Occam's Razor, sort of . . .


"When you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better." I mention Occam's Razor not because it explains everything.  Or anything, for that matter.  Sometimes a reasonable philosophy is simply comforting.

I grew up with nosy neighbors on telephone party lines. The vertical hold on our black and white TV seemed to need constant adjustment. My worldview relied on the grainy newsreels and Felix the Cat (the wonderful, wonderful cat) with his magic bag and his odd nemesis, The Master Cylinder.  High tech? We believed in UFOs. They had high tech. We owned AM radios and Etch-a-Sketch. My relationship with this technology meant fumbling with brown knobs and beige buttons. Color TV finally arrived in our home and Disney's Wonderful World of Color blossomed in our lives.

The New Frontier would come along any day and bowl us over, but that was off in the 'near future', a prospect that got tangled up with our fears of nuclear war and Big Brother. You kept technology at arms' length because it just might make things worse.  It was going to confound you, make a fool of you; it would suck your lungs out or, in the very least, make you a robot or leave you in the dark. Such was the backdrop of my brave attempts to move forward with computers, the internet, smartphones, and social media.

Decades later, I find myself designing modules for blended learning, pushing forward resolutely into that brave new world. But as I work a nervous inner child breathes into a paper bag.
The most recent assignment for our NextGen Cadre proposed that we redesign a lesson module for a group review. The lesson would be explained with a Voicethread.  The Voicethread is a benign and friendly technology. Breath in, breath out. 

So . . . put the module pages into a slideshow . . . record the voiceover . . . turn the assignment in.  Simple, smooth. 

Hmmmm.  Maybe not so smooth.  Something, a gremlin, a ghost in the machine keeps adding dead air to my recording.  I try re-recording and it gets no better.  Breath in, count 1,2,3,4,5, breath out slowly. 

Try again.  More dead air.  It's the scream in deep space that no one can hear.  It makes a fool out of me. I'm certain the problem lies embedded in the hardware, or it plays an obfuscating game in the software. Obfuscating. And my perfect lesson, my beautifully planned, wonderfully overwrought lesson; my monumentally overachieved lesson!  It will plod along like a metronome.  Worse.  It will sound like this: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Where's the voice of reason? 
Where is Jiminy Cricket when you need him?
In full panic, I call the experts.  They'll know about gremlins. 
They ask, Are you using Google Chrome?
Did you, uh, click the save button? *

At this moment I need valium or potent philosophy.  I try philosophy. "When you have two competing theories  . . . (but I have nothing). . . that make exactly the same predictions  . . . (Occam never made a Voicethread!) . . . the simpler one is the better." 

Think.   No, stop thinking.   What if I--   Just turn the thing in flawed!   But what if?   No, no, no, no    Could it be?   I'm hyperventilating.   What if I record again and try . . . this stupid arrow thingy?   Duck and cover!   Could it be that simple?  Big Brother is watching . . .
Click!   
Huh?
No way .  . .
It works! 
It works?
It works!  It works!  It works!
Check it out!
It's not perfect, not perfectly smooth, but it was sooooo simple!

Sometimes the prior knowledge we bring to technology should be abandoned for a satisfying foray into the unknown.  If Occam could explain this, he would say that designers of our educational technology are not obscurantist geeks, but simple creatures like us. Their platform is designed to be used. Though it might be wise to keep a paper bag handy for those moments of terror, the best solution to the quandaries of blended learning is plunge in and noodle around until it does just what you want it to do.
Celebrate!
(really . . .celebrate -  Cue the overture from Fantasia!
* Not wanting to suspend the disbelief in the story, I add this note here. My experts are wonderful educators and incredibly supportive and wise.