Satisfice Your Ed Tech

They might be different in terms of UI, price, and ease of management, but that difference won’t show up when you’re measuring student achievement. Photo Credit: Martin uit Utrecht via Compfight cc

I used to read a lot about new gadgets –  smartphones,  in particular.  I’d pore over the latest announcement from Mobile World Congress and compare side-by-side photos of the next generation of the current device.  After careful research I’d select the best device out there.

And then I’d look out the window and realize I’d spent hours of a beautiful day in front of a screen for a device that did pretty much what my old one did.

The danger of choice is that having too much of it confuses and complicates the decision-making process. It applies to shopping for smartphones as much as it does wading through ed tech software and hardware. Every week my RSS feeds me yet more articles about “10 Apps to Use for X”  or “iPad vs. Chromebook: which one wins for students?” They tempt me,  and my teachers,  to get lost in a forest of comparisons that,  ultimately,  bring very little marginal benefit to student learning.  Using HaikuDeck over PowerPoint will not result in a measurable boost to student learning as measured against the standards in any of the classes offered at our school (although teaching principles of effective presentations would). Teachers have other, more important decisions to make to maximize their instructional effectiveness.

The solution to the problem of choice is satisficing,  a decision-making strategy posited by Herbert Simon that calls for the selection of the first acceptable choice from a list of alternatives,  rather than the best one.  While it seem on its face distasteful to select what could be viewed as the minimum workable solution,  the psychological cost of searching until the “best”  alternative is found is not an efficient use of an individual’s or organization’s resources.

This has been an important lesson for me to learn personally –  I spend much less time shopping now than I used to,  leaving me more time to read,  meet with friends,  and learn new things –  and professionally,  where we can execute projects such that we spend more time *using* the product than talking about using it. For example, we began the search for a new SIS in late October 2015 and had our eventual choice (PowerSchool) installed by February 2016; it should be ready to go live by the time the new year starts.  We began the search for an LMS in January 2016 and should have a candidate (likely to be Canvas, Haiku or Schoology) selected by April 2016.

Of course satisficing by itself is no guarantee of organizational agility.  Cutting corners when figuring out your school’s needs will make work –  potentially a lot more work –  later on when you discover your choice doesn’t meet an unrealized need.  Implementation,  too,  requires deliberate planning and especially training and documentation. I’m relatively inexperienced in ed tech; the advantage of someone with greater experience is that they’ll have been exposed to many of your potential choices over their careers and can quickly assess options without needing to go through a lengthy discovery process. They’d also bring protocols to ensure a successful project.

For me,  though, satisficing my educational technology has allowed me to make tangible improvements to my school in time frames that the teachers can see.  They want to experience forward momentum so that they feel empowered and acknowledged. It may not be the greatest momentum in theory –  but with satisficing,  it is in practice.

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