‘Will they use it?’ That’s a question posed by Betty Collis and Jef Moonen in their book Flexible Learning in a digital world, published by Kogan Page in 2001. Collis and Moonen were writing about the factors which influence individuals’ use of technology innovations in learning-related practice. ‘Will they use it?’ is a question on my mind at present. ‘Sounds Good’ is using innovative technology (digital audio) in learning-related practice (providing assessment feedback), and I’m wondering what will happen when the project ends in July. How best to nurture our baby which will then be just six months old?
Many projects – not just in assessment, learning and teaching – simply die when the money runs out. That’s one possibility for ‘Sounds Good’: what might be called the Big Bang scenario – lots of noise at the start, followed by a fading echo and with the long-term temperature being about three degrees above absolute zero. Surely it won’t go that way though, he says hopefully. After all, we’ve got more than a dozen people at Leeds Met using audio for feedback, and lots of dissemination activities are planned. For example, one of the promised project outputs is a set of practice guidelines; JISC will get a project report; session proposals have been submitted for several conferences; there will be an article in a peer-reviewed journal, editors willing. Surely all this will be effective in ‘embedding’ the use of audio for feedback. Surely the technique will then ‘go exponential’. Soon, the whole of higher education will be using audio for feedback!
Or not. Of course, the outputs from ‘Sounds Good’ will be brilliant: superb practice guidelines, conference presentations that wow the audience… . But Collis and Moonen suggest that the long-term chances of a technological innovation being used depend on other factors. They propose what they call the ‘4-E Model’. The ‘Es’ are Environment, Educational effectiveness, Ease of use and Engagement. Environment is the institution’s profile with respect to technology use, and it includes things like vision, support, level of existing technology use and readiness to change. Education effectiveness is the gain from using a particular piece of technology. Ease of use needs no interpretation. Engagement is about the personal attitudes of individuals towards technology and innovation. According to the model, the ‘Es’ interact with each other. How? Think of three of them, Education effectiveness, Ease of use and Engagement, as forces combining with each other in an upward direction. If strong enough, these forces will take the new technology over a threshold and it will probably begin to be used. This will be easier, of course, if the threshold is lower. What determines the height of the threshold? The downward ‘E-force’ of Environment. If all four ‘Es’ are large – so the upward thrust is strong and the threshold is pushed way down – the chances are good that the innovation will be widely adopted. If they are all weak, it’s a lost cause. If it’s a mixed picture, it’s a mixed picture!
So what about the four ‘Es’ and using audio for feedback? I like Collis and Moonen’s model, not just because their idea of combined forces and a variable-height threshold helps me to visualise what may happen. It also appeals because of the implication it carries: don’t regard any one factor as the magic bullet. On their own, practice guidelines, conference presentations or journal articles, however wonderful, won’t make much difference. If we want ‘Sounds Good’ to end more than three degrees above absolute zero, if we want audio to become widely used for feedback, we should try to maximise all four ‘E’s’.
(Posted by Bob Rotheram, Project Manager, Sounds Good)