Entry Cost

I recently started using Instapaper on a recommendation from Scott McLeod via Twitter. In a nutshell, Instapaper allows you to save local copies of web pages for later viewing on multiple devices (e.g., iPad/iPhone, Kindle, etc), turn said pages into simpler text objects, and organize everything in a sharable, socially friendly structure. Now, if you’re like me you need another web-link-organizer-saver-sharer like a hole in the head. Within the recent past, I’ve used Diigo, StumbleUpon, Delicious, Xmarks, Clipmarks, and Zotero for essentially the same function. What make Instapaper stick for me is it’s minimalist mentality and the related low entry cost for getting started with it. Although I loath registering for one more “account”, I was willing to do it based almost solely on the minimalist design of their front page. With one click-through, one encounters the best account sign-up page I’ve ever seen. I mean, who doesn’t love an account entry box that says, “You can enter whatever you want here.”

“You can enter whatever you want here.”

After entering whatever you want to identify your account, you put the automatic “Read Later” button in your bookmarks toolbar and you’re ready to archive the web one page at a time.

So the larger and more important question for all of us is what is the entry cost for your students to actively engage in your class, course, or online learning environment? Why is it that our educational system is often full of barriers and off-beat nomenclature and impersonal “systems” when the ultimate goal is to get people in the game, learning and growing? For so many years, I drew my teaching philosophy from this arcane approach to educating thinking, feeling humans. My implicit philosophy was that my students need to be naturalized into my system of learning, my system of evaluation, and my organizational structure to really engage in my class. Inabilities to or blatant ignorance of this philosophy was often met with a terse “read the syllabus” (you know, the 10-page document that I haven’t fully read in quite a while) or a similar retort. Now I’m not saying that student personal responsibility is worthless or that boundaries are unnecessary because they are – some level of government is needed and so are rules. The problem lies in our thinking that students just don’t care when they don’t fully adopt OUR philosophy or play by OUR rules. If I love my content area and think it will change everyone’s life who meaningfully engages with it, then shouldn’t I make it as easy as possible for students to get in the “game”? Shouldn’t I keep the entry barriers to a bare minimum and suffer a bit of squireliness (for lack of a better word) so that students can quickly and easily engage with what’s most important about my class? Shouldn’t I design my class or online learning space to be as minimal, intuitive, and inviting as is possible? Shouldn’t I bend a bit for the uninitiated (e.g., non-traditional student in whatever form you see that as) to show that I deeply care about their staying around and getting the most out of what I have to offer? In case you’re counting, that’s yes, yes, yes, and yes. Ironically, Instapaper communicated something to me that many of my human teachers didn’t: “I care about you and hope you get the most out of this experience.”

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