More on "Affordable Affordances"

More on "Affordable Affordances"


"Affordable affordances" means selecting technologies based on the question, "what can [x] do for you (and your students)?" This post explains this idea in more detail with some examples...

Part 3 of my recently-posted video series on "Improving Teaching and Learning in a Screen Captured World," talks about "affordable affordances" as a specific strategy for using technology to improve teaching and learning. As a busy professional, you can't afford to waste your time on trying out technologies just because they're the latest and greatest. Instead, you're better off selecting technologies for their affordances by asking the simple question, "what can [x] do for you (and your students)?"

Using wikis is one excellent example. I've heard multiple reports of faculty having trouble with getting wikis to work effectively in courses, and I've had this experience of couple of times myself in other collaborative contexts. Wikis can be a great tool, but as the book Wikinomics pointed out several years ago, "at their most basic, wikis are completely unstructured," and as SocialText CEO Ross Mayfield noted, "the structure [of wikis] is created by demanding active involvement from users in ways of organizing and creating their own information architecture" (p.255). While students may not have to go so far as to create their own information architecture, they do need a demanding reason to be actively involved with using a wiki -- creating wiki textbooks or some other sort of student-generated artifacts, for example -- otherwise the wiki will fall flat on its face.

Another good example is using an LMS itself. So in my comment this morning on Jason B. Jones's Chronicle of Higher Education article My Online Summer: Getting Ready", I echoed Susannah's McGowan's comment about using an LMS's portal capabilities to access a wiki and/or other useful tools, since it sounded as if Jason has had success with using wikis. LMSs are often rightly criticized for limiting access to affordances, but they also usually allow for workarounds (e.g., their portal capability) and they offer many useful affordances themselves. But the best approach is not to accept or reject an LMS's "baked-in" capabilities, but rather to treat an LMS's affordances as a menu, and then pick and choose what works well for you. And, of course, don't be afraid to ask for things that aren't on the menu, or bring in your own bottle of wine if possible -- in other words, seek additional desirable affordances to the extent possible.

The idea of "affordances" prompts faculty to think in terms of capabilities, possibilities, and functionality, and the idea of "affordable" reminds them to be thrifty and practical with their available resources (time, effort). Both ideas invite online faculty to be proactive in determining how they teach...

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