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Video Killed the Radio Star

by Melissa Wehler


When I first started teaching online, narrated presentations were the “hip thing” in online education—feel free to do the math there. You can see the allure, right? For the first time, online students could hear your voice with all of the inflections, personality, and connotations that were heretofore impossible to replicate. These early attempts at instructor presence spoke to the obvious need to personally engage with our students and build a community of online learners. Since then, we have fashioned new tools that are more engaging, dynamic, and interactive to speak to this need in the online classroom. And, I’m sure that like me, while you’re excited about the possible applications, you’re also thinking about all of the hours spent narrating slides that no one will ever listen to (if they ever did in the first place).

You may be worried that in a few short years that these tools will also have fallen into the great dustbin of educational technologies alongside the slideshow projector and LaserDisc.

Such are woes of the early adopter.

So, what is a tech-savvy faculty member to do? Here are some tips on how to embrace your early-adopter status:

Be the best beta. When you’re an early adopter, you’re a de facto beta tester. You’re the one who is going to find the bugs and ask the obvious questions. You’re also either going to be the one creating the resources on the tool or helping the developers to create them. So, if you’re going to be a beta, be the best beta. Know who to contact at the company, ask detailed questions, offer to do a pilot, tell them how you’re using it, and tell them how you would like to use. Being the best beta helps you (and your students) to have a positive experience and ensure that the technology is working for you.

Recognize the risk. Early adopters are rarely risk-adverse people. We reveal in learning new software and hardware. But that excitement can sometimes mean that we do not recognize that there is a risk to being an early adopter. Learning, adopting, and applying new technology tools can be costly and not only in financial terms. It takes time and effort to learn and use a new tech tool, and you also have to find ways to align it with your learning outcomes. Recognizing the risk of early adopting may help you from going “all in” on a particular software or hardware that may not pay off in the end.

Be a critical consumer. The “latest and greatest” tech tool won’t be the latest or greatest forever. Just like you do with other consumables, you should take care to select a tool that solves a particular pedagogy problem. To help you decide, think about places in your course that could use an “upgrade”: where do you need more of a presence, where would you benefit from have a dynamic interaction, where do students typically struggle, and where does assessment show you need to improve? The answers to these questions will help you select a tool that serves a purpose and helps you meet your learning outcomes.

Have a plan. What happens if the company that produces your software goes out of business? Gets bought out by another company and privatized? Decides to cut its educational department? These are not hypothetical. All of them have happened to me during the course of my online teaching career. The first time, it was shocking; the second time, less so. By the last time, I didn’t even flinch because I already had a plan. It included backups of my material (saved on a cloud service), my go-to application, and a student communication plan. I let them know a) what happened and b) how we were going to change course. Having a plan in place helped to make the transition a little easier on all of us.

Whenever I look back at my narrated presentations (yes, I still have them—I’m sentimental), I sometimes beat myself up for the “wasted” hours spent on a tech tool that seems (now) so obviously obsolete, and I vow to stop being an early adopter. But then, I remember that being an early adopter makes teaching and learning engaging and dare I say it, exciting. Besides, “we can’t rewind we’ve gone too far.”

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