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Max. Classroom Capacity

Marcus W. Dickson
Wayne State University

I was recently at a conference in Chicago called Clickers 2012. It’s a small conference, sponsored by MacMillan, primarily focused on the use of classroom clickers (the radio devices that each student can have to allow them to vote, take quizzes, respond to questions, etc.—not the sort of “clickers” that we use to advance slides in PowerPoint, as my friend Brent Smith thought when I first mentioned it to him).  MacMillan markets a clicker called i>clicker, and most of the people there used that brand of clicker, though some folks used Turning Technologies’ version, and a few used other versions. The folks there were pretty much all committed to the use of educational technology in the classroom and were for the most part pretty knowledgeable about it, as well. They felt comfortable working with different forms of technology while teaching and were generally enthusiastic about the possibilities of “EdTech” for enhancing classroom education.

One of my doctoral students, Ben Biermeier-Hanson, and I presented our experiences and ideas on communicating about educational technology to our colleagues in our departments. The major point we made was that not everyone is like the people at the conference in terms of EdTech, and when “true believers” talk about classroom use of technologies and all of the reasons why faculty members “should” use them, it can come across as a tacit criticism of those who don’t. We used the transtheoretical model (TTM) of change (i.e., “readiness for change” model, “stages of change” model; Prochaska & DiClemente, 2005) as a metaphor for faculty members’ readiness to consider adopting new educational technologies.

The TTM was initially developed to describe and work with people on health-related behaviors (smoking, drug usage, eating behavior, etc.), and it highlights that different types of messages and support are most useful for people at each stage in the process, as they attempt to move forward through the stages. For example, people in the first, or precontemplation, stage are often unaware of the negative outcomes associated with their behaviors, and so messages about the positive possibilities (the “pros”) that could emerge from making a change are more effective than hammering them with the negative consequences (the “cons), which could make them withdraw and be resentful of the communication. People further along may become more open to considering that their current or former behaviors have/had negative consequences for themselves and others, and the combination of pros and cons together serve to move them forward.

We applied this model to how we talk with colleagues in our department about considering incorporating EdTech into their classrooms. We’ve learned the hard way that the same message will not resonate with all audiences—we had recently made the same presentation about using clickers to two different audiences with very different results. The first presentation went well, and it was to an audience that could be described as largely in the preparation stage (i.e., actively getting ready to start a significant behavior change)—they were there because they were interested and wanted to learn more. Our messages that balance the pros and cons of changing one’s approach to one’s class time were well received. The TTM suggests that failure is a huge concern for people at this stage, and our messages designed to promote confidence were generally seen as very helpful.

The second presentation went less well, and it was to an audience that could be described as primarily in the precontemplation stage (i.e., not really even thinking about changing their behavior)—they were there because the department chair told them they should be. For this audience, our messages focusing on the cons of current practice were received as uninvited criticism, and our messages designed to promote confidence of success in the group were seen as “cheerleading.”

Ben and I had begun to see that for many of our colleagues, doing something different in the classroom isn’t just about doing something new, it’s also about leaving something behind. Something comfortable. Something that has worked pretty well so far. It’s about going from the known to the unknown, and that can be uncomfortable. And it might not be the right decision at all.

I loved being at this conference, because it was great to be in an environment of people from many different disciplines who were all excited about the possibilities of technology for enhancing our classroom education efforts. But I was also excited to hear speakers say “It’s not the technology – it’s what the technology allows you to do,” and “Figure out your pedagogical goals first, and then decide whether that hot new piece of EdTech will help you achieve that goal, and if it won’t, don’t adopt it just because it’s cool.”

It’s important for us to ask—of ourselves and our colleagues—whether our rush to embrace the cool new EdTech is really going to advance the effectiveness of our teaching. (I can’t count the number of people I’ve heard say they want the new iPad for their classroom, with no real idea of what they’d do with it.) It’s also important to ask whether our hesitations to consider new technologies in the classroom are due to discomfort about trying something different or whether they are due to not seeing how the “next new thing” is going to advance our pedagogy.

What are you using? What are you not using? Why? Send me a note (marcus.dickson@wayne.edu) like this: “I am using Technology X because it helps me achieve my pedagogical goal Y,” or “I don’t use Technology X because it doesn’t help/gets in the way of achieving my pedagogical goal Y.” I’d love to be able to share your responses in a future column.


Prochaska, J. O., & DiClemente, C. C. (2005). The transtheoretical approach. In J. C. Norcross, & M. R. Goldfried (Eds.), Handbook of psychotherapy integration (2nd ed., p. 147–171). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.