Most Things Fail First Time Around

I attended a talk by a colleague Niall Sclater (head of the Learning Innovation Office) yesterday where he presented a lecture about innovation and began by asking the audience to turn their mobiles on and twitter or use backchannels if they wish whilst he talked and said it was his task to make the talk interesting enough to keep people engaged. By the end of the talk it was clear that this experiment had not been a total success, the room mics were picking up the mobile ‘talk’ the short bursts of beeps as they try to get signals and at least one delegate questioned him about the fact that the noise was interfering with her enjoyment, questioning whether is was polite to have phones on when others were trying to listen.

I think it failed because of two things:-

1. The technology in the building had not caught up with the changes in the way some people engage and interact with technology. Therefore a technology issue that could be avoided and will be solved as time passes and they design mics that work with mobiles and don’t pick up such ‘talk’ and people feel empowered to text or twitter etc. without disturbing others.

2. Social or cultural awareness of how people use the technology, there was clearly a notion that turning mobiles on would mean that people were not engaging in the presentation and it is seen as a ‘disruptive’ technology however the person next to me (Doug) was on his Mac twittering about the talk and many people were picking this up around the Uni as I found out afterwards. It’s this kind of back channel that makes the technology really add advantage, people outside the talk and ask questions (via people there or directly if they had put up a twitter stream) and people in the place can keep others informed and also have a log of what took place.

I question why people feel so offended when someone uses a mobile compared to someone having a notepad and pen. When you’ve got those things (as I saw in the lecture) some people were doodling and sketching, it’s socially acceptable to do that and be relatively disconnected from the lecture but it’s not OK to use a mobile phone (silently) to do something that is equivalent to taking notes? – There’s a stigma attached to mobile devices and perhaps we need to ‘get over it’ at least a little bit if we want to move forward.

Finally everything fails first time around, when we experimented with using streaming media back in the early 90’s for online course use it only worked for around 50% of the audience (because of the complexity of setting up the client software at the time, sound card and network issues etc.) but now it’s a no brainer as Youtube demonstrates. I think you’ve always got to push the envelope and be prepared to fail at least once before technology and culture catch up.

About willwoods
I'm Head of Learning and Teaching Technologies in the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University.

2 Responses to Most Things Fail First Time Around

  1. Keren says:

    I agree that there is a social stigma around use of mobile devices in certain settings and we need to get over it, but I do think it will happen with time. There was a time when doodling while someone spoke was socially unacceptable and now most people are aware that doodling can help people concentrate, rather than distracting them from listening. It’s great that Niall defied convention as that will start to chip away at the stigma and help to change people’s attitudes.

  2. willwoods says:

    Hi Keren,
    I agree with you. Another example is that we’ve just moved into an Open Plan building and the social conventions are completely different, for example offices and meeting areas with glass walls mean that people hang around waiting for people to conclude a meeting so that they can grab them, whereas in a cellular space the protocol was clear – they’d knock, enter, see if the person was free and arrange a time to come back and see them. Once people work out the new protocols for the new environment then everyone will be fine but in the meantime people feel a little uncomfortable because they’re out of their ‘comfort zone’.

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