The Virtue of Slow Software: Fewer Fads in Schools?

Online commerce has made it easier than ever to shop, right? Maybe too easy. A recent study by comparison-shopping site Finder revealed that more than 88 percent of Americans admitted to spontaneous impulse buying online, blowing an average of $81.75 each time we lose control. Clothes, videogames, concert tickets. One in five of us succumb weekly. Millennials do it the most.

With the above paragraph, journalist Clive Thompson opens his article on “Slow Software” in Wired magazine. His argument is straight-forward: devices speed up our lives, encourage impulsivity, and buyer’s remorse. For the above example of excessive buying–which, of course, is crucial to the economy which depends upon Americans shopping–Thompson describes a piece of software that slows the shopper down.

[A team of software designers] created Icebox, a Chrome plug-­in that replaces the Buy button on 20 well-known e-commerce sites with a blue button labeled “Put it on ice.” Hit it and your item goes into a queue, and a week or so later Icebox asks if you still want to buy it. In essence, it forces you to stop and ponder, “Do I really need this widget?” Odds are you don’t.

The pace of life has surely accelerated with Facebook Newsfeed, incessant tweets, over the top Instagram pics, and pop-up ads everywhere you click on the web. Misinformation on Facebook spreading swiftly and harassment campaigns on Twitter ever-present, slowing down software seems to be a way of thinking twice before deciding on something important to us. But it is not easy as Thompson concludes:

It’s a Sisyphean battle, I admit. Offered the choice, we nearly always opt for convenience…. Icebox is brilliant but hasn’t yet taken off. Socratic deliberation improves our lives—but, man, what a pain!

Slow software reminded me of what Steve Arnett reported in an earlier post. Ninety-eight percent of the software that school administrators purchased for classroom use was not used intensively (at least 10 hours between assessments)–yes, 98 percent.

The apps with the most licenses purchased are ConnectEd, WeVideo, Blender Learn Discovery and Education Streaming Plus. The apps with the highest intensive users are Google Drive, Canvas, Dreambox Learning, Lexia Reading Core5 and IXL. (Some apps, such as Google Drive, have more users than licenses purchased because they offer their services for free.)

All of this got me thinking anew about who makes district decisions about buying software for classrooms and the muting of teacher voices when it comes to these district office decisions–which, of course, have to ultimately be approved by boards of education.

School leaders need slow software before going on buying sprees of teaching and learning software peddled by companies. Impulsive shopping–see opening paragraph above–hits school leaders as it does the typical consumer surfing Amazon or similar sites. This impulse buying is the way that fads get started (hype transforms fads into “innovations”).

Of course, district officials who spend the money do not need software to slow their decisions down for a week that Icebox proposes. Instead of slow software, they can use some old-fashioned, analog ways of decision-making that bring teachers into the decision cycle at the very beginning with teachers volunteering to try out the new software (and devices) in lessons, administrators collecting data, and analysis of data by mix of a teachers and administrators. And I do not mean token representation on committees already geared to decide on software and devices. With actual groups of teachers using software (and devices) with students, then a more deliberate, considered, and informed decision can be made on which software (or devices) should get licensed for district. Of course, this suggestion means that those who make decisions have to take time to collaborate with those who are the objects of those decisions before any district money can be spent. And time is a scarce resource especially for teachers. Not to be squandered, but there are tech-savvy teachers who would relish such an opportunity.

My hunch is that there are cadres of teachers who do want to be involved in classroom use of software before they are bought and would appreciate the chance to chime in with their experiences using the software in lessons. Teacher validation of an innovation aimed at teaching and learning can not be sold or bought without teachers using the software in lessons.

As Thompson points out it is a struggle to restrain impulsivity when buying stuff because “[o]ffered the choice, we nearly always opt for convenience.” That applies to district leaders buying software for teachers to use in their lessons. And faddishness is the last thing that schools need when budgets are tight and entrenchment is in the air.

A Fad Dissolver period declared at the onset of a classroom trial that runs three-to-six months to determine how valid and useful the software is could halt the impulse buying that so characterizes districts wanting to show how tech savvy they are and avoid the common practice of storing in drawers and closets unused software and devices.

 

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3 Comments

Filed under technology, technology use

3 responses to “The Virtue of Slow Software: Fewer Fads in Schools?

  1. Laura H. Chapman

    The marketing of tech is not quite the same as textbook marketing where “freebies” (samplers) were given to teachers and supervisors who did or might serve on adoption committees.

    Even so, an online software version of this marketing is widespread. The seller offers a free introductory version (often with a time-limited date) before you must sign up for a package deal. These deals are often in cost tiers with premium offers for “the works.” But, teachers are not often in control of the budgets for the software needed or wanted for their classrooms. They seek advice from other teachers if they do have an opportunity to influence the purchases made by the school.

    Now teachers are being enlisted as sales persons,The soft-sell marketers are called brand ambassadors–Apple’s Distinguished Educators, Google for Education’s Certified Innovators, and Microsoft’s Innovative Education Experts, for example. All of these programs offer perks and “honors” to teachers for helping these companies sell products and services their peers.

    The big players want district-wide purchases of the kind superintendents can authorize. Enter the brokering agency with the well-chosen name “The Educational Research and Development Institute” (ERDI. For an excellent report on ERDI see https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/?s=ERDI

    ERDI is the broker of choice for sales “at scale” in a pitch environment that sellers want. Be sure to visit the ERDI website and poke around. https://erdius.org/about/
    See the vast array of “partners” with logos, or in the multi-page listing. Read some of the praise for this marketing environment, most of it from CEOs of companies that use it for sales-at-scale. Notice the meet-ups three or four times a year, all expenses paid for superintendents who sign on.

    Of course, some teachers are using social media sites to sell their lessons and units. Many also migrate into more lucrative jobs working as sales reps for sellers of wares.

    This is what happens in my mind when I read about “slow software.” Nothing much about the environment for big sales of software allows for “tasting and savoring.”

    • larrycuban

      Excellent point, Laura. ERDI I do know about but your knitting together a bunch of the dots is helpful. Thanks for the comment.

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