Fast, cheap and out of control

Particular types of technology lend themselves to this digital, networked and open approach. Brian Lamb (2010) borrows the title from Errol Morris’ 1997 documentary to describe the kind of technology he prefers and thinks is useful in education as being fast, cheap and out of control. As with digital, networked and open, it is the intersection of the three that is the area of real interest. These three characteristics are significant for education in the following manner:

  • Fast – technology that is easy to learn and quick to set up. The academic does not need to attend a training course to use it or submit a request to their central IT services to set it up. This means they can experiment quickly.
  • Cheap – tools that are usually free or at least have a freemium model so the individual can fund any extension themselves. This means that it is not necessary to gain authorisation to use them from a budget holder. It also means the user doesn’t need to be concerned about the size of audience or return on investment, which is liberating.
  • Out of control – these technologies are outside of formal institutional control structures, so they have a more personal element and are more flexible. They are also democratised tools, so the control of them is as much in the hands of students as it is that of the educator.

Overall, this tends to encourage experimentation and innovation in terms of both what people produce for content services and the uses they put technology to in education. If someone has invested £300,000 in an eportfolio system, for example, then there exists an obligation to persist with it over many years. If, however, they’ve selected a free blog tool and told students to use it as a portfolio, then they can switch if they wish and also put it to different uses. [new paragraph] There are, of course, many times when this approach may not be suitable (student record systems need to be robust and operate at an enterprise level, for example), but that doesn’t mean it is never appropriate. Writing in Wired, Robert Capps (2009) coined the term ‘the good enough revolution’. This reflects a move away from expensive, sophisticated software and hardware to using tools which are easy to use, lightweight and which tie in with the digital, networked, open culture.

The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice (chapter 1)

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