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MFD – most frustrating device? September 7, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Technology.
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cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Dave Pattern: http://flickr.com/photos/davepattern/2859862259/

During the summer break we replaced a number of elderly and inefficient photocopiers and a couple of printers with MFDs (multifunction devices). Most were colour, some mono, but all print, copy and scan. In one more attempt to cut down wastage, we elected to include integrated ‘pull’ functionality; this means that nothing emerges from the device until the sender goes to the machine and ‘pulls’ down their job(s) from a print queue. Hopefully this will reduce the quantity of printing sent to printers/copiers which is never collected. The upshot is of course that in order to ‘release’ your job from the pint queue, you have to authenticate yourself in some way. We could have elected to have swipe cards (problems likely to occur due to loss), PIN authentication (yet one more piece of data to remember), but settled on active directory integration, meaning people just have to enter the username and password they normally would to do log onto a computer or into our network remotely. This is done on a touchscreen interface on the device itself, the screen being about three times the size of a normal smartphone. Because there is a single queue for all devices, if someone goes to pick up their printing from a device which is busy, they can simply switch to another MFD and pick up their job there.

A change in one’s working practices will inevitably require a degree of adjustment, particularly when there’s a new step (authentication) in something as routine as photocopying. Delays in the initial configuration and setup have meant the launch has been less smooth than we would have liked, however observing the way that people approach this new challenge has been rather interesting. Essentially there are two groups of users:

  • Staff
  • Students

As one would expect, there is a range of confidence and capability across the groups, from those requiring a high level of support through to those who just jump straight in and give it a go. What has been fascinating though is the different way adults and younger people approach their first attempt. The confident in both groups seemed to just get stuck in and start pressing buttons until they made what they wanted to achieve happen. It was at the other end of the spectrum where the differences in the two groups started to emerge. Requests I’ve had from staff ranged from “Is there a set of instructions I can have?” through “Can you show me what to do?” to “Can you help me get started?” Requests I’ve had from students – nil! That’s not say they always succeeded in what they were doing, but not one asked for assistance up front. Even the least confident ones approached the MFD, looked at the touchscreen, then made an attempt, even if somewhat hesitantly.

It’s interesting to speculate why the differences and whether they are truly generational? There have always been those who, having unboxed some new appliance will plug it in, switch it on and get started, whilst other will need to read the instructions long before the appliance has left its packaging. Perhaps it’s related to one’s preferred approach to learning? Are those who need the instruction manual or guided support tending towards a instructivist, procedural approach where they follow a sequence of provided steps, achieve a successful outcome, then repeat the same steps for continued success? And are the others learning constructively by exploring, observing, evaluating the outcomes, then adjusting their actions accordingly?

But what happens when their job fails to come out the printer?

flow diagram

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Ian Guest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/9692801491/

What does each do next? What are the consequences of undertaking a few cycles of the feedback loop? Will the recipe book people repeat the same steps in their manual, perhaps more carefully, assuming they’ve made a mistake … or the MFD isn’t working. Will the explorers try out different options, different settings? Might those in each group, having experienced a failed strategy, revert to the tactics employed by those in the other group?

Who would have thought a new set of printers could have got me thinking about learning? Maybe there’s a research project right there … how do people adapt and learn when faced with new circumstances and what characteristics ought we to be nurturing to help students face those challenges? Perhaps we need to change the printers more regularly 😉



1. largerama - September 10, 2013

This is a research project waiting to happen I reckon Ian

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