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Examples of Change

Here are some examples of changes that are in process right now--things that you can read about just about every week in newspapers or hear about on TV news:

1. genetically engineered foods--vegetables, grains--MacDonald's frying non-genetically potatoes in oil from genetically engineered grains
2. using the internet to order groceries and other stuff--Webvan
3. Francophone African countries starting to emphasize English (as well as French) in their educational systems--Cote D'Ivoire
4. breaking up Microsoft or some other way of changing its monopoly
5. fashion and design--every year, new clothing styles are "in" or "out"--we can look at photographs from only a few years ago and tell that they are "old" because of the styles of clothing--and hair cuts--styles come and go in how we are supposed to do our hair
6. and advertisements for hundreds of new products--that are better, faster, cheaper, tastier....

Scholars who study innovation analyze changes that have occurred--and attempts at change that have failed--to understand better the patterns of change in human societies. These studies help us to understand our own experiences and observations as members of families, cultures, countries, and our profession. Why do some curriculum changes happen quickly? Why are some textbooks successful? Why do some teachers deal with changes more easily and happily than other teachers? Why do some ESL students welcome innovative classroom activities while other students reject them? 

One of the most interesting and comprehensive of these studies of innovation is a book by Everett Rodgers called Diffusion of Innovations.  This book has been so influential that it is now in its 4th edition--and is widely studied in U.S. universities. 

I want us to think about change for two reasons:  First, this course is going to be a change for many of you in the way that you study and learn.  You'll have many reactions to the process and need to think about how changes occur for you and for our profession.  Second, you yourself are going to be an agent of change.  By getting a graduate degree in TESL/TEFL/Applied Linguistics, you are moving into a position of educational leadership wherever you might teach.  To be effective in that role, you must think about change--what it is, how it happens, how it affects the lives of everyone involved in the change process.

This semester in this web-based course you will experience changes.  Some of them will be easy to handle.  Some will be difficult.  I hope that as we go along we can work together to make the new way of studying and learning as effective as possible for you.  I hope even more that you will use this process to reflect on change in your life and your work--and on the most effective ways for you to implement changes in the work that you do as a teacher and a teacher-trainer.

& Patterns of Change

Research reported by Rodgers confirms a pattern that seems to fit our common experience of the ways in which changes happen.  We start with "knowledge of the new thing or idea" and then move through stages that can lead ultimately to adopting the change or rejecting it.  Here are the stages we go through in the change process. 

Stages of Change

1. Knowlege Stage: becoming aware of the possibility of a new way of doing something

2. Persuasion Stage: being convinced that the new way is better than what you have been doing 

3. Decision Stage: deciding to give the change a try or having an authority figure make that decision for you

4. Implementation Stage: putting the new method into action

5. Confirmation Stage:  Deciding to continue with the new way or to return to the old

& Reactions to Change

Research confirms another everyday observation: People react to change in different ways.  Some people come up with new ideas--they are innovators.  In addition to innovators, we can divide ourselves into the categories listed here (Rodgers, 1994, pp. 252-280):

Adopter Categories

1. Innovators Innovators are the inventors, the people who create new ideas and new products 

Generally there are very few of these people in any society or sub-group in a society. Innovators make up about 2.5% of any society.

2. Early Adopters Early adopters like new ideas and products. They take the ideas of the innovators and try them out. Often they are willing to put up with lots of inconveniences to give an innovation a chance to succeed. There are more Early Adopters than Innovators but Early Adopters are still a small proportion of any group.  Early adopters make up about 13.5% of any society.
3. Early Majority Early majority refers to a much bigger group of people. They watch what happens with the Early Adopters and if they like what they see they will adopt the change, too. Generally, they make changes slower than the Early Adopters, but they do not resist change and make changes for positive reasons. 

The Early Majority makes up about 34% of any society.  In any change process, a change has been adopted by about 50% of a group when the Early Majority accept the change.

4. Late Majority Members of the Late Majority do not really like change very much and wait as late as possible to make a change. These people make changes for negative reasons--they don't like being left behind or they don't want to be out of fashion. 

The Late Majortiy makes up about 34% of any society.  In a change process, when the Late Majority accept a change approximately 80-90% of the group has accepted the change.

5. Laggards Laggards do not accept the change. Even when everyone else in their group has gone along with the change, they do not. 

We have to be careful not to think that Laggards are bad or always wrong. Some changes should be resisted. Laggards make up about 16% of any society.

Reasons That I've Adopted This New Way of Teaching

Students and colleagues have asked me to explain the reasons that I wanted to have this graduate class on the Web in the WebCt format. Here's my explanation given in the terms used by Rodgers to explain innovations.

Knowledge: I've used the web for research and as a portion of my classes for several years. 

Persuasion: After reading about web-based teaching, using the web for support of classes, and attending conference presentations about other teachers who have taught on the web, I was convinced that our department needed to move to add web-based courses to our curriculum. I talked with the members of our faculty about the web, and we all agreed that I should go ahead with this innovation.

Decision: I talked with the members of our faculty about the web, and we all agreed that I should go ahead with this innovation. But I hesitated to begin because I knew that preparing the course would be hugely time-consuming for me. After attending a conference at the University of Wisconsin on web-based courses in the summer of 1999, I decided that I could not delay any longer and set up the first web-based course for the spring of 2000.

Implementation: I implemented the course during the fall semester 1999 by learning about WebCt and by starting to prepare materials to put into the WebCt environment. To help me with that process, I had a graduate student do an independent study on the use of multiple choice testing on the web; together we created most of the quizzes that are now part of the course. She also helped me to think through the organization of the course and the sessions that make up the course. In addition, I had to continue writing lessons and putting them on the web as the course was implemented in the spring of 2000. 

Based on feedback from the students in that first experience of having a course entirely on the web, I made changes in the course. For example, students wanted to have the PowerPoint materials on a CD because those files are so big that they take a very long time to download on the computer for people working at home. Or for another example, students wanted to have the project papers have earlier deadline dates so that they didn't end up delaying doing the work until the end of the term--and having too much to do at the end of the semester. I also wanted to have more communication between students and me about the grammar lectures--so I added a requirement for individuals to email questions and comments each session.

Confirmation: Confirmation or rejection of the change will not be a final decision for at least 2 more years. Technology is changing rapidly--as is access to that technology by graduate students. No final decision about the usefulness or effectiveness of web-based courses can be made until more students have had the experience. When I first required students to use email back in the early 1990s, many students didn't like the technology and were reluctant users of that method for communication. Now it's very rare for a student not to be actively using email for personal as well as professional communication. 

Please send me your questions and comments at  What kinds of changes are you involved with now? What changes do you see happening in our profession? What roles will you take in helping change to occur in the teaching of ESL/EFL? I look forward to learning about your ideas and expectations. Thanks.


Advanced Scientific and Technical Writing--Diffusion of Innovations: Background and Notes. Information from a course on technical writing at the University of Arizona.

The Innovation Diffusion Game

Rodgers, Everett M.  (1995).  Diffusion of innovations.  4th ed.  NY: The Free Press.
Vehovar, Vasja, Batagelj, Zenel, and Lozar, Katja.  (1999). Language as a Barrier.  This conference paper is about the linguistic barriers to the spread of the WWW.