Finding the useful in technology

In Dave’s recent post he talked about the tentative categorizations we have made of our students as a result of our research for the Isthmus project, however I think it is worth emphasizing how much our students adoption of tools and technologies (or not) is driven by their perception of usefulness. For our students at least we have a group who use the internet to varying degrees based on a strong sense of personal need – they use what they find useful, but not for its own sake.

So they will engage in what might be considered quite sophisticated online behaviours in the cause of something they want to do, but be quite astoundingly incapable with things that they cannot see the point of, and actually you have to admire this pragmatism, they are extremely effective web users in their scope.

But how do our users find the things that they deem useful? What about all the tools that might change their (web) lives if only they knew they existed? From personal experience I knew RSS existed for years before actually getting set up with an aggregator, but when I finally did it changing the way I worked for ever. I have a colleague who still regularly thanks me for telling them about delicious, they knew it was out there, but until I gave them my take on social bookmarking they had never quite realised it fixed exactly the thing that had been bugging them about bookmarking for years. They have since passed it on to several other people.

I have a strong appreciation of how random these moments can be, but also how transformative, and I am sure there are things we can do to bring the things most likely to be of use to them, to the attention of our students. We will be working on this as part of the Isthmus project over the next few months. The plan is to keep it simple, as much as possible to use what is already out there, but to help them find what can help them, and what will really be useful.

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