One of the most common areas in which I see this, is through the introduction of online discussion forums in the VLE. So many times I've seen a forum plonked in a course with no direction; barely a 'spark' to encourage discussion/debate; and seldom any meaningful reflection. Are our students really expected to engage with that?
But it's not just everyday academic staff that do this with discussion forums. Some of my own work has seen this too. For example;
- After discussions at the last Blackboard Medical Education Special Interest Group, we collectively thought it would be a good idea to create an online environment through Google+. So I created the community, but we only have a dozen participants, with no engagement as yet.
- Similarly, the ALT NW SIG community only has 21 members.
- My research around the introduction of Twitter also indicated this lack of engagement. Although 100% of students who used Twitter to support their studies found it useful, only a small number actually engaged.
So there is plenty of evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, to suggest 'they' will not flock to your digital space simply because it's there. Human relationships are more complex than that, and our online engagement more bewildering yet!
The Technology Acceptance Model has been around for years, and suggests the 'perceived usefulness', 'perceived ease of use' and 'attitude' dictate the behavioural intention and actual use of a system. We need to focus more on the external factors that influence those variables if we want users to engage, because as it stands, the reality is that most people have reasonably well defined digital spaces. We have routines; a flow; and established practices.
Only a small proportion of my students were using Twitter. The motivation to engage, for some, was provided through opportunity to discuss content, access new links, because they perceived I'd respond to them quicker than email, and partially, because they liked me and wanted to talk football. But seemingly, this was not enough to engage the masses.
'Build it and they will come'? On the contrary!
Some other thoughts I have - Perhaps we need to go to where they are! But what if that place is Facebook? Or perhaps the space is irrelevant, and it's all about the motivation....
What do you think? Do you have experiences like this yourself? Have you found something that works?
The Reed Diaries by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License