Is it human nature to resist technological progress

I (and many of the people that follow this blog) spend our working lives trying to encourage people to engage with (or better engage with) technology to support teaching and learning. Something that is common to us all, is the resistance that many have to changes and improvements in technology and in particular what a lot of people do is use a new technology to do an old job rather than realising the potential of the technology and changing our behaviour as a result. This may be frustrating for us, But i have come to accept that this is actually part of human nature for most people and this isn’t a new phenomenon. If we look back at other major technological advances we see a recurring pattern.

  • When trains were first used to carry passengers even though they were capable of going faster they were limited to about 29 mph as this was the fastest that a human had ever travelled (on a horse) and they thought that humans would implode if they went faster – so early trains were effectively expensive horses.
  • When cars were first invented they thought they may be dangerous so someone walked in front with a red flag thus restricting the car to walking speed
  • When the first ATM cash machines were installed they put them inside the bank so you could only use them during bank opening hours. Although obvious now, it was a leap of faith for someone to turn the machines round to face outside the bank and be useable when the bank is closed.

And so this is where I think we are at with learning technology. There are many people who have adopted and ’embedded’ technology which is great but of these I would say that probably 75% are just using the technology to do the same things that were possible before the technology. How do we move forward – well my standard answer is as always to invest in the work force through staff development and CPD, but it is more complicated than that in we need to consider the awarding bodies of qualifications, inspectorate influences and the ever present pressure of finances and budgets and if this is a pre-determined characteristic of human behaviour then a very difficult challenge indeed. I just hope that in the coming months and years as government (who ever is in power) tries to squeeze budgets that we don’t stagnate.

Why I use audio for online marking

Basic controls in Audacity

Originally uploaded by Dave Foord

A technique that I am using more and more for any form of online marking or feedback, is to record an audio file using Audacity. Audacity is a free piece of software which can either be downloaded onto a computer, or can be run from a memory pen and is part of the eduapps package so easy to use from there. The output is an MP3 file, which is much smaller than using the inbulit voice recorder in Word, and Audacity if very easy to use.

So why do I do this rather than using the track changes options in Word?

  1. Even though I am quite a quick typist, I can still talk a lot faster than I can type. In terms of marking work I think it takes me between 30% and 50% the time that it would take me to use typing feedback.
  2. The feedback that I give is richer, both in terms of saying more (as no restrictions in space) and there is additional information (a bit like body language) to the learner, in terms of changes in my voice etc.
  3. I don’t make the learners nicely presented piece of work look an awful mess, with comments and lines everywhere.
  4. The learner can listen to the feedback on a computer, or on a music player – so they can for example access their feedback on the bus on the way home.
  5. I can do my marking sat on the sofa or laying in bed – which is much more comfy than sitting at a desk – very important when having lots to mark.
  6. A tutor will only need to learn about the location of 4 buttons within Audacity to be able to use it, so very simple for even those that are a little technologically weary.

Not all learners will like this approach, and it only really works if the person doing the marking can find somewhere quiet and alone to do this – but for me, I think that it is great.

Why do VLEs display the most recent items at the bottom?

About 5 years ago I was holding a student user forum where I provided a selection of students with a free lunch in return for information about the VLE and the way that we used it. At the time our VLE was arranged with content for week 1 at the top and week 30 at the bottom (as was and still is the norm). One of the students at this forum said that he would prefer the latest information (e.g. The most recently uploaded) to appear at the top not the bottom. This learner was outvoted by his peers (who thought this was daft) so nothing changed.

However I look back now and realise that this wasn’t as daft as it sounded in that nowadays other forms of communication such as email, facebook, twitter, blogs and news websites all show the most recent stuff at the top not the bottom so this must have evolved as a preferred way of working.

So the question is ‘why don’t VLEs offer this as standard’ I have been working recently with a couple of moodle based projects where I am doing just this, but I have to add the content then manually move it from the bottom to the top which is very slow and clunky. Why doesn’t the VLE give the learner a choice (a bit like email does) so they can have the content how they want?

Has anyone else ever had similar thought on this to me ?