The Livescribe Echo pen is a fascinating technological innovation. A pen with the ability to record sound, connect it with the text that it writes and then upload it to computer, the pen truly is “smart.” Recently profiled in the New York Times Sunday Magazine by Clive Thompson “The Pen That Never Forgets“, the Livescribe can transform a student’s experience in the classroom and when taking and reviewing notes. The pen is relatively accessible and affordable, too, as evidenced by a recent trip to Best Buy. At a personal level, I marvel at the continuing genius of human innovation. At a professional level, my observations are much more complicated.
The very nature of technology disrupts. While promising solutions, often to situations that may not even have been recognized as problems, technological innovations force reexamination, reevaluation, and decision-making. This poses an innate challenge for many within academia. As a dean, the first communication I received about the Livescribe came from faculty members who were concerned about being recorded by students.
It is a familiar pattern – and I caution not to jump to conclusions about faculty and technology. The patterns by which technology is adopted are recognized, studies and familiar. Early adopters tend to be attracted to a particular technology, have the time, interest and skill to experiment with it, and regularly move on. Later adopters are more cautious about new technology and will often wait for signals and more information before making a commitment. The earliest adopters of a technology often realize that no single piece of technology is a panacea. Their temperaments, too, often pull them into the next innovation.
On the other hand, the next group of adopters is often more invested in a particular technology. These individuals are not about change, but more about solutions. The next wave (and the marketing terms vary) moves more slowly and tends to commit. Phase II adopters move more deliberately and tend to want to proselytize. Accompanying the proselytization, inevitably, is a backlash. The complaints rarely come from the Luddites, those that reflexively reject all new technology, but instead from later adopters who have made a commitment earlier to a different technology.
Sound familiar? Been part of study groups or discussions about learning management systems? On a committee about how to use youtube with students? Sat with a task force on the advantages and problems with document cameras in the classroom? I have and even though the participants and institutions have changed over the years, the relative positions and arguments have displayed a surprising degree of consistency. I do not know when the next technological debate will occur or what piece of technology will spark it, but I am confident that its potential adoption will take these steps.
But back to the Livescribe and my faculty’s questions: is there an institutional policy to help faculty with this new technology? We are going to discuss and pursue, but my aim will not be about clarifying this one question. Rather, I am more interested in the principles that will shape institutional decisions about policy and then procedure. If we can shift the focus, it could become very interesting. I will keep you posted . . . .and good luck with your own new technology.