This has really got me thinking. Take, for example the opening page of BYU’s Math 110 independent study course, entitled Special Instructions. Time-on-page for these users seemed fairly cleanly [though not evenly] split between those who simply skipped or made a quickly-abandoned attempt at scanning the page [spending 30 seconds or less] and those who put forth the rather ponderous 4 minute [an eternity online] effort to read the entire page. If 75% of our users really are “scanners” [then again, we only think we know this] then perhaps they [and, for that matter, we] would get more out of our site if we designed the content to be scanned.
This could easily be perceived as a sort of digital “dumbing down” of electronic content to match the behavior patterns of “typical” Internet users; something news outlets, entertainment and commercial sites of necessity engage in, but a game institutions of higher learning should never stoop to play. After all, isn’t it part of our mission to facilitate the refinement of minds, the development of skills like perception, analysis and articulation?
I would answer, of course! But is that really why we’ve written the courses the way we have? Did we design these pages with the object of preparing our students to read scholarly literature, to give them practice distilling principles and concepts from narrative, to test their intellectual endurance? Or was it just because this way was easier? Because it’s the way we’ve always done it, or even, perhaps, because it makes us feel smart? It’s a question that must be answered, and honestly, if the vast propagation of open and online learning resources is to have the impact it could—and in my mind, should—have on the global landscape.