The Low Hanging Fruit


One of the biggest barriers to embracing technologies is no time.  Students deserve time.  Class preparations and advising take time.  Journal reading requires time.  Research and writing consume time.  Families expect time.  Local agencies want time. Campus politics demand time.  Without jeopardizing the welfare of current students, it’s extremely difficult to carve out large blocks of time to acquire new skills.  There’s no time left!


And when, somehow, we do manage to block several days or weeks for experimenting, the new technology invariably requires 4 times as much time as planned.   Always there are massive time overruns.  One of my most conscientious colleagues dedicated his summer of 12-hour days and 6-day weeks to adding interactivity and multimedia to his 37-session first-semester freshman chemistry class.   By summer’s end, he had upgraded the first 11 sessions which he used in the Fall.  Students were delighted--until the 12th, 13th, and  37th sessions.   The result was near rebellion.   Having been once exposed to the power of computer enhanced sessions, his Fall students (according to their end-of-course evaluations) left with a feeling they had been “under-taught” even cheated.


For me this was an important lesson: When learning and experimenting with new technology, set realistic goals within the limits of time, advice, and equipment available. Downsize those aspirations by 3/4ths, then proceed!


All of us need quick, cheap wins early on.   That’s where the low hanging fruit comes in. Early experience on many campuses, especially those where most students and faculty have regular access to email, demonstrate that well over half of the increase in learning that results from extensive use of technology comes from the increased quality and quantity of communication between students and faculty and among students.  In early student-faculty survey at Wake Forest, for example,  87% attributed increased learning to better communication.   In contrast, only 20% gave credit to the increased quality of classroom presentations (e.g. PowerPoint).


There are a few, very quickly learned techniques for increasing communication that can be learned in “about an hour.”   They will be used often.  Most colleagues and neighbors will be able to give advice since they use them also.  This is where we should all start.  


My list of favorites includes---

(1)   Citing URL (i.e.http://… ) addresses in the syllabus and list of course materials,

(2)   Using the “comment” feature of word processing programs,

(3)    Posting material to the Internet via one of the 50 or so Course Management Systems (see for an interactive comparison of WebCT, Blackboard, and over 40 of these systems),

(4)   Using screen-capture programs  (e.g. Lotus Screencam and Microsoft CamCorder), and

(5)   Encouraging all members of the class to use group email.


It is far better to utilize these powerful, easily learned and administered tools throughout a course than to spend the comparable hours on a multimedia challenge for a portion of one class session. 


Pick the low hanging fruit first!   You can then decide if it’s worth the effort to climb higher in the tree!   Encourage your less eager, mid-adopting colleagues to go first for the low hanging fruit and they, in turn, are more likely to join you in advocating for more resources for technological support.