Getting new technologies used

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.”