What would help you make better technology choices?

So I need your help.

For about 5 years I worked on the Edutools project with my friend and colleague Bruce Landon. Whether you liked the site or hated it (there seemed to be hundreds lined up on both sides of the fence) ultimately our goal and motivation was to help people make better decisions around educational technology.

In the Edutools project, the effort to help people make better choices was around the idea of ‘rational decision making.’ While I think the site was successful in many ways, it had its fair share of problems too. It didn’t offer hands-on access to the technology (it never tried to). Its “feature-centric” approach meant that people wanting to take a task or goal-centric approach (e.g. how well does this technology assist with teaching) were always frustrated. (And that approach played its part in reifying the concept of “course management systems.” Shudder. I will keep paying for that one for a long time.) It had a central review model and was hard to keep up to date. You can likely tell me many other problems. That’s ok, I’m not offended.

What I am more interested in, though, is your opinion on what helps you make better (educational) technology choices? Whether it be through Edutools or some other venue, I expect to continue trying to help people make better educational technology choices, and so before I even start down that road again I’m interested in any feedback on what might help or gaps that might be filled. A few of the ideas that have come up in conversation with others:

  • ed tech ‘sandboxes’ – inspired by the UMW folks, a service that lets educators ‘try before they buy’ at little or no cost (either effort or monetary)
  • a more community driven review site as per http://www.weblogmatrix.org/ or http://www.wikimatrix.org/
  • extending an existing social network (I am loathe to create yet another one!) to help people connect with existing peer adopters/practitioners
  • ‘database’ of best practice examples that are classified in multiple ways (discipline, technology, learning approach) to help people to see what can be done
  • clearninghouse wiki focused on issues to help individual faculty first make (and then defend) choices on loosely coupled (non-CMS) technologies

But I am really interested to hear from you what would help you make better choices? Operators are standing by… – SWL

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What would help you make better technology choices?

11 thoughts on “What would help you make better technology choices?

  1. All these make sense to me. The key is to tie them together and provide an entry point(s) that make sense to the seeker of info.

    Suppose you had a place (site, wiki, whatever) that asked a few questions up front (your clearinghouse wiki), then guided the seeker to examples (your database), reviews, and trials? Make it a quick, one-stop shop.

    For the reviews, why not add a DIGG-like feature, so people can vote a learning object/technology up or down?

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  2. Brett, thanks for this feedback. I do like the idea of a DIGG-like feature to allow people to vote The small issue I have is being realistic with how often people use resources like this. That was the same issue we had with Edutools; while we did get repeat users (typically across their internal selection process) any of the ideas we came up with about sustainability that relied on ongoing repeated use of the site seemed doomed to fail because by definition, people are using it to make a choice and then move on.

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  3. Scott,

    You know I have my ax to grind, but laying that hulking WordPress hammer down for a second, I like the wiki clearing house idea or the digg model. What I would really like to see as an instructional technologist is examples of work people did with a brief explanation of how they did it. Having a space to share interesting projects and compell people to think about ways in which people are imagining their courses would be a compelling model for me.

    I know there are some important questions about management and larger institution priorities, but when working with faculty I like to say have you seen this project, or X and Y university was working on something similar and approached this way.

    The more cool stuff I see with course and technology, th more I have to bring to the table for any particular faculty I work with. I find the blogosphere is pretty good about this in many ways, but I also understand that not everyone blogs about the work they are doing in the classroom, and like Willinsky’s lesson plan wiki, how about an EdTech cool project wiki?

    My .02 cents and I only said WordPress once, well twice now.

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  4. Jim, that is what keeps coming up over and over in my conversations, that having a collection of cool examples to point to (possibly surrounded by discussion, analysis, etc) would be helpful, so thanks for this. The question I’m now grappling with is ‘how’ – what model to adopt to get contributions from people and interaction between users around the examples.

    So let me reframe the question slightly – I’m totally willing to take a curatorial role and scour feeds and the web for examples, but what is the way to motivate people to contribute their examples, or if they are already doing this, what is the best way to find these where they are? The world does not need another ‘repository’ approach 😉

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  5. Scott,

    With the accelerating pace of change, I’d bet in 2008 you’d have many more repeat visitors than in even 2006. New stuff is hitting us all the time, forcing us to evaluate, and then periodically re-evaluate. Add the social dimension here – where conversations can take place around a technology or an idea, and you’ll have sustainability.

    It does take time – 2 years at least, to build an online community up to self-sustainability. Once it happens, it’s a great place to be.

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  6. Brett, again, thanks for this, the conversation is helping me to unravel this in my mind and unlearn certain past mistakes. I am realizing that part of the trick (and one that we totally missed in Edutools) was how to weave this into *existing* communities (rather than build one’s own, which again, around the ‘selection’ process is never likely to be a long term conversation). But there are LOTS of ed tech communities out there, and whether through RSS or APIs, the trick is to bring these to the users in the communities/networks. Light bulb! Sorry if this seemed obvious to everyone else, I am a slow learner.

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  7. Not your fault by any means re: features matrixes… it’s what people want. I don’t reckon that’s going to change a great deal either 😦

    So, IMHO you’d be shooting yourself in the foot to ditch that (too much), as to what edutools could evolve into, sandboxes are nice (hard, but nice – and to be honest, should be the responsibility of the tool provider). I reckon your best best is pretty simple:

    http://reviews.cnet.com/

    They’ve kinda got it down to a tee.

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  8. Thanks James. I agree that CNET has a pretty well established model that lots of folks recognize. I am both casting around for what Edutools could become but even moreso what *I* could do, which aren’t necessarily the same, though they may end up that way. The big thing that’s come out of this dialogue is a better understanding on my part of the need to find various channels to reach the communities *where they are*. I am starting to work up that plan and am quite excited by it. Thanks to all of the feedback so far!

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  9. I am working on one of two JISC funded pedagogic planner projects Phoebe http://phoebe-project.conted.ox.ac.uk which covers very similar ground. One of the things we are trying to do is to situate many of the things you talk about – information about tools, but also guidance on use and real examples- in the context of a tool that supports the process of designing learning.

    We’re still very much a work in progress and we are coming up against many of the things you discuss. What information do people want? How not to reinvent the wheel? How do communities all the possibilities of Web 2.0 tools fit in? Is a “tool” what people want to help them in this process? and so so many more.

    There seems to be a lot of complementary projects looking at this area at the moment, in the UK and elsewhere which might be worth checking out as you think about this. I blogged a meeting we had in London in the summer with links to a few of them http://tallblog.conted.ox.ac.uk/index.php/2007/07/27/pedagogical-planners-of-the-future/
    if you want to know more

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  10. Marion, thanks for this, I will definitely follow up on those references when time permits. That does sound ambitious indeed; I am going to need a little time to unpack it in my mind.

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