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Diffusion … but not gaseous January 3, 2014

Posted by IaninSheffield in Reading, research, Resources.
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diffusion of innovationsI recently finished Everett M Rogers’ book Diffusion of Innovations, a volume I’d been meaning to get round to reading in full for some while. In exploring how technology establishes itself in education, I’d long been aware of the notion whereby individuals within a social system can be classified into categories, based on their attitude to innovations. The rate at which an innovation is adopted by the members of a system can be plotted against time and the following is produced.

diffusion of innovations

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Wesley Fryer: http://flickr.com/photos/wfryer/2564440831/

A little mathematics divides the curve into segments, characteristics of people occupying each of the segments are established and voilà, you have the different adopter categories. You can read more about the categories in this Wikipedia article – which category are you in by the way?

I’d often wondered whether or how the five categories of adopter might be applied within a school setting, but also felt I needed to know more about the background, which is why I bought the book. The cases Rogers uses to illustrate the principles of Diffusion Theory are taken from widely varying fields (no pun intended!) like farming, health care, contraception, cell phones etc. But whenever I’m reading a book of this nature, I’m always wearing my educational specs and looking for ways to interpret and apply the findings or theory for the contexts I experience at work or in my own learning. We have a couple of major initiatives at school at the moment which would be ripe for analysis using a Diffusion Theory framework. But then something else popped into my head …

With unerring regularity, discussions (and I use the term loosely!) on the merits of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) bubble to the surface. Evidence can be seen through blog posts like this or this and  Twitter exchanges or on discussion threads like MirandaLink, the ICT Research Network or EduGeek. Opinion really can be quite polarised! To nail my colours to the mast, I’m fairly squarely in the pro-IWB camp which I guess stemmed from the time I changed careers to work in a City Learning Centre where one of my first duties was to support the roll-out of a major IWB project in primary schools across Sheffield, providing the training for the teachers involved. I guess you don’t become an accredited IWB trainer without developing some degree of passion for the subject? But that was over ten years ago; do I still feel the same? How much have we moved forward now that the technology is more mature and more ubiquitous in our classrooms? Given their age, some of the IWBs will doubtless be coming to the end of their life (I know we’ve a couple in school which are ready for replacement), so do we replace like for like … or consider alternatives like interactive (boardless) projectors, large touch-capable display screens, tablets with screen-mirroring capability?

With all those questions swimming around, it struck me that Rogers might be able to help here. First to provide a lens to look back at how IWBs were deployed originally – what might we learn by considering that deployment from a diffusion theory standpoint? And secondly looking forward to the next stage and whether we replace our IWB estate and if so, with what? So I started by looking back through the research, which is when I realised this will probably merit a bit more than a single blog post, or even two or three, so I pondered what might be a better forum through which to undertake that examination? A wiki? Maybe a Google site? Hmmm … any ideas?

More to follow …