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Boiling frogs, GoogleApps and school change

The boiling frog story is a widespread anecdote describing a frog slowly being boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability of people to react to significant changes that occur gradually. Wikipedia

It seems like GoogleApps adds or changes a feature weekly. In the last couple weeks alone Google had introduced a format painting tool to GoogleDocs, added a new category of sharing - Comment only, and now allows users to merge cells in its spreadsheet program. Over the past couple of months, the look of Apps has become very clean and utilitarian. It hardly looks like the program we introduced to our staff less than two years ago.

Microsoft on the other hand tends to make all its upgrades in one fell swoop each time a new version is published. While many of the changes are welcome, they seem to cause a good deal of confusion and re-learning since so many come all at one time. And heaven help us all when we have to introduce a whole new program. A change in student information systems, web hosting sites, or even telephone systems can cause major disruptions in the work of school staff. 

As the tech director, I work with a few folks who would be happy to still be using AppleWorks, Eudora, Netscape, and Windows 1.0. Change is not always, uh, well received. But like the frog in the pan of slowly rising temps, these folks are willing to stay in when the changes are incremental. Thank you, Google.

How far can we carry this rising temp vs. direct to boiling metaphor and school change? More than few tech pundits are ready for School 2.0 right now. While others (like me) are happy when current programs gets small, consistent upgrades each year - evolution rather than revolution.

What's better for kids? for teachers? for society? I struggle with one a lot.

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Reader Comments (4)

I think the reaction of the frogs really depends on the pond. My district seamlessly moved to Google Mail, Docs, Apps, and Sites. We dropped First Class Mail, all iWork and Microsoft Office license renewals. Students go back and forth from Noodletools to Docs and not too many of us miss the old world (which depended a lot on thumb drives). The pdf. format of transferring documents seems to mesh with the outside world. My pond is pretty techie, though, and we give each other lots of support.
I also teach Literacy to grad students and, though I love them, they seem to be a pond of turtles. They balk at Web 2.0. Still so paper driven!
Doug, see you at conference in Syracuse in November - Looking forward to meeting you!

September 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVicki Reutter

Meh. Depends on the group of kids or teachers. (I ain't touching society; it scares me, especially lately.) Some kids and teachers can adapt readily to large scale, wholesale changes, while others need the heat turned up gradually. I recently started using a Google calendar for our teachers who host our 40 laptop carts. They use the calendar to show where the cart is at any given time, and when it is available. Epic Fail. I have shared the calendar with all 40 teachers, but only 6 of them have their carts scheduled. I posted an instructional video and I've sent out an email with step-by-step directions, but many of them either choose not to use the tool or cannot use it.

I am at a loss; I threw the frogs in the pot of boiling water, and most of them bailed. Aside from taking the carts back and scheduling them myself (AAAACK!), I don't know what to do.

Any ideas?

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLen

This is a great post! I'd say I favor incremental evolution in software (as you describe google v. microsoft approach) and revolution in hardware. We can't ever seem to get on a cycle that is fast enough for folks so we're moving towards bring-your-own-device. With hardware it's always about speed, resolution, memory and while you'd think we've reached some sort of threshold where more doesn't matter, I'm in favor of getting the most we can afford as quickly as possible. We just added robust wireless in half our district and expectations for more are already through the roof, but we also upgraded to Office 2010 and freaked everyone out. Soo...slow change with the soft tools, and revolution in the hardware.

As for society, I'm a believer in the sunk cost fallacy model. Just like facebook...if they make a bunch of changes we don't like, incremental or otherwise, we may still hang in because we've already put so much time in.

@Len - we've tried different scheduling options and we actually found a shared google spreadsheet to work better than calendar and an entirely different free product: PhpScheduleIt to work best. I'm at a loss to explain the psychology behind it beyond saying that when people schedule things they want to see every item and every brick of time in a single view, so they can feel they're choosing the best option.

September 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDan Davenport

Hi Vickie,

Thanks for the observation. See you Syracuse!


Hi Len,

For the truly change resistant I've found the only thing that works is to make the old way of doing something more inconvenient that the new way. When we started making teachers walk to the office to pick up their paper bulletin, they then accepted reading it via email.


Hi Dan,

I LOVE the sunk cost fallacy. We are very reluctant to cut our losses, aren't we?

The iPad is a good example of radical hardware change. We are still struggling with management issues with the dang thing!


September 30, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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