Five Filters of Failure & a Scale of Scepticism - Digital Literacy Dover

Sunday 29 March 2020

Five Filters of Failure & a Scale of Scepticism

It's not the unrelenting torrent of information that I find troubling, after all, how many books are out there, never mind films and TV shows? How many articles, journals, newspapers, magazines? How many hard copies are holed up in folders, files, cabinets, archives and dusty basements all over the planet? Many I am sure, and yet no one ever complains about this sheer weight of data, I've never heard anyone complain,

"Dude, I just don't want read another book, there are just way too many out there, like, y'know? Like, if I read one a week for the rest of my life, I still wouldn't come even close, y'know?"

And yet, so often I hear this pointless observation made about the web, so yeah there's a lot of data, that's nothing new, the 'information revolution' proceeded the 'digital revolution' by at least a half a century—World Wide Web 1989, Libraries have been around for a lot longer... But even in 1945 library expansion was calculated to double in capacity every 16 years*, if sufficient space were made available... so there's been a lot of data for a long time; all we need to do is learn to deal with it. Literally.

So, the fire hydrant image below, while clever, I relate to more on the level of tech tool overload. Seriously, every gathering of tech types I ever attend is dominated by tech tool talk, new Web 2.0 tools, new gadgets, widgets, scripts, plugins, apps, features, software suite, usually accompanied by a lot of references to them being AWESOME.

Larry Cuban uses a list to help articulate this tension in his seminal publication 'Oversold and Underused' (2001) which reads as follows:
  • Is the machine or software program simple enough for me to learn quickly?
  • Is it versatile, that is, can it be used in more than one situation?
  • Will the program motivate my students?
  • Does the program contain skills that are connected to what I am expected to teach?
  • Are the machine and software reliable?
  • If the system breaks down, is there someone else who will fix it?
  • Will the amount of time I have to invest in learning to use the system yield a comparable return in student learning? (p170)

Cuban L (2001). Oversold and underused: computers in the classroom. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

So imagine my delight when I stumbled up on the most magnificent scepticism dial, or what I prefer to call... the Scale of Scepticism.

In order for me to assimilate a new digital tool to the point of actually recommending it to teachers to use with students, it has to have passed through my own series of stages, along the lines of:

Stage 1 – utter scepticism (yeah, whatever)
Stage 2 – cool reticence (arms folded)
Stage 3 – emerging realisation that, actually, this might be worth a closer look (sitting up)
Stage 4 – mild interest, even emerging (muted) enthusiasm (leaning forward)
Stage 5 – semi-excitement (standing up)
Stage 6 – fervoured, obsessive exploration (squeezing through to the front)
Stage 7 – passionate commitment and desire to talk to everyone about it, to the marked irritation of, well, everyone (evangelistic zeal)

The only problem is I needed something more succinct, more ... manageable, I could feel the threads of my sanity slipping, and I needed something simpler to accompany my next foray into techdom.

And thus emerged ... 5 Filters of Failure, now these were mainly conceived in the context of iOS devices, due to their increasing presence in my school, these have somewhat preoccupied my mind of late, but I do believe these 5 filters can be applied more generally:
  1. Do this require me to do the same thing more than 5 times? Like tedious account creation for each student? Do kids have to sign in/create an account to use it?
  2. Is it transformational? Yeah, it's cool, but does it radically change what I can do? Is it too similar to something I already use?
  3. Does it have pedigree? Reputation. How long has it been around? Is it tried and tested? How are they making money? If it is 'free' then how likely is that is will be here in 4 weeks? 4 months? 4 years? Or even if it is, will it still be free (unlikely)? Often the pricing from free to paid (once they think you are committed) is ridiculous, ie from 0 to $10 USD per student. 
  4. Is it well designed, simple to use? Can kids use this independently? Can Teachers work it out on their own? Is it intuitive?
  5. Can the content be exported/shared easily? Can the App save to camera roll? Export to a universal format? Does it require web access to function, so if WiFi is sketchy the activity fails?

Dealing with the Deluge
This set of filters is essential in the management a phenomenal proliferation of digital tools. On, literally, a daily basis, more tools with funky and not so funky names emerge into a market place already filled to overflowing with a veritable cornucopia of competitors. If you're fortunate, your school hopefully already has a dedicated tech integrator to stand between the teacher and the tsunami wave of digital applications, utilities and all sorts of 'Apps' boasting their pixelated promises to 'save you time' etc.

And if you don't? Then by all means ignore these 'wonders of the web' until you do. Yes, sometimes lurking in the sludge of similarity (and revolutionary? not really...) is the odd golden nugget of greatness, but it's not going to terribly affect your teaching to miss out on those. If that is not an option for you, then arm yourself with these filters and, like the prospector who wades through the mediocre, seeking to route out all except the most worthy, you can then bring the odd truly terrific tool triumphantly back to your team. Not that they will be as excited about as you will be. Yet.

Now it doesn't have to fail all 5 filters to fail, but the more filters it fails, the less interest I have in taking it seriously, I can honestly say that all of the tools I rely on currently all pass at least 4 of the 5 filters. Will these filters change? Absolutely, I'm constantly reconsidering/tweaking/adjusting them—like the cornucopia of competing tools they are designed to filter they need to be flexible; after all there were four filters of failure only a year ago.

  1. Setup requirements
  2. Similarity
  3. Reputation/pedigree/funding
  4. Simplicity
  5. Ease of Export 

These are my filters
There may be many like them, but these are mine.
The question is... What are yours?

 *Rider (1944). The Scholar and the Future of the Research Library. New York City: Hadham Press.

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