19 August 2012

Technology Integration (EDIT 9990 1/5)

When viewing technology integration through the lens of instructional design, I believe the most beneficial point in time to assess user concerns and attitudes is during the formative evaluation component of Instructional Systems Design (ISD). This way, the new technology can be refined while being created. And with user feedback grounded in the creative process of ISD, barriers to integration can be identified and addressed while there is still time to change the design of the product. Instruments designed to collect data around user concerns and attitudes are of course helpful during analysis and summative evaluation, but I believe the data they collect is most useful when aligned with formative evaluation. And so my key idea is that the timing of assessment is perhaps a prime factor in being able to successfully gauge, and respond, to elements of technology that either hinder or help the adoption of it. Understanding the importance of when to collect this data can avoid the costly mistake of mandating technology adoption from the top down only to find that the new technology is unloved, underused, and fiscally wasteful.

The theories and assessment instruments outlined in Straub's article (2009) are an effort to understand user's attitudes and behaviors toward new technologies. On the whole, they strike me as both limited and useful. It is difficult if not impossible to get a "true" picture of a user's feelings about a particular technology, precisely because a user's feelings and behavior is influenced by a multitude of variables, many of them interacting with each other. It's confounding, and the net effect is at best a blurry photograph. Still, this does not quell the need for information about users and how they view a new piece of tech. Nor does it entirely negate the value of such data. In fact, collecting user data during the design and development process is hugely beneficial to the end product and the end users. I believe a respect for the inherent limitations of such assessment instruments will help a researcher not be unduly influenced by attitudinal data.

My opinion about technology integration is in no small part influenced by my personal experience with technology. For example, I've spent countless hours learning new software only to see it become obsolete. As I gain more experience with software, I notice that I've become more and more skeptical about integrating new software into my life. I am pleased to see this perspective acknowledged via the mention of Lippert and Foreman's research (Straub, 2009, p. 643). For me, experience with technology adoption positively correlates with skepticism and resistance. I want to be a beta tester as little as possible, unless I'm am getting something out of it that balances the frustration of wasted time.

On the balance, curiosity keeps me so interested in new technological developments that I still take leaps of faith when adopting new tech. For instance, I set up a twitter account several years ago because I needed to know what the buzz was about. The Twitter account lay dormant for a long time before I began to see the value of using it. I've realized it's a good way to follow and learn about my interests. But the main thing I've learned is how indispensible it is when following real time news events. Just last week, when the Red & Black student reporters walked out, I was glued to their twitter feed. It was the only way to follow the story as it unfolded. It's addictive.

So now I view Twitter as my best method for following news events as they unfold. I'll give myself a score of 6 on the Levels of Use (LoU) instrument (Straub, 2009, p. 636). After I thought about the Red & Black saga, I tweeted about it. Soon after, my tweet was retweeted. I also got a new follower who maintains an interesting blog about journalism. Interestingly, I had already found her blog and was reading it before we became followers. I imagine I use Twitter because it is 1) easy to use, 2) does something better than anything else (real time news), and 3) because of its large community of users. So, I've slowly (and informally) adopted Twitter — until the next innovation comes along to replace it. Technology integration is personal, needs driven, and greatly influenced by ease of use. Perhaps the best way to ensure adoption is by design.

Any attempt to understand learner/user characteristics as they relate to technology adoption is made hugely challenging by the long list of variables to consider. Social, cultural, and economic variables are just a small sample of variables that influence one another when analyzing technology adoption. Perhaps this is a task fit for Sisyphus.

References


Straub, E. T. (2009). Understanding Technology Adoption: Theory and Future Directions for Informal Learning. Review of Educational Research, 79(2), 625–649.

Surry, D. W., & Ely, D. P. (2007). Adoption, Diffusion, Implementation, and Institutionalization of Instructional Innovations. In R. A. Reiser & J. V. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (2nd ed., pp. 104 – 111). New Jersey: Pearson.

10 August 2012

Improve Your Typing Skill

Typing, for many of us, is a necessity. If you're like me, you think faster than you type. If you want to capture those great ideas before they go *poof* from your working memory, improving your typing skill is a practical way to help yourself. I've found that just a little practice with a typing program helps me become a more fluent typist, especially after taking a month long break.

So here's another game-like app that helps you take care of fundamental skills so you can focus on higher ones.

Typist (Mac)

There are many typing programs out there, but this is the one I use. It's free and works fine.

Exercise Your Working Memory

If knowledge is all about connections (and I think it is), then reasonable questions to ask are: connecting to what? What connects with what? Working memory connects with long-term memory, which is also called prior knowledge. For example, when a person comes across a new piece of knowledge, it's temporarily stored in working memory and may or may not connect with long term memory well enough so that the person can retrieve that information at a later date. So, working memory is the conduit between new knowledge and long-term storage. The weakest link in this equation is working memory, which can only hold the information for several seconds. Research shows that with some mental exercises, the length of time that working memory can hold information can be increased. It stands to reason that the longer working memory can hold information, the better the chances that working memory will be able to make a connection to prior knowledge in long term memory.

If we want to make working memory more robust, there are exercises that can help. One such exercise is the Dual N-Back memory game. Try it out, make it a daily habit, and find out for yourself if it improves your powers of concentration and your ability to make connections to what you already know as you are exposed to new information. You may find yourself becoming a better conversationalist. Instead of thinking of that great response minutes after the conversation is over, you may be able to retrieve that great idea during the actual conversation. As you are able to hold new information for longer amounts of time in working memory, you may give yourself the opportunity to relate the new knowledge to what you already know in a deeper, more meaningful way. Think of this as a tune-up, much like you would give to a car to keep it running optimally. The tune up may not have any effect on your driving skills, but does give you increased odds of the best performance possible.

Try it, regularly!

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