OpenFiction [Blog]

Least effective technologies

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on July 27, 2005

With apologies to Edward Tufte, I’m going to return to the concept I mentioned before of “least effective technology.” Tufte, in discussing graphic presentations of data, suggests that elements of an illustration should be different only to the extent necessary to make the illustration effective, the “least effective difference.” He says not to use wildly clashing elements, as these distract from the presentation of the data. Likewise, I’ve previously explained one of my goals for tOFP coursework to use the least effective technology—or perhaps more properly, the least technology that would be effective in conducting the class. For this reason, I limited technologies used for the course to HTML and e-mail. I did use a school-mandated LMS when teaching the course (first BlackBoard, then WebCT), but without a doubt, these were the least effective (in the traditional sense) of the technological elements. This was in 2002, so I assume they’ve improved, but they did more to impede the class than to facilitate it.

I used the least effective technology rule because I was delivering the class to a group of adult distance learning students who could not be expected to have more than a dial-up internet connection, and could not be expected to be familiar with web technologies beyond e-mail and web browsing. Using the same logic, the least effective technology rule can be usefully applied to OER. I’ll suggest the goal of the OER movement is to make the largest possible body of educational materials available to the widest possible audience (setting aside for now the possible opposing view that it ought to be limited to a body of materials from leading institutions only). Using the simplest possible technologies makes publication of OER technologies scalable, and it also expands the audience that can make use of those materials by using only those technologies widely implemented and familiar to the general web population.

The good news is that the horizon for effective technologies has shifted considerably since I developed the class, a shift that was important to the transformation of the class into tOFP. In no particular order, tOFP was facilitated by cheap and reliable web hosting, free blogging services, PayPal (more about the thinking on this later), and (most recently and least tested), H2O Playlist. Beyond the technologies used for tOFP, there are emerging technologies that are rapidly making other formats practical. PDF has really arrived as a technology for cheaply and accurately delivering OER content; the format is much easier to extract content from than ever, with automated conversion to HTML and text available through the Adobe website, and options for copy and past in the free Adobe reader. I’d nominate wikis, too, as an emerging least effective technology. So while I’m a strong advocate of keeping things simple, simple is clearly becoming more sophisticated at a rapid pace.

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