Photography‘ podcast reminded me that I’m not alone. The podcast hosts decided that they have to create a video (screencast) for their users to show them how to join their Flickr groups. Now, all of these users are extremely motivated and technology savvy enough to listen to a photography podcast. Still, Flickr remains impenetrable to some of them. When I say that I found Flickr difficult I meant that it took me more than 5 minutes to figure it out, once I knew what I wanted from it. On the other hand, these users had to take as much or even more time than that to contact the podcast and ask how to do it. And they will probably spend the extra 5 minutes watching a podcast to be able to achieve their goal. In this case, motivation wasn’t enough to help these people figure it out, but it was enough to seek help and alternative strategies to learn how to use something.

What, then, of poor Blackboard or even Moodle. They contain oodles of functionality (often in quite disparate categories) and have to contend with two distinctly unmotivated audiences: students and teachers. The sources of this ‘unmotivation’ are probably mostly not apathy or laziness but rather a lack of shared vision of accomplishment. As odious as Blackboard is to anyone who’s had to use it for an extended period of time, time and time again, teachers who’ve ‘seen the light’ report on how it transformed their practice. And students will follow (albeit reluctantly) them there. But this only happens when the motivation is great enough to take the steps to learn it. I recently had to teach a few classes with Blackboard and because I had the vision of what I wanted to accomplish, I figured out all the ins and outs. Other teachers may have to attend a course or ask a colleague on how to achieve their visions. Yet others will have to be shown a path towards their own vision. But once the vision is there, there is no limit to the number of ways people can learn how to use technology. That is not the problem. The initial motivation is.

Wired Campus: Colleges Bought Classroom Technology, but Are Enough Professors Using It? –

Of course, there’s pressure to adopt even newer classroom technologies, such as Web 2.0 tools. The author urges professors, academic departments, and IT staff members to do more to encourage training and experimentation in using technology in the classroom.

“Colleges may feel that they can’t afford to provide any space and time for improving teaching,” says Ms. Tabron. “They may blame faculty members, students, or even society for a lack of innovation in education — and those charges may well be fair. But colleges unwilling to plant the seeds for change shouldn’t be surprised that they grow nothing.”

This is an interesting list of tips for  disseminating technology in an institution. I find 4 and 5 particularly intriguing. Not doing a pilot seems so counterintuitive but given that so many pilots get so entrenched that their adoption is a given no matter what the results that skipping them in certain instances (and just doing a brief trial) may be the best solution. More creative gathering of feedback may include walking into classrooms and asking the students. Well-worth reviewing.

10 Tips for Injecting New Technology into Your Campus Here are ten tips for introducing a new tool or technology, based on successes that SDSU’s IT services department has had.

Thesre the 10 points – more details in the full article:

1. Move quickly, before preferences are staked out
2. Make the selection process inclusive of students, faculty and staff
3. Do the product research
4. Save time by skipping the pilot if you can
5. Get creative to gather feedback
6. Take your input to the vendor
7. Remember integration issues
8. Keep the initial group of adopters small
9. Be ready to transition support when you reach a tipping point in adoption
10. Remember your goal

This report suggests that institutions should pay attention to more than just the features of a given platform. OpenSource (Sakai) and closed-source (Blackboard) systems alike relying on the Java enterprise approach are often too heavyweight for relatively small institutions. Even a basic install requires enterprise-level support. Moreover, more lightweight equivalents Moodle, Elgg and Drupal can be up and running on a single left-over machine and scale up when uptake increases.

myWORLD Open Source ePortfolio: Whose world is it? OSP/Sakai, Moodle and Web2.0 in Further and Community education

A major concern for the FE and Community Education sectors is the weight of the technical infrastructure required for SAKAI. Far from being a thin layer, a SAKAI installation means implementing the full environment and then disabling tools that aren’t required. Issues discovered once the systems had begun initial roll-out included load and locking problems on the database (MySQL) and what could be considered show stopping issues concerning fragments of data being left in the system after a user requested a delete. For the UI and user experience the scale of work to be done on Sakai and OSP is significant.

This is an interesting example of how an essentially global technology can influence profoundly local interactions.

Homegrown Software Boosts Classroom Interactivity at Community College

Brenner’s FarSightNet software allows a professor to mark up PowerPoint slides or other material on a tablet computer in class during a lecture. The slides and notes are projected onto a large screen for students to view. The software saves the marked-up slides, with all handwritten notes captured as well, so that students can download them later. In that sense, the software isn’t unlike other commercial collaboration products already available. Where FarSightNet differs from some products–although again, there are other commercial products in the field that offer this feature–is that it also allows interactive written responses from students in class, each of whom is equipped with a wireless tablet computer. FarSightNet allows the professor to “call” on a student to solve an equation, for example, and can project that response on the board for everyone to see.

It looks like another way to approach personalisation is through the acknowledgment of the fact that the educational routes of people today are too diverse to be manhandled into a single jacket. Portable personal e-portfolios would certainly be one such way. They do not require the personalisation of provision or even assessment but rather the personalisation of qualifications. Which is ultimately the goal of all personalised approaches.

ePortfolios Meet Social Software The go-anywhere, own-it-for-life model seems likely to expand the ePortfolio into a kind of online professional, postgraduate space. But with that capability, it may also untie one of modern postsecondary education’s knottiest problems, says Chen: the fragmentation of the undergraduate experience. “It used to be that you went off to college, decided on a major, and then all your courses were coordinated and laid out for you,” she says. “It doesn’t often happen that way today. Nowadays, students have a double major, or transfer from a community college, or take time off to work, or take some classes online. The result: a real lack of curricular coherence. Students have to take a greater responsibility for their learning, and for making sense of the various pieces of the process. ePortfolios can help them do that.”

An interesting presentation on integrating ICT and personalisation innovation.

All the talk about adopting new and emergent technologies in education often overlooks one important factor! You need people with underlying skills to implement them and, not insignificantly, people with the proper skills to use them. (All that in addition to a proper institutional innovation and development culture.) This article in PC World hints at what those might be, but…

PC World – Web 2.0: The Skills Behind the Buzzword

It’s important to know that Web 2.0 isn’t made up of a specific set of technologies, languages or tools, but rather a set of traits that make a Web site feel and behave more like a desktop application. It’s about a rich, dynamic user experience that includes an open-source model at its core — that is, users contribute to the experience.

There are no hard and fast programming languages or protocols that define Web 2.0, but many Web sites that fit the category make use of the Microsoft .Net Framework, AJAX, XHTML and HTML, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and support for user-generated content such as wikis or forums. Many firms are embracing Web 2.0 to create and improve their Web-based applications and Web sites. Companies are increasingly using AJAX, for example, to enable visitors to access new data on a site without having to refresh the entire page.

The hype surrounding Web 2.0 may fade, but the real changes it represents won’t go away anytime soon. As a result, taking the time to acquire or improve your Web 2.0 skills can be beneficial to your career.

… shows that there are shortcomings even in the tech arena. I doubt many (if any) Web2.0 services run on the proprietary .NET framework. PHP, Perl, Ruby on Rails or frameworks like Plone, Django or Drupal are much more pertinent to the new web. Also where are the community-building skills?

Basically PC World make a good point but completely misses the technological underpinnings of Web2.0. They are right that Web2.0 is language agnostic (although certain leanings are definitely there) and lots of the new technologies are really just a new dialect of the old (AJAX, AHAH, CSS positioning) but there is an underlying philosophy to the new developments and the expressive power of the new dialects is a huge part of the new successes. That’s something on which we need to focus in developing institutional plans for innovation.

ESRC Society Today – Harnessing the power of the ‘new’ worldwide Web The event is part of the National Festival of Social Science, organised by the Economic and Social Research Council to showcase cutting edge research and highlight important issues in the social sciences. The Manchester forum will take a critical look at so-called Web 2.0 (referred to as ‘web two’), the term given to the latest development of the internet as a medium that allows much more participation by its users than previously.

“Web 2.0 is considered to be a far more open and democratic form of the internet,” said Dr Miles. “It is no longer simply a repository of information. People contribute their own content in the form of personal information on social networking sites such as Facebook, their own blogs and entries to information sources such as Wikipedia.

A number of key issues arise from this ‘free for all’. The quantity of information available for academic social science researchers, for example, is vast. But can the information be trusted? “As researchers, the internet offers huge amounts of information on people’s attitudes and behaviour – but does this information have the appropriate legitimacy for research?” Dr Miles said.

These excerpts from a recent ESRC announcements indicate a certain level of misunderstanding of Web2.0 in the social science research community.

1. It is NOT referred to as ‘web two’ but rather ‘web two point oh’ (partly to avoid confusion with  Internet 2)

2. But more importantly, there’s this strange emphasis on ‘trusting the data’ that was generated by ‘users’. I don’t know how to put it more bluntly but ALL yes ALL data is generated by users. Including papers in social science. Some users generate more data than others and some are read more than others but that is exactly what we should be investigating. It’s simply a matter of asking the right questions. For instance, if a 1000 people say in their Facebook profile that they like to go clubbing, we can’t necessarily have to infer that a thousand people like to go clubbing. All we can conclude that 1000 people put that on their profile.

The question is NOT can we trust the data but rather can we come up with a viable interpretation of the data available.  And that’s what we should be critical of. Not the poor primary data. It’s there in as pure a form as we could wish!

But what is even more interesting question is how do users of the internet come to trust the information they find. Very complex patterns of interaction and prestige building are involved and what’s more, there have been many attempts at algorithmic representation of these phenomena. Again something to study!

The approach of the following story did not exactly fill me with confidence.

Web 2.0’s impact on students under scrutiny – ZDNet UK A committee chaired by Sir David Melville, former vice chancellor of the University of Kent, plans to report in December on how such technologies affect the behaviour and attitudes of existing students and those about to move into higher education.

Most of the focus is on the difference rather than on the similarities of  Facebook with offline approaches to community building.

Here’s an interesting study that shows that business practices are often not quite in sync with what students use at school (and quite likely not quite in sync with what companies say they want).

‘Generation Facebook’ finds skills wasted at work People who have left education in the past three years have strong confidence in their IT skills but the organisations they work for are not always making the most of this skill-set, according to database software company FileMaker, which commissioned the research.

This is something that may apply to educational institutions as much as to businesses and enterprises.

But he warned businesses are failing to make the most of this innate love of tech. “We’ve all got email and we’ve all got access to the internet and so we probably tend to think we’re completely up to date. But what we’ve tended to do in many businesses is we’ve automated a paper process rather than necessarily look at the capability of the technology that you have and ask if there are even more efficient ways to use it,” he said.

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