Sophie Software: To Adopt, or Not to Adopt?

sophie-icon(Digest: Teaching Sophie at DMAC. A lot of discussion–championing AND bemoaning–about adopting Sophie at home institutions. Technology decisions are political decisions. Four part heuristic: ubiquity, performance, economics, politics. Teaser.)

I spent much of the day here at DMAC yesterday teaching a relatively new design software tool called Sophie.

Sophie is software for writing and reading rich media documents in a networked environment. Initially designed and developed under the auspices of the Institute for the Future of the Book, Sophie is currently being significantly revised and improved, thanks to a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation in the fall of 2008. Sophie 2.0, with added features and improved stability, will debut October 15, 2009.

Sophie’s goal is to open up the world of multimedia authoring to a wide range of people and institutions and in so doing, redefine the notion of a book or academic paper to include both rich media and mechanisms for reader feedback and conversation.”

I have to say that people’s attitudes about the software are, at best… well… mixed. I’d like to use this blog entry as an excuse to reflect on how this diversity of hopes, disappointments, frustrations, and other attitudes might be an opportunity to get scholars in our field thinking about technology choices (pedagogical, administrative, scholarly) as political acts which directly affect the material conditions of our classrooms, institutions, and disciplinary discourse.

Everyday, we consider how we are going to deal with a given technology in our everyday professional lives. Will we require (or at least facilitate) a specific piece of software for a course assignment? Are we going to adopt a proprietary or opensource course management system? Will we work to produce scholarship for born-digital journals, even though they have significantly less cache than similar print journals? I see these questions as really important. And inevitable. We DO make them everyday.

And the situation we find ourselves in here at DMAC seems to be perfect for thinking through this sort of a decision. Each participant here, when he/she returns home, must decide whether or not to use or argue for Sophie at his/her own institution, classroom, or scholarship. And I’m wondering if there might not be some sort of heuristic that can be suggested for thinking through this decision.

My first impulse is to argue for a heuristic along four axes:

Ubiquity. How common is this technology? How well does/might this technology circulate among students, faculty, and administrators? How common or easy to access is the technology necessary to compose with the technology? How common is the technology necessary to read/experience the texts it produces? Does the technology appear to be an emerging, dominant, or residual presence within the scope of composing technologies? How might the adoption of the technology be perceived from administrators, colleagues, and students? How well does this technology integrate with existing technologies (soft- and hardware)?

Performance. How well does this technology perform in light of competing technologies? How well does it perform the basic tasks of objectives relevant to our discipline? How might the adoption of this technology affect the objectives of our discipline? Is the technology reliable and stable? How reliable is the source of the technology? What sort of technical/installation/troubleshooting/training is available for this technology?

Economics. What sorts of expenses are involved in the adoption of this technology (installation, training, support)? What are the expenses associated with its alternative? How do those expenses affect the already unequal distribution of resources-access across institutions?

Politics. What sort of politics does the technology forward? If it is proprietary, how do the goals of the proprietor align with the objectives of our discipline, our institutions, administrators, colleagues, and students? What are the core values of the proprietor, and how are those relevant to the decisions we’re making about the technology? Is the technology opensource?

Of course there are lots of other questions which are relevant, and these seem to overlap quite a bit in spots, but I think this is at least a good starting point for thinking through the way we make technology decisions. Hopefully, I’ll be able to follow up on this post as DMAC begins to close. Maybe even take an interview and post it here. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about instances where you may have had a hand in making a decision about technology adoption in your own scholarship, classroom, or institution. I would love it if you might post a response, or even better… post a link here back to your own blog post discussing it. Soon, then…