I really enjoyed watching Dr. BJ Fogg’s 11 minute discussion of “simplicity” and his developing framework for understanding simplicity in design contexts this evening. This video is available via Facebook, and you have to be logged in to see it. I had watched about two minutes of the video when I invited my wife to watch with me, and we started the video over. For a succinct, textual summary of BJ’s framework on simplicity, check out Mirweis Sangin’s post from November 3rd. I want to briefly reflect about BJ’s ideas on simplicity as they relate to teacher professional development and digital storytelling specifically.

First, I will note that the “simple answer” is not always the best or “right” answer. That said, I also think simple answers which are effective can sometimes be the most compelling. As BJ states, we don’t always seek simplicity as human beings. In music, in art, and in intellectual discourse, complexity is often an important element which defines something as valuable, enjoyable, and worth experiencing. When it comes to learning tasks, including assessments, often teachers DO seek simple paths which are not preferable. I’m fond of saying now that “It’s easy to teach poorly.” It’s easy to hand out worksheets, lecture from the front of the room using 19th and 20th century technologies like the chalkboard and the overhead projector. It’s easy to hand out a study guide and reinforce an educational focus on short-term memorization. Those learning activities are SIMPLE because they are easy and convenient, not because they are the best for learning, supported by research, or truly engaging or enjoyable for learners. Simple is not always best.

In the context of educator professional development, however, I find myself often seeking “simple solutions.” Of the six elements which BJ identifies in his framework for defining and understanding simplicity, the first four are all directly applicable to professional development settings, especially where technology is involved. If an application or idea saves time or takes relatively little time, is free (requires no money,) requires little physical effort, and requires relatively few brain cycles to complete– teachers are likely to view that application or technology use as “simple” and therefore adaptable. When it comes to teacher professional development, I am VERY focused on the goal of changing behavior. What works to effectively change teachers’ perceptions and actions? This is a challenging question, because as Dr. Larry Cuban has observed, the “logic of the classroom” is an overwhelming obstacle to most “good ideas” that people introduce about educational change or innovation in learning.

The last two elements of BJ’s framework, “social deviance” and “non-routine” are also interesting in the context of professional development and technology integration. When we consider Everett Rogers’ famous “diffusion of innovations” model in the context of teachers, I think those open and willing to embrace learning methods which involve “social deviance” and “non routine” learning procedures are relatively few. These are the innovators and the early adopters, generally NOT those in the early and late majority, or the laggard groups:

Everett Rogers' Diffusion of Innovations graph from WikiPedia

Take educational bloggers, and more specifically educational Twitter users as an example. Using Twitter involves quite a bit of “social deviance” and “non routine” behavior when it comes to the activities of typical classroom teachers, in my estimation. I visited with a doctoral student from the University of North Texas several years ago who was studying the relationship between a teacher’s willingness to take risks (instructional and otherwise) and their persistence in trying to integrate technologies into their curriculum after taking the “Intel Teach to the Future” workshop series. Personality factors DO play a role in teachers’ willingness to try new things and integrate technology into the teaching and learning process, I think.

Dr. Fogg’s framework is also thought-provoking in the context of digital storytelling. I continue to be amazed at the simplicity as well as power of VoiceThread as a digital storytelling technology and environment. My then 3 year old’s VoiceThread “Getting a New Haircut” has been viewed 2141 times and has 54 different comments, including 9 of her own. This is amazing! If this was not a “simple” and therefore approachable and reasonable application for a 3 year old to use (with some limited assistance from Dad)– those statistics wouldn’t be possible.

VoiceThread includes all the six elements of BJ’s simplicity framework, I think, and as a result (perhaps) has greater potential for broader implementation and use in K-20 classrooms than other digital storytelling alternatives.

Check out BJ’s thoughts on a framework for understanding simplicity and leave him some feedback on Facebook. Don’t have a Facebook account yet? It’s time you did! After you leave BJ a comment, stop by and write on my comment wall! I like the simplicity of Facebook and it’s clean look. Much better than MySpace. And hey, now we’ve all learned it’s a cool place to share videos for feedback! 🙂

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