Recent newsletters explored examples of good-enough innovations that proved to be game-changers. At their introduction, few, if any, were regarded as either "best in class" or "state-of-the-art." It is important to acknowledge how perfectly adequate good-enough really is because within the context of well-regarded institutions of learning there are occasions when nothing short of state-of-the-art appears to be acceptable. In learning technologies, the pursuit of this ideal can lead to unanticipated costs.
High-profile institutions are, after all, in the business of attracting the best and brightest minds by offering top-notch learning, work and research environments designed to bring out their best work. When resources are plentiful, it is commonplace to hear a best-of-the-best mantra reverberating through the walls of every planning session; often with insufficient thought to operating costs associated with "cutting edge" amenities.
Large, progressive institutions such as the University of North Carolina are renowned for blazing trails in learning technologies. For more than two decades, UNC pioneered technology-enabled learning space.
The initial foray began with massive three-beam projectors and equally massive wooden equipment lockers to contain a desktop computer and a hodge-podge of cables and switches. Primitive by today's standards, those original "Master Classrooms" offered proof-of-concept for brave faculty seeking new ways to engage learners.
At a cost of more than $75k per-room, these not-so-user-friendly systems fell short of requirements for widespread deployment. The volatile and unintuitive nature of the systems hampered widespread adoption.
By 1996, advances in technology and learning space design opened the door to development of truly self-serve learning environments at one-third the previous cost. These new "Multimedia Classrooms" featured LCD projectors that were twenty-times brighter than bulky, three-beam Electrohome projectors, enabling students to view the projected image while taking notes in adequately lit rooms.
Instructors navigated a user-friendly graphic touch panel to display computers, video tapes and DVDs with ease and the entire system tucked away in a practical teaching bench that required no keys or special instructions to operate.
These days, the success of this model can be seen not only in its widespread proliferation, but in its universal adoption by students and teachers as an essential tool for learning. What once was a special "Multimedia Classroom" is now simply a "classroom" in which certain technical amenities are regarded as tools of the trade no less essential than tables, chairs and wallboards.
As with other ubiquitous "entitlement technologies" (i.e. cell phones, MP3 players, digital cameras), widespread adoption occurs at the intersection of sudden affordability and unrivaled convenience/performance (see "Good-Enough" article series: What's So Great About 'Good Enough' Tech?, Part 2: A Brief History, and A Reader Chimes In). While falling prices may be a welcome relief, as stewards of these resources, "installed price" is not our sole consideration.
It is at this intersection at which large, progressive institutions may serve as the canary in the coal mine for those up-and-coming campuses through a frank discussion of the unintended outcomes that emerge when traditional classroom technology approaches 100% saturation. It is here that the compounded cost of ownership (regular support, maintenance, supplies and equipment lifecycle) prove to be unsustainable.
Continuing to build more-of-the-same may not deliver the type of success previously enjoyed with such technologies. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
Next time: "Projector Math"
||by Joe Schuch|