Technology Churn

Do you read the manual when you get a new cell phone? Or do you just figure out how to dial and be done with it?

One of the greatest challenges in our ever-changing world is adapting to and learning new technologies. Sure, some of them are cool and fun, but once you hop on the technology train, it’s hard to jump off.

Think about it. Once you start using a digital camera, you have to maintain your pictures on your computer. Then you have to learn the software that comes with it so you can manage your photos. Once you fill your hard drive with pictures, you need to buy more disk. And, just when you think you have it under control, you’re told you need to upgrade your computer to the latest operating system. You do, then you find that not only does your camera software need an upgrade, but so do many others. You’re fit to be tied. You feel like a fish on the end of a hook being reeled in slowly but steadily.

As more and more technologies become available, it is getting harder for the average person to adopt and adapt to them. It’s called technology ‘churn.’ It refers to the pace at which new technologies are developed and their impact on an individual’s and organization’s ability to incorporate them. Some people simply cannot absorb ever more new technologies—and don’t want to.
Here’s an example of technology churn at an organizational level. WebCT, PSU’s course management software, recently sustained a major upgrade. For some, this was a walk in the park. They just point-and-clicked their way through it. Yet for many others, those who came to WebCT reluctantly in the first place, this was a major hassle. Just when they got comfortable with the old system, we went and changed it on them. Those old overheads are looking pretty good.

Ongoing learning is part of life in a technology-laden world. In fact, it is incumbent upon all of us to learn how to use the tools required for our jobs. You can shrug it off, convince yourself that you’re not a geek and you can live without it. But don’t be surprised when the next generation of students starts whizzing by you.

If you don’t know how text messaging works, or how new cell phones are capable of playing music, videos and podcasts, or how students communicate with one another today, you may find that teaching a class is quite a frustrating experience. On the other hand, if you gain some familiarity with these tools, you may just find some new opportunities to exploit them in class and communicate with your students in ways that may be very effective. At the very least, you’ll be able to speak knowledgably on how to manage your class more effectively.

We all need to get used to the perpetual learning curve required of technology use. Training programs are becoming fewer and fewer as more help is either embedded in the device itself or available in the little manual with it. Be thankful you have a manual.

We can put the tools in front of you. But the only person who can really make it happen is you.

Crack open that manual. Spend a little time learning how that unit actually works.


On a related note, a recent article in Educause focused on support for specialty software in academic departments. (I would extend that to all departments.) It’s entitled Supporting Specialized Academic Software: Is it Possible? The basic premise is no, that central IT departments can no longer be assumed to provide this support. IT departments are consumed with managing enterprise systems, desktops, network and security. They are also integrally involved in scoping new projects…including building construction, campus initiatives and other endeavors in which some aspect of technology is integral. Their ability to learn and become experts in niche software is very limited (unless, of course, you find ways to lure those occasional individuals to hang in your department after hours and lavish them with apple pies and heaps of praise…).

The onus of support is up to your department, and well it should be. Expertise cannot be limited to its use, but its overall maintenance and support. Only then will you be free of an unhealthy dependence on over-taxed IT professionals.

This is a key concept—distributed IT support—in the PSU Long Range Technology Plan.

2 thoughts on “Technology Churn

  1. My wife and I recently took in a foreign exchange studet. Vytas is a 16-year old from Lithuania. On the first night he was here he asked if he could use a computer. We have multiple in the house so I told him to use whatever he wanted.

    Since then he as interchangeably used our PC and Mac without once asking a question how to use or do anything with either. He syncs his iPod, while watching TV on our entertainment center that requires at least three seperate devices to be on, with specific inputs and settings set.

    He's done all this without ever asking how, or being shown, or using a manual. Technology churn is second nature to this generation. They get it, they like it, and they'll continue to leverage exciting technologies that are useful to them.

  2. Dwight, you hit on something here which I've been thinking a lot about lately.

    "More help is ... embedded in the device itself"

    This type of just-in-time help is exactly what I look for in technology. To use your cell phone example, I can pick it up and make a call just like on every other cell phone, but then when I decide I want to listen to music on it I want the help right there on the device.

    This keeps the time investment for entry level usage low while allowing me to explore the devices advanced features at my own pace, and without being tied to a manual (which I've probably lost.)

    As Egon said in Ghostbusters... "Print is dead." On-device, on-line, on-demand help is the wave of the future.

Comments are closed.