March 2

better, faster, safer, easier, or cheaper: my criteria for evaluating technology for instructional purposes

When evaluating technology for instructional purposes I see 3 main areas that have the potential to be enhanced in some way via the use of some technology.

Those areas are (1) content presentation,(2) interaction/collaboration, and (3) feedback.

I also always always always start from pedagogy, not the technology, or the technology solution. It is not about using technology for technology sake. It is technology in the service of pedagogy, not the other way around.

So, you have to start with a specific learning objective.

Then, consider: Does a tool or approach assist me to…? :

  1. Present content in a more effective or engaging manner.
  2. Facilitate collaboration or interaction with/between students in a more effective or engaging manner
  3. Provide feedback, or to assess students in a more effective or engaging manner.

Then, I apply my criteria: will this technical solution assist me to achieve my targeted learning objective “better, faster safer, easier, or cheaper” in one of those 3 areas listed above.
If so, then there is solid rationale to explore the use of the  tool or approach or solution for instructional purposes.

It is about enhancing learning for the student- making it more engaging and/or effective, and it is about making me, the instructor, more effective and/or engaging – this can include making me more efficient, so that I have time to spend more time interacting with students, diagnosing misperceptions, providing feedback, modeling behaviors…etc.

Posted March 2, 2011 by alexandrapickett in category practice

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Alexandra M. Pickett

4 thoughts on “better, faster, safer, easier, or cheaper: my criteria for evaluating technology for instructional purposes

  1. JoyQ

    Your observation about online learning shifting away from text is confirmed by an article in Time Magazine (“College Is Dead. Long Live College!” by Amanda Ripley). The bold new face of online is represented by Udacity, an open LMS with a zillion students, where it’s video, video, video all the way.

    The shift towards high-octane video-based learning seems to contradict findings of studies which found that text-based online learning is so effective because silence allows good ideas to quietly bubble up to the top unfettered by hoopla, noise and pyrotechnics (“Quiet: The Power of Introverts” by Susan Cain). It is not always a bad thing to have some quiet spaces in an online course for people to ponder over what they’re learning. That’s why we need blogs! They are the quiet spaces, the last bastion of silence where we can truly connect with a person’s mind without the distraction of visuals and sound and the need to socially project ourselves.

    It’s ironic that text seems to convey a person’s “voice” more powerfully compared to any other sound or visual medium. That’s why text-based threaded discourse still has a very important role to play in online learning (along with blogs).

    We need to reexamine whether it is necessary to introduce more “noise” into the online environment. Does it really make learning more effective? Is it “better”?

    Time Magazine article:


  2. alexandrapickett (Post author)

    Hey Joy: an excellent point. i have been struggling with understanding this myself. It seems the audio and video are more “engaging” and yet i argued for years that it is the substance of ideas that engage, not how flashy the animation or embellishments were in asynchronous text-based presentation of content… A couple of years ago i happened to catch a presentation by Phil Ice at one of the Sloan conference where he presented the results of one of his papers “Using Asynchronous Audio Feedback to Enhance Teaching Presence and Students’ Sense of Community.” In this study they found:
    1. Audio feedback was perceived to be more effective than text-based feedback for conveying nuance
    2. Audio feedback was associated with feelings of increased involvement and enhanced learning community interactions
    3. Audio feedback was associated with increased retention of content
    4. Audio feedback was associated with the perception that the instructor cared more about the student.

    Document analysis revealed that students were three times more likely to apply content for which audio commenting was provided in class projects than was the case for content for which text based commenting was provided. Audio commenting was also found to significantly increase the level at which students applied such content. (

    As a result of that presentation i immediately added audio and video feedback and opportunities in my instruction and testing student reactions. My sense is that students responded very positively to the audio and screencasted feedback and interactions. It also allowed me to be more effective and efficient with my time. It is much easier for me to extemporate and “speak” my feedback, than to make myself clear in text.

    I still feel strongly that it is ideas that engage people, but there is something about hearing and seeing as well, that make the experience more engaging…

  3. JoyQ

    You’ve got a very good point there. Adding audio (and video) does add a more human, affective dimension to the environment. It takes care of the social presence factor and it makes the atmosphere warmer.

    Some hardcore ID folks argue that there are no generic principles for designing solutions in ill-structured problem spaces (like an online course). They argue that there are only effective, or ineffective solutions, but no generic principles in providing solutions.

    When I look back at your course, it seems to me that you avoided any kind of bias towards a particular technology tool (video / audio / etc.). You left it to individual designers to pick the best solution for each design challenge they encountered when building their own courses. You just modeled how a range of tools can be applied in various contexts. Designers then decided for themselves what’s “better, faster, safer, easier, or cheaper”. No overt teaching, but just demonstrating to the learners how tools can be effectively deployed at the right time for the right purposes in order to meet a design challenge. I thought it was a good strategy to trust learners to make the design decision themselves.

  4. JoyQ

    …so this is because you “always always always start from pedagogy, not the technology, or the technology solution. It is technology in the service of pedagogy, not the other way around”.

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