CTL talk: adopting/supporting new technologies,

Three separate strands of conversations have intersected in interesting
ways this week: the post “learn…teach…learn…repeat” and Chris R’s
response to the Classroom Support thread, along with a discussion
happening on a CIT
list. The first has to do with use and promotion of
blogs and the second with faculty reaction (resistance) to new
technologies. The last has to do with how students are reacting to the
new requirement to register their computers via NetReg and the
challenges in integrating them with UVMs network.
In all cases, though, the common theme is how new technologies are
adopted. As Chris M. points out, when every new tech toy is overhyped,
how can one even determine, much less decide to adopt, what will be
useful? Chris R. points out, and rightly so, that technologies can have
a positive impact on teaching and learning, so why should there be such
a resistance to their adoption. The CIT discussion parallels that plight
by bemoaning the lack of interest or amount of confusion among new and
returning students to their computers, and their seeming unwillingness
to do what’s needed to provide a safe, virus-free environment for all at
For those of us who spend our time at that intersection between new
technologies and hesitant users, this can be a tricky place. Should we
try out every new technology or wait until it has proved itself? Should
we demand that anyone who uses a computer on campus exhibit a particular
level of literacy or should we just “do it for them”? And of course the
age old question: does support mean we’ll fix what’s broken. Or, to
frame it in terms of the fish/fishing parable, does support mean we’ll
feed you fish, teach you to fish, or take you out in fish-filled waters
and throw you off the boat, assured that you’ll come up with something.
But I digress. To bring the focus in a bit: blogs. A couple years ago
when I first encountered blogs my reaction was “nice, but I’ll wait and
see.” Now I think that was wrong. Yes, to invoke the over-used McLuhan
idea, new technologies are not usually going to be much of a departure
from those preceeding them. As such, they may not look like enough of a
leap to get excited about. But it behooves those of us in that
intersection to explore and test not only the new technology as it is,
but the new technology as it might be. In this case, not “what do
current blogs look like, or do” but “what might the blog model lead to
and how can we shape it to be useful.”
Unfortunately, though a university environment might seem to be the
perfect place for such experimentation, the fact remains that such
experimentation, with its obvious potential for many failures and
dead-ends, will often be at odds with the need to spend effort fixing
what’s already in place. That is, fixing the plumbing leaks often
pre-empts exploring new possibilities.
In the realm of technology, where managing expectations and
communicating possibilities seem to be so difficult, the ability to
successfully adopt and promote a new idea is especially challenging. We
think we know what might be a great idea (using blogs, making sure all
computers have up to date virus software, etc.) but the time to
implement those good ideas is competing with other needs (get ready for
class, navigate conflicting media systems in classrooms, and do your
homework/do your research).
So what do we do? A couple ideas:
1) Continue to experiment. Don’t ask for a technology to be proven
before trying it out. Try it. (Yes, I’ve started blogging…)
2) Don’t expect adoption without determing need. Find a way to
communicate that need. People have to believe a technology will fill
their needs before they’ll use precious time experimenting with it. For
example, how many people didn’t see a need for WebCT before Shirley
showed them some of her uses for it?
3) Hope and pray that the administration will continue to let us
experiment to the extent that we have, even though they don’t provide a
heck of a lot of support for what could be some really neat ideas

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