Synergy 2008 Conference: Developing Science/Technology Curriculum that Scales

I was invited this week to do a series of presentations on Popfly at the Synergy 2008 conference in Phoenix, AZ July 23-26.  The purpose of the conference is to foster and promote curriculum designs that “scale” i.e. that can be adopted and spread quickly.  More specifically, the design of science and technology curriculums that scales.  The attendees at the conference are a mix of High School, Community College and University faculty.  At the luncheon keynote today, Dr. JW Dearing showed the results of research that indicate that the following are key factors in the diffusion of innovations:

  • Cost

  • Simplicity

  • Compatibility

  • Evidence

  • Trialability

  • Observability

His point is that these factors can be applied to the curriculums that we develop.  For example, if I develop a set of curriculum resources around Microsoft SharePoint, then it is more likely to be adopted by faculty if the cost (time, mental effort, other resources) is low, it is easy to understand, and it is a good fit to what faculty are trying to accomplish in the classroom.  Additionally, If others have used it successfully (evidence), there is an easy way for faculty to try it out first (trialabilty), and they can see others using it (observability), then you may expect the curriculum innovation to spread even faster.  While these points seem self-evident, it is very helpful to keep them in mind when you are

So what does this mean to the individual faculty member?  Firstly, its always easier to teach and support a technology if you aren’t the only person in your organization who is using it. So the more scalable a technology is the more like you are to be able to spread the usage to your colleagues. Secondly, there are many opportunities to teach technology in a school outside of formal technology courses.  Think about how many courses have an “art” component in them that aren’t art classes such as posters, collages, videos, etc..  In the same vein, many courses could fit in a web development or statistics component.  Thirdly, technology changes very quickly, which is one reason why technology jobs can pay so well.   Because today’s innovation will be relevant only so long, the ability to communicate and adopt technology innovations (both in the workplace and in education) quickly is essential if this information is to have value in the near term.  One of the aspects of scalable curriculum is that it can be adopted quickly.

So stayed tuned while I attend sessions and provide input to this interesting conference, and I’ll hopefully pass on some more perspectives that can help make your CS/IT curriculum easier and more attractive to students. I’ll also talk more about Popfly, and provide links to some really cool tech project ideas using mashups.