Individuals are making their own educational technology choices. What they select is based on a combination of how they want to do things, where they decide to do them, what they prefer to use and the amount of money (if any) they are willing to spend in order to address a need as they perceive it. They are choosers, not just users, of educational technology. And the number of choices can be overwhelming.
For example, the Tennessee Board of Regents’ “TBR eLearning Initiative” provides a resource to help people find and evaluate mobile apps for use in teaching, learning, workforce and professional development. There are more than 40,000 educational apps to choose from. This doesn’t even include the number of mobile devices to choose from that are used in conjunction with the apps.
There have been some very useful blog posts and other reading on the “consumerization of IT” published in recent years. Most focus on issues related to the consumer oriented adoption of technology within organizations that get characterized as “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) and “Bring Your Own Technology” (BYOT). But there are some others that take an expanded view of the issue in terms of how value can still be added despite the diluted influence of imposed enterprise-wide standards and conditional end-user support policies. The following EDUCAUSE Review article, blog posting (and both embedded videos) are good examples and well worth taking the time to go through:
- EDUCAUSE Review article “From Users to Choosers” authored by Ronald Yanosky. His writing examines “central IT and the challenge of consumer choice” and gives thoughtful suggestions on what could be done to encourage individuals to choose “certified resources” that help them make prudent decisions based on considerations that go beyond features, functionality and cost. The article is very informative, well written and provides useful ways to frame the issues.
- “Unlocking the Value of Choice in IT Decision Making” posted on The Higher Ed CIO blog. The author, Jerry Bishop, raises some very insightful and leading questions with respect to the more general topic of choice and its implications for IT organizations. He also shares two very interesting TED Talks by Sheena Iyengar based on results from research she has done; “The Art of Choosing” and “How to Make Choosing Easier”.
All of this taken together suggest that value can be added to the process of individual choice by introducing a “curator” and “certifier” function in between choosers and suppliers of educational technologies.
The combined value added by the “curator” and “certifier” functions could be used to generate recommendations that consist of the following:
- Research and evaluation conducted by a review team that determines what qualifies as “educational technology” and the criteria for published recommendations (e.g. ADA standards etc.)
- A high level taxonomy used to categorize educational technologies for browsing organized groupings of similar technologies
- A defined list of attributes used to “tag” recommendations for searching by characteristics such as sub-categories, typical uses, compatibility with other technologies, the level of support available, technology provider, and cost
- Certified resources based on verified conformance with applicable interoperability standards, information security requirements and other risk management best practices
Providing a simple way for individuals to choose from a pool of certified resources can help improve the selection process based on the qualified recommendations of expert advisors and trusted colleagues. However, there is a cost. In order to implement this particular kind of support, organizations will need to determine (collectively or individually) how to enlist members of a review team and what methods and means will be employed to provide recommendations. This takes time to plan and coordinate, it may involve expenditures, and participation takes time away from other important work. But “chooser support” is more than an added convenience. To quote Ronald Yanosky, it’s a way to “[…] assess vendor claims and sort out the institutional implications of what might be a confusing tangle of competing products and standards. Influence of this kind could substantially reduce institutional exposure and improve the consumer computing experience for everyone.”
Practical solutions will emerge to address this unmet need that will go beyond app stores and educational marketplaces and will resemble simplified variations of Merlot and the TBR eLearning Initiative. Even these valuable resources (and others) have expanded to the point where each can be cumbersome to navigate and making choices can be complicated. This presents an interesting opportunity for a somewhat different approach.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) present a similar situation in many ways. But that’s a posting for another time.
 A categorization system such as the Dewey Decimal System is not yet available for this purpose