Monday, 10 January 2011

Simplicity is the Last Refuge of the Complex

NOT SO long ago, I set up a social network for my school.

I had run a single class trial the previous semester and it had been a great success.

Back then, I'd used a simple blog.

It had done the job, but it didn't really allow me to offer a full-on Web 2.0 experience.

If I wanted that, I needed to organise a proper social network with all the bells and whistles only it could provide.

I shopped around, looking at various different providers - Ning, Edmodo, Spruz, and others.

In the end, I plumped for Mixxt.

It seemed to offer the most functionality for the least buck.

Functionality was very important to me, I recall.

I wanted to be able to do everything.

Having set it all up, I went about the school proselytising to anyone who would listen.

They were amazed.

I showed them digital storytelling, poll and quiz-making, Grooveshark jukeboxes, Prezis, collaborative tools - the works.

Most of the school signed up within the first two weeks.

They were amazed.

And did nothing.

A few made their own blogs, a few more made stories, several more than that did some quizzes, but the bulk did nothing.

They didn't even leave a comment.

I was amazed.

Why, I asked some pre-experienced students, had only one of them looked at the video they had made which was posted on the site.

It's too complicated, they said.

We can't find it.

It's too difficult.

But you're young, I said.

You were suckled on Facebook.

You're digital natives.

But they weren't; it was just me and a few others.

For everyone else, it was a digital jungle and they didn't have a machete.

This is why people like Apple products - they simplify stuff.

Other phones, pads, mp3 players have more features, more functionality.

But that's their mistake.

People like simple.

So next time I build a social network for my students, I won't build a social network at all.

I'll set up a blog with no passwords, no features, and one blank page.

Because I'd rather engage all of my students with very little, than a few of them with a lot.


  1. Hi Tony

    I think you've hit the problem with the whole Web 2.0 thing - there is so much out there, and very little of it is easy to use. I'm always saddened about how few business English teachers are using twitter for example, or the BESIG Ning pages. But I can understand why - it's just too much hassle getting to know another system which will probably be replaced in a year or two.

  2. Hi Evan,
    Yes, some of these things do require a small investment of time and effort, but, particularly with Twitter, it soon pays dividends
    Hopefully, though, with the programme lined up for the BESIG Ning this year, there will be an explosion of interest.

  3. Hi Tony,
    I've had the same experience, from Blogger to Wikispaces and Moodle to Ning. Ergo I think the hurdle is not so much the handling of any platform as the practice of learners putting themselves out there in a foreign language and in the formal context of a course. In a group of 20 to 25 students, maybe 2-3 will get off on doing stuff online from the outset, and post loads. Not doing anything on the platform is like not raising your hand in class. Needs nurturing so it doesn't feel like you're an alpha teacher's pet.

  4. Hi Anne,
    That's very interesting as I've been wondering if I've been doing too much nurturing - posting too much content, offering too much praise, encouraging people too much. I know it sounds a bit strange but I wonder if the Web 2.0 generation don't like their hands being held too much.
    Anyway, many thanks for you thoughts.

  5. Holding hands might just be an anthropological constant ;) On Ning and Moodle I find myself sending DMs to "keep my voice down".

  6. Ha! I hope you get good replies!