I meet a lot of people who are sceptical about the possibilities offered by technology in education. My enthusiasm to explain and encourage the use of open educational resources, wikis, blogging, social networking and social bookmarking is sometimes met by a lack of interest that I find hard to counter. How can they not see the benefits that are so obvious to me? Are they not even curious to see what the fuss is all about?
I read two very relevant reality checks last week. One was a discussion thread on Cloudworks, Motivating teachers to use technologies, and the other was a post on the excellent blog The Tempered Radical entitled Why teachers "give up". Both stressed the problem of getting a reasonable return on invested time and that in many cases new shiny technologies just end up taking too much valuable time to be worth the effort. As Bill Ferriter writes on The Tempered Radical:
"Like professionals in any field, teachers judge the transaction costs that change requires before taking action. When new practices or strategies require tons of investment - complicated planning, intensive research, sophisticated interactions with colleagues, specialized resources or tools - teachers must be convinced ahead of time that the benefits are going to outweigh these new costs of action".
I've been lucky to have had the opportunity to spend time learning new tools as part of my work. However there have been cases when I've given up with some technologies that just didn't live up to expectations. One fine example at present is Google Wave which I had a look at but didn't get hooked on and that lies cast into a dark corner waiting to see if I will return. I like the idea but have no need for it for the time being. I'm sure many tech-sceptical colleagues will recognize the feeling. You have to see the immediate benefits.
One comment on the Cloudworks discussion interestingly compared the use of ICT in education with losing weight in that, to be successful, you need a supportive environment and a permanent change in your way of life:
"For long-term weight loss the changes have to become "standard practice" - their way of life - for the person. If they don't become their way of life, the change won't last. They will revert. If the environment doesn't help, encourage and support people to maintain this way of life, the change won't last. The environment within higher education is not conducive to help achieve and maintain long-term weight loss".
The key is the supportive environment. If technology is seen as an integral part of everything that goes on at an institution and there's plenty of support and encouragement amongst colleagues even the most reluctant will get involved. The opt-out choice is simply not interesting any more. The most innovative groups/departments/schools are the ones that have reached this level. Getting there is the hard part.