Sunday, April 17, 2005

Innovating at the median

People who experiment with technology for teaching want to show off something that is "cool." In part, I think that's because others really can't appreciate the innovation and so if it looks cool that is a way of getting credit for work done. But the other part is that this type of work is what engages the inventor. Why work on something boring when there is something exciting to work on instead?

I think you can see this effect in bio-medical research. Why is it that there isn't inventive activity in cost reduction and only invention in new drugs, new therapies, and new apparatus? It seems obvious that the social benefit of cost reduction is likely greater than the social benefit from new treatment (of course this depends on magnitudes, but bear with me here) because of the inequity with which health insurance is provided. Certainly the poor benefit more for access to health care than they do from improvements that they can't get.

There is something similar going on afoot with educational technologies. There are many cool things that people do. But very simple innovation is often ignored. Right now we need a full examination of how to do assignments online: from creation by the student, to online submission, to evaluation by the instructor including whatever record keeping the instructor does away from the assignment, to return to the students. What is the best way to do assignments online? Can it be done so it is easier than paper based assignments?

Who works on issues of this sort? Do instructional designers do it? I think there isn't enough of this sort of innovation and yet it is incredibly important.

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