Last year when we did a review of what happened in the courses the Fellows taught two of them were disappointed in their own use of Digital tools. One of them felt he did not take advantage of the digital tools at his disposable because he only used them to make a digital syllabus on his course site. Usually though, a syllabus is a contract and agreement formed without the input of the students. By making the syllabus digital it became a living document and in his pedagogical practice he ensured this by projecting it at the end of each course and making modifications and adjustment based on a discussion with the students. Another Fellow thought adding freely available supplemental media for students to better understand the text they were engaging in the course was not enough even though by doing so students were able to engage with additional material and eventually submit material themselves, thus changing the course from being one of set text to one that was able to expand and encompass a broader set of texts and multi-media content while giving those items a value similar to the texts that were already in the course. Needless to say, when they finished I told them both they were wrong and they had done amazing work. I said back what I heard them saying and told them for the students in their classroom this is an amazing experience to guide their own learning even if it isn’t as public or social as many of the other examples we heard. While they were not social they allowed their courses to engage and respond to the students in meaningful ways, something that should be the goal of any tool integration, especially in the humanities.
The distraction of shiny digital things can be a trap when trying to innovate in the classroom because they often have steep learning curves and are time consuming. In my experience when tools are time consuming and all encompassing given the time constraints that exists in courses they are often engaged without any kind of critical lens around what the assumptions and implications are. The desire to do the next interesting thing and be at the forefront risks losing the space of humanistic inquiry and critique. When this happens we fall into the progress myth without engaging what that myth means for students from marginalized populations and without interrogating the role technology plays in structuring continued marginalization. Rather than new and shiny I am proposing we focus on innovation through simplicity. Technological innovations inevitably streamline and complicate social interactions for populations by bringing some closer together and leaving others behind. I wrote about Frugal Innovation in Digital Learning for the Digital Media and Learning blog.
“Frugal innovation is the practice of doing less with more and optimizing the use of technology “not to change people but amplify human intent and capacity while understanding that “new technology is never the start of positive social change.” In the research I did it is a practice that is happening in global entrepreneurship specifically in places that are still developing their technologically capacities. I think it works very well for education because one of the things we forget is that when a student is in a classroom it is a developmental situation (in terms of learning new knowledge and skills, social capacity, stage of life, etc) so it stands to reason that, as they are in a place to develop, innovations designed for places designated as being “in development” for various reasons should also apply. With this in mind I think I am starting to lean more and more towards simplification of educational technology when possible because that leads to more equitable practices (I talk about this more in the post linked above). Frugal Innovation represents a future of educational technology I would like to see more.
Recently I was trying to explain frugal innovation and design and the implications for implementing educational technologies in the classroom to colleague who had no idea what I was talking about. I found the perfect medium / technology to explain why doing things with constraints, like having a very simple accessible technology, invites frugal innovation and creates amazing and unexpected ways of communicating and making meaning for different circumstance and situations: paper.
With a piece of paper the list of things someone can do is limitless:
- Paper planes
- Games (tic-tac-toe, dots, paper football etc)
- Paper Cut Art
- Paper Crafts
- Solar Viewing Projector
- and many more I cannot think of right now…
Digital tools and educational technologies are not paper. The tools we choose to use and experiment with and why we choose them will vary. With that in mind, this year my challenge for everyone is twofold:
- How can you simplify the elaborate digital projects you’ve planned to enable better engagement and streamline the goals and desired learning outcomes?
- If you start with constraints how can you push yourself and your students to be more creative in figuring out all the possibilities for that small digital project that represents unknown possibilities?