Education Reform: Incremental or Disruptive? by Jim Shimabukuro – http://etcjournal.com/2010/08/23/5754/
I like the post and the comments (read them, too). I think the answer to whether to disrupt completely or incrementally is, like almost everything else, it depends. How disruptive is it? A replacement shift – switching from one system to another system without overlap (bridging time, so to speak, between the old and the new) is key with complex systems. Switching from one LMS to another, for example, without overlap and leaving time for the new system to work out its hiccups, would be disastrous.
Realistically, I think many of us look pretty hard at the date the new service starts or old service ends and cling to the old as long as possible. We fear change. For example, I recently learned that XMarks, the tool that allows you to synchronize bookmarks and tabs between browsers on different machines, will no longer be working next year. Honestly I’m probably not going to uninstall the plugin or think too hard about it until it stops working, though in an unprecedented move I’m trying out other things (like Chrome’s built-in synch, which I’m not convinced works).
The gradual shift sometimes doesn’t actually look like a gradual shift, it’s more of a gradual informational shift. The actual shift is just as sudden and disruptive as going cold turkey, and it happens when the old system goes cold turkey.
It’s not always having to decide between the old and the new, though – they can often coexist. I like the example from the article. An administrator wants to send announcements digitally instead of having hard copies. Faculty demand a hard copy. The administrator points out, hey, you can still print them out, there’s your hard copy. Both preferences have been met.
So I’d argue that gradual shifts are important for large systems where there’s complete replacement – for example, the shift from analog to digital TV, replacing an LMS, a clicker system, a texbook. But in supplementary or complementary shifts, a sudden shift is fine – the old method is still an option and what’s hoped for is that the new system will take, and for the most part be more efficient and effective than the old.
For example, Netflix hopes that their streaming catalog will grow and eventually replace their DVD mailing process – they’ll save money this way – and by and large anecdotally I’d say people are taking to streaming, because it’s so convenient. But it’s dependent on devices and bandwidth, and the complementary service has started and will gradually be adopted because they can still do what they were already doing (DVD via mail) AND get the new (disruptive, in terms of “that’s different!”) service.
Something similar has happened with Hotseat (seamless transition!). Sometimes when we explain how the tool works to students (students, not faculty), we get the response, “Why can’t we just raise our hands?”
Answer: You can. You should! You will anyway. It’s complementary. It won’t replace the 5 people in a large lecture that raise their hands, it’s meant as a way to include the other 90-250 people in the large lecture who don’t want to raise their hands. It works as a both/and. It’s far more likely that in-class discussion will only go up when spurred on by something like Hotseat. It’s a both/and – one of those nice situations where what’s being phased out is not necessary – the loneliness of the large lecture attendee.