Friday, July 13, 2007

Diffusion of Innovations

Educational institutions, not only at the primary and secondary levels but also in higher education, have invested significant amounts of time and money in educational technologies. Although the number of teachers adopting these technologies for use in their classrooms and in delivering courses/information online has been increasing, there still remains a large number who are reluctant to adopt them. Colleges and universities are inconsistent in their positions. Whereas many institutions are beginning to jump on the online learning bandwagon, many instructors still prefer face-to-face lecture mode in the classroom. Technology holds great potential for enhancing teaching; however, many administrators are left searching for effective ways to promote technology’s use to expand instructional methods. Instructors must be willing and able to use these tools.

In 1962, Everett M. Rogers summarized 405 research studies and published the book Diffusion of Innovations, formally defining diffusion of innovation theory. Diffusion is “the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system" and innovation as "an idea, practice, or project that is perceived as new by individuals or their unit of adoption" (pp. 10-11). Rogers based his diffusion of innovations theory on recognized theories in sociology, psychology, and communications.

According to Rogers, individuals within an organization do not adopt an innovation at the same time. Instead, they adopt over a sequence of time; therefore, individuals can be classified into adopter categories on the basis on when they first begin using an idea. Rogers theorized that innovations would spread through society in an S curve, as the early adopters use an innovation first, followed by the majority, until a technology or innovation becomes commonly used and accepted. He indicated that adopters of any new innovation or idea could be categorized as innovators (2.5%), early adopters (13.5%), early majority (34%), late majority (34%) and laggards (16%), based on a bell curve. Butler and Sellbom (2001) indicate that the rate of adoption follows a cumulative pattern, starting low and increasing until about half the population has adopted the innovation. Diffusion then decreases, eventually approaching zero, as nearly everyone has adopted the technology.

According to Rogers, adopters of all categories go through a five-stage process. First, the adopter is exposed to the innovation and gains knowledge and understanding. Then either individually or with the help of others, the adopter is persuaded to form a positive viewpoint about the innovation. Next, the adopter decides to try it out. If the innovation works, the adopter implements it, putting it to appropriate uses. Finally, the adopter’s experience confirms his/her decision and he/she continues to benefit from its use.

Where are you? Where am I? Well, it depends. Mostly, it depends on the group you're putting me in. In 1986, when I first started using a computer (an Apple IIgs) and then moved to a Mac, I was probably an innovator. I kept pushing to see how I could better use this new tool. In 1999, I earned my M.Ed. Through that program, I had been exposed to the Internet, to HyperCard, to Cable in the Classroom. The only Internet connection was in the College of Education’s main office (dial-up, of course). I was hooked.

I am constantly looking for ways to create a constructivist classroom—to help my students be critical thinkers. At South Aiken High School in 2000, there were only 15 computers located in the library available for teachers to bring their students in to use. I had at least 30 students in each class. Students worked in groups to complete WebQuests—a strategy I had found on one of my surfing adventures. Bernie Dodge had only coined that term in 1995. Because I am constantly surfing the web and open to new technological innovations, I am probably often an innovator (where I am) or an early adopter (in the population in general). My Director told me the other day that I was in the 21st century and many of the other teachers and staff where I work are still in the Stone Age. I see my job as bringing them at least into the 20th century. There are so many possibilities!!!

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