Coercively Enforce

Bell curve of technology adoption
In discussing the Korsakow Sketch Film assessment task I used the phrase “coercively enforce”. As a teacher assessment is the pedagogical tool that I have available politically and economically to force specific actions by students. What I choose to spend it on is an explicit statement by me of what I think matters most regardless of what else I say or do. This means that I ‘spend’ my assessment in big chunks making significant ‘investments’, rather than using lots of small change, and that I also often frame then as specifically achieving one key outcome, but along the way there are usually a set of ‘collateral learning outcomes’ in their wake. While there are lots of things that students do willingly without the economic rationalism of assessment as a driver when there is something I want or need to be adopted I ‘spend’ on it. In the case of this sketch film I usually make it worth 25% of their overall grade because I really do want and need everyone to be able to use the software, and this needs to be bedded down mid way through the semester and not left to the end where they are making more complex work. Basically, by making it worth a quarter of their overall result it is too big a piece of work to treat trivially, and in this way they all have to actually solve the basics of using the software.

I find this is common with all new technologies that the students experience as disruptive. There can be a lot of resistance to these practices and ideas (“what do you mean I might not use the software again? Then why are we learning it?”, or “it’s buggy, why can’t we use real software?”), which I’ve experienced with getting students to blog, use Korsakow, write hypertext and so on. In each case the resistance is because what is being asked falls outside of their naturalised and internalised assumptions about learning and what it is supposed to look like in university. What I’m doing is disruptive, yet once they learn not so much how to use the tools, but why, the complaints and questions evaporate. To get to this point (which I visualise as the Bell curve of resistance) I use assessment weight to ‘coercively enforce’ the adoption of the particular disruptive tools that I’m after, only because this forces technical hurdles out of the way and once out of the way we can move past the ‘how’ to the much more interesting and valuable ‘why’.

I use incentives (which means assessment rewards) to force the adoption. This may take a week or a semester depending on the technology and uses I’m seeking, but once the tipping point for adoption is reached there is no longer a need to reward and spend assessment budget on using the tools. They become adopted and part of their media learning vernacular, and I can then spend my assessment budget on what I generally think are the bigger fish. However, in the case of disruptive technologies there are often two tipping points. The first is being able to use the technology, which is largely about instrumental understanding and explicit knowledge – the ‘how do I use this’ problem. That’s the first tipping point. Then once this is solid enough the second tipping point becomes implicit and tacit knowledge, which is much harder to realise, and is the ‘why do I use this’ problem.

In the example of the Sketch Film I spend 25% of my assessment budget to get to the top of the first ‘how’ curve. I then spend 50% on the final project as this is where the ‘how’ needs to move into the much more difficult ‘why’. In both cases I spend my budget to get to the tipping point, confident that in other subjects in future years the students will know why, when and how to use Korsakow for individual projects, or even more valuably have an understanding of the mechanics of multilinearity and networked relations that they are able to apply to any variety of other contexts.