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.
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
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.
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. firstname.lastname@example.org