Betty Crocker Syndrome: How Many Eggs?

In the 1950s, some scientists and cooks discovered they could assemble, combine, package, and safely store a mixture of all the ingredients needed to bake a cake. The customer, most likely a housewife, was expected to appreciate the ease with which she could turn on the oven, empty the package into a pan, put the pan into the oven, set a timer, and take the finished cake out after the specified time.
However, the marketers learned that very few housewives responded as expected. Most felt they weren't being allowed to do enough to make their own "homemade" cake. So the company removed some of the ingredients from the mix and changed the instructions.
Now the purchasers needed to add a few other ingredients (some liquids, eggs, etc.). And Betty Crocker cake mixes sold like hot cakes—er, cake mixes. So what d'es this have to do with improving teaching and learning with technology in higher education in 2002?
Well, I like to cook, but I would prefer to use a cake mix without having to add any ingredients at all. Or, if I'm in the mood and have plenty of time, I would prefer to make the cake from scratch and improvise on a basic recipe. I know people who would always prefer one of these two extremes. I also know even more people who are quite satisfied with the way cake mixes work. And I know a married couple who use their vacations to take expert pastry cooking classes offered by famous chefs in different cities around the world. You see, even with cakes, a variety of options is necessary to meet the different needs and preferences of all those who might want to bake.
Something similar is happening with the ways in which new applications of information technology are being used in teaching and learning. Everett Rogers, author of Diffusion of Innovations, and his followers have suggested that the "early adopters" of innovations are different from "mainstream" users. Distinctions among other more sharply defined categories may be useful, too.
In the past decades, we have seen how the "pioneers" enjoy trying new technology applications. Many take pride in their ability to "fix" the unreliable new tools. Most are comfortable, even pleased, with the necessity to modify early versions of new products to serve their own teaching goals. Publishers or others who produce the technology applications are eager to hear complaints and suggestions from these pioneers and incorporate some of their suggestions into later versions.
Yet, mainstream faculty members are too busy with other interests and obligations to devote much time or attention to learning new technologies. They prefer a cake mix that requires adding just a few easily measured ingredients.
And what about the "freeway flyers"—the adjunct faculty members who are trying to make a living by teaching part-time at three different colleges? What about the full-time faculty at many community colleges and teaching colleges who routinely teach five courses per term? These folks need a cake mix that can be popped directly into the oven and baked while the "cook" eats a microwavable TV dinner.
So what is the point? In professional development, as in most of life, there is no one size that fits all. As I explained in an earlier column, there is a new imperative for many colleges and universities to engage almost all of the faculty in improving teaching and learning with information technology. So what any college or university needs is a combination of enough options to meet the needs and predilections of the vast majority of the faculty.

Steven W. Gilbert joined the American Association for Higher Education as director of technology projects in July 1993. He founded the TLT Group as the Teaching, Learning, and Technology Affiliate of AAHE in January 1998. He was previously vice president of EDUCOM, where he created and led the Educational Uses of Information Technology program and the EDUCOM Software Initiative. He also moderates the Internet Listserv TLT-SWG. gilbert@tltgroup.org

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