In two prior posts (here and here), I discussed the IT productivity paradox, and the three main reasons that reduced productivity is sometimes observed in the aftermath of dramatically increased IT: (1) mismeasurement of productivity, (2) poor useability of IT, and (3) poor implementation of IT. I discussed the first two reasons in my prior posts, and I now discuss the third in this final post.
A recent article in the New England Journal of Medecine gives a great example of poor implementation of IT:
In terms of mismanagement, the introduction of new technologies usually forces reexamination of the assumptions that underpin less productive processes. Early 20th-century manufacturers spent nearly two decades figuring out how to realize the productivity benefits of electricity. Initially, factories simply swapped waterwheels and steam engines for large electric motors but retained inefficient belt-and-pulley systems to transmit power from the central power source. Real productivity gains came only after manufacturers realized that many small motors distributed throughout a factory could generate power where and when it was needed; ultimately, it was the reengineering of processes coupled with the new technology that generated explosive growth in U.S. manufacturing productivity.
Are we seeing the same thing with elearning? That is, are we simply en-grafting new technology onto an existing inefficient system of learning, instead of reengineering the learning process along with incorporating new technology? If faculty are merely posting syllabi and other materials online instead of handing out hard copies, or our students use ExamSoft instead of typing or handwriting, it seems we are merely slotting new technology onto the old learning process. The same could be said for replacing paper books with e-books (and there is also a useability problem with the current generation of e-books).
So, are there ways technology can help re-engineer the learning process? One possibility may lie in allowing faculty members to incorporate more assessment of learning outcomes into large section courses. Take the example of so-called "minute papers," which can be used at the end of a class meeting to gage and reinforce student learning. Working with a former colleague who knew a lot more than I did about assessment, I developed several minute papers for my constitutional law class. Here's an example of questions from one of those minute papers:
1. Based on today's readings, write a definition of a "compelling government interest."
2. Based on today's readings, provide an example of a "compelling government interest."
3. Provide an example of a "compelling government interest" that was not covered in the readings for today's class.
In the past, students would take five minutes at the end of class to write their responses on index cards or a sheet of paper, and I would collect these after class. In a class with 85 students, this often made for an unwieldy mess of information to review. Using TWEN (or another LMS), I can now use a web form to collect this information at the end of class, and TWEN loads the student responses into an Excel spreadsheet that I can access electronically whenever and wherever I want. I can then scan the spreadsheet to quickly assess common misunderstandings, and I can display portions of the spreadsheet in class (without identifying specific students) to clarify the material. And I have this information electronically available for reference in future semesters. Technology has allowed me to "engineer" a form of periodic assessment into my large section class.
In a subsequent post, I will discuss how Richard Susskind's book The End of Laywers? might help us think about other ways to "re-engineer" law teaching, as well as how initiatives like Purdue University's Course Signals application might help too.