Goodbye, Satellite

We are discontinuing our satellite TV subscriptions, which brought French, Spanish, and Japanese television programming into the classroom for the past seven years. Web video has largely replaced the need for live television. A teacher who wants to present students with authentic vocabulary, regional accents, or international current events need only visit a country news website or search for specific content on YouTube.

While this change may seem relatively inconsequential, I find it notable that we are actually discontinuing a technology service on campus. It can often be difficult to convince users of a service that its end has come. When a new technology arrives, often a certain proportion of users adopt the new technology quickly. Penetration increases rapidly enough that it may seem only a matter of time until everyone is using the new technology. In reality, adoption usually plateaus at a certain level, sometimes just a small fraction of all users, sometimes a majority, and in rare occasions nearly everyone.

Most technologies reach peak penetration and then eventually decline, as users lose interest, or the technology does not live up to its initial promise, or a newer technology comes along and takes its place. Still, a certain proportion of users find comfort in continued use of that technology, and this at which point it can be difficult to discontinue a service. Some number of people still rely on that technology and want the school to continue providing it.

With satellite television, peak penetration was fairly low, because the service was limited to foreign language television, and so only the language teachers used it. In addition, only the upper (high) school was cabled for satellite TV in the first place. When use declined, only one or two teachers continued to use TV in the classroom, and they were very gracious in recognizing that it would not be cost-effective to continue subscription and maintenance for just a couple of classrooms.

Contrast this with teacher voicemail extensions. Our current phone system has been in place for seven years. All employees have a phone extension, but most teachers of eighth grade and below do not have a physical phone. They have a voicemail-only extension. Use of voicemail-only extensions has declined sharply, as teachers and parents now communicate mostly by email. However, it will take more work than for satellite TV to consult with a larger user base and reach an informed decision on changing our telephone practice.

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