Thursday, September 01, 2011

Point of Inaction

I recently attended a day at UTS for high school science students with my older daughter. Run by scientists from ANSTO, it was a fun morning where segments of various sci-fi films were shown, followed by a series of questions for the audience, then one of the scientists discussing the actual science.

Part of what made this a good experience for the audience was the use of a KeePad system for getting the audience responses to the questions. Response systems, when they work well, are great - everyone can participate, no one has to feel conspicuous, you can put up on screen nice graphics to show response patterns, etc.

But as we all know, things do not always work well.

One of my colleagues earlier this week pulled out the response system (not KeePad) that was bought for the school a couple of years ago, and started asking questions about its use.

I don't use it. I don't use it for a few simple reasons.

It caused me no end of grief trying to get the software installed, mainly because the driver install program simply refused to do what it was supposed to do. Once I had found a way around that problem, I then discovered that the software wanted to work with a version of Keynote that was older than the one installed on my laptop. So I had to save my presentation file in the older format, only to find that it still would not work properly. (My suspicion was that the software had been written for an older version of the OS.) So I didn't use it.

One of my colleagues was a bit more persistent than me, and kept trying to find solutions to these problems, checking the developer's website and forums, downloading the latest version of the software, the latest driver, etc. He brought his PC laptop from home and installed the Windows version, which apparently worked somewhat better, but not long after, he stopped using it. The time and effort involved in getting it to work in the classroom was too much.

So now another colleague wanted to try it, and it occurred to me that some time had passed, and maybe the developers had updated their software and drivers, and these problems had been resolved. Err, no. Apparently not.

It's a shame, because response systems can be excellent. But the experience with the software has to be smooth, easy to work with, and time-efficient. And in this case it's not. It's actually easier to wheel in the laptop banks and get the students to work with an online polling system.

The end result is that bag of remote clickers is just another item on the pile of technological deadwood that accumulates in every school. The sad part is how much of that deadwood needn't be so.