July 1, 2015
Each day at my job brings fresh evidence of the limits of my abilities. Today, my biggest failure was falling victim to my own audiovisual (AV) inattention blindness.
Here is what happened. I had a Skype call planned. One person Skyping in from Russia. Four of us local. The plan was for the 4 local people to be in one room.
The room that we were planning to use for the Skype call is a gorgeous space. Well outfitted with AV equipment for both Skyping and high-end video conferencing. Excellent cameras. A big monitor and a confidence monitor. A sound system that is wired so that audio is really clear on both Web meetings and video conferencing.
Today, however, things were not working well. One of the monitors was not working, and I could not figure out how to get the correct camera working. Most of the problem today getting the Skype call to work with the room AV was user error. My error.
But suffice to say, I could not get the AV working right for doing a Skype call using the built in cameras, monitors, and sound system.
Did I leave enough time to make sure everything was working? What do you think? Like every person with “Digital” in their title, I have more faith in my technical abilities than is warranted by reality. Of course I thought I’d be able to make the technology work. I am, after all, a technology professional.
The real kicker in all this is that I didn’t really need to use the built in high-end room AV. Setting my laptop on a table, and using the built in webcam and microphone and speaker, works just great. I was so focused on using all the room AV technology that I was unable to see the simpler solution (my laptop and a table) that I was literally holding in my hands.
At some point, (3 minutes before the planned call), I realized that going the laptop route was the way to go. My 3 other colleagues filed into the room. Our colleague in Russia joined the Skype meeting. Everything was great.
Fancy technology can blind us to simple solutions. We can anchor on the belief that we need to use the full capabilities of our technologies, where in reality a simpler approach will get the job done.
It may even be that more complicated technologies blind us to more effective solutions. We focus on the means, and not the ends. Our attention abilities are more limited than we can admit or even understand. If we are focused on making the technology work we may take our eyes off why we are using the technology in the first place.
A great book about inattention blindness is The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us. (Check out my review of the book).
I’m not sure that the concept of inattention blindness has been applied specifically to the use of audio visual equipment in academic settings.
Perhaps one lesson from my failure today is that classroom AV should be kept as simple as possible. It may be that we are better off with less classroom tech if that classroom tech is simple, easy, and foolproof.
Will the clients of the people who put AV in the classroom be willing to live with less? No DVD player? Maybe less ability to do fancy things with multiple screens? Do classrooms really need built in video conferencing technologies?
Could less be more with classroom AV?
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