Monday, May 7, 2007

Are you a "technology omnivore"?

The Pew Research Center recently released results of study on people's attitudes towards technology (Internet, cell phones, Web 2.0, etc.).

In addition to finding that there is a range between people who embrace and use technology for communication ("elite users") and those who don't use and/or avoid it (and also "middle of the roaders" in between), the study found that even within the "elite users" group were subdivisions, including people who use the technology as a productivity device or because they otherwise have to, but not because they are just embracing technology for technology's sake.

To see the full breakdown of types, go to the Pew Research page on
A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users . There are links from here to the full report and to a "Technology Typology" quiz that allows you to see how you would place in this system.

The subtle breakdown of "technology types", particularly those who might use the Internet, Web 2.0 and cell phones a lot, but just not be enjoying it, should be another reminder that there can never be a "one size fits all" approach to use of technology in the classroom, or in general.

It is also a good reminder that when the "latest and greatest" technology comes out, it will not necessarily be the solve-all panacea for whatever particular processes it is designed to address. Per my earlier post on why technology is not always the key to learning, humans (or at least the ones in my culture with whom I am most familiar) love to have an "either-or" approach to new things. "New" for whatever reason tends to be equated with "better" ("new and improved way to do XYZ!"), but, to borrow an analogy one of my colleagues uses in teaching, saying that the only way to build a house is with the "new and improved" hammer would be leaving out a lot of vital tools in this process.

OK, I'm off my soapbox now, at least for the moment. Isn't that what blogs are for, to be soapboxes?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Cool tool: Carmun

Cool tool I just heard about on the ILI (ALA Instruction Section) listserv is something called Carmun, which appears to be a tool that enables one to create bibliographies in short order (they claim "half the time") and organize bookmarks and online citations, including being able to make notations on them. I'll be interested to see how this stacks up to EndNote and RefWorks.

5-minute usability testing

I recently came across an article on 5-minute usability testing that also had a number of interesting links to other usability articles of interest. The idea behind the "5-minute usability test" (as I understood it) is to gather initial impressions that users have of your site - essentially a "gut reaction".

While not formal usability testing (and the authors of the article are the first to admit this), this kind of testing can provide valuable feedback in terms of the emotional connection your site may, or may not, be making with users. Since Web sites are essentially pieces of any organization's marketing, and lots about marketing (I am learning!) involves the emotional connection between the user and your "brand", this simple testing technique should perhaps be kept as one of the regularly used tools in the usability testing toolbox.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Teaching, communication and technology

Interesting notes from "Confessions of a Science Librarian" (John Dupuis) on the opening day of the TEL@York Conference, a conference on Technology Enhanced Learning. In his post , he discusses the keynote speaker's (John Mitterer of Brock University) presentation of Teaching, Communication, and the Effective Use of Technology to Enhance Student Engagement. I thought a variety of his points were of interest, particularly the "chalk as technology" idea and also keeping in mind that just because "technologies" are older does not mean they are not useful in certain instances. PowerPoint can still be useful as a teaching tool when properly applied, for example. Many thanks to Dupuis for his blogging of this event!

Technology is not always the key to learning

I am constantly gathering and filtering through books on issues of interest to me. One book I have just started perusing again (I ILL'd it before I remembered I had a copy at home already! Time to start using LibraryThing...) that appears to have some interesting things to say about the teaching and learning process, particularly as it applies to distance education is Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education, by Simonson, Smaldino, Albright and Zvacek.

In their first chapter they analyze Richard Clark's assessment on the limited role of technology, describing how his article claimed "...that instructional media were excellent for storing educational messages and for delivering them almost anywhere", but that media itself could not be responsible for any "learning effect", in other words, those aspects in the instructional process that together aid the process of learning. The authors go on to say, "Learning was not enhanced because instruction was media-based. Rather, the content of the instruction, the method used to promote learning, and the involvement of the learner in the instructional experience were what, in part, influenced learning."

I don't consider myself a Luddite, but I think that sometimes enthusiasm for the "latest and greatest" technology is incorrectly considered a panacea, all-in-one solution for all that ails the learning process (or anything else in the world for that matter).
Why humans tend to do this (ascribe total solution to some new thing) is the topic for another post!

Another analogy that comes to my mind are the movies that Hollywood churns out that, while full of the latest special effects, are devoid of any real storyline or character development. The foundations and the structure have to exist first before the layers of "technological solutions" are introduced. Just introducing a distance component to an existing successful academic program will not necessarily enhance the students' experience of learning unless careful consideration is given to the learning process on its own (aka "instructional design"!).

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Welcome to Zeigenland!

Greetings! This blog is designed to share my ideas about learning and motivation, instructional design, information searching behavior and mental models, information access, usability, user interface, narrative, storytelling, women's history, sustainable and equitable economic systems, sociology, social psychology, and whatever else strikes my fancy. Hopefully it will generate some conversation about these and other issues as well.