Zen and the Art of Instructional Technology

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Updated 8/14/15

In her latest article, Lynn Zimmerman comments on Dian Schaffhauser’s “5 Essential Multimedia Skills Every Educator Must Master.” The skill that grabbed my attention is “Troubleshooting Your Own Tech.”

Troubleshooting is the most critical tech skill for 21st century teachers. Integrating tech into instruction invites “Trouble,” with a capital “T” no less. But it’s “good” trouble, the kind that extends our students’ reach into the world of web-based information and communications.

Technology is the proverbial can of worms, problems that mount as usage increases and deepens. Again, these are “good” problems, problems that come with the new territory that technology has opened up.

There’s no escaping the need to troubleshoot, or problem-solve. Teachers have to embrace the messiness that technology represents. They have to be willing to get their hands dirty, to pop the hood of hardware and software to see what the problem is, to futz with the parts to fix it, often with students looking over their shoulder and getting their hands dirty, too.

I’m not talking about repairing hardware or debugging software, although these are possibilities down the road. I’m talking about basic user-oriented skills such as setting up LMS and social media (SM) accounts, designing and developing course websites and resources, navigating the virtual learning environment, posting and commenting, participating in and moderating online forums, customizing settings, maintaining links, developing and maintaining static and interactive course webpages, integrating apps and SM such as Twitter and blogs into the teaching and learning process; intermediate skills such as coding in basic HTML to provide additional functions in apps, developing graphics and videos to facilitate learning, troubleshooting hardware and software usage and compatibility issues; and advanced skills such as continuously adapting hard and soft as well as traditional and new technology in innovative ways to enhance instruction and learning.

It’s important to stress that troubleshooting isn’t an exception, a one-time thing. It’s the norm in the world of instructional tech. It is an integral part of the process, which is continuous, dynamic, organic. When — not if — teachers run into problems, they should be able to fix them on their own. This ability to troubleshoot independently is critical because it gives them the skills they need to help their students, who will raise not only similar but a wider range of problems at a frequency that increases exponentially with class size. Referring most or all of these problems to IT specialists is simply out of the question. Instruction would never get off the starting line block.

It’s also important to note that technology is a “we” thing in the online or blended classroom, which means troubleshooting is a communal process. Everyone is at once a learner and a teacher, and the roles shift from moment to moment, from tech to tech. Thus, the ability to work collaboratively with colleagues, support staff, students, and others is essential.

A teacher who can’t or won’t troubleshoot will never be able to use tech in instruction. Total reliance on IT specialists to solve every tech problem is simply unsustainable.

But the good news is that once a teacher experiences the high that comes with getting under the hood and attacking a problem, s/he is on the road to becoming a DYOT (Do Your Own Tech) junkie. For a DYOTer, a problem is an invitation to learn, and with every mastery comes increased confidence and daring in trying out other technology.

Related article: Why Teaching Is No Longer Relevant in Online Courses and MOOCs

4 Responses

  1. With the new emphasis on engineering as part of the transition from science to STEM education, these remarks are particularly apt.

    The basis of engineering is simply design, build, test, and troubleshoot. It may seem as though designing, building, and testing are difficult, but they do not hold a candle to troubleshooting — which, BTW, is known as debugging in software engineering.

    For some troubleshooting is a grand experience. For others it feels like a trip to the dentist. For many, it’s both. I share that latter feeling. “Oh no, not another bug. Will I ever see the end of them?” Then, I dive in reluctantly just as you might dive into a pool with water of an unknown temperature. It’s never easy, but once I solve the problem and have beautifully functioning code again, I rejoice. It feels so good. However, I still cannot decide whether that good feeling is the absence of the previous pain or real pleasure. I guess that it’s both.

    • Harry, thanks for your comment. I should have made it clear that I’m not proposing that teachers become experts in developing and debugging software or in repairing hardware — although these skills may be attractive to some. I’m referring to user-oriented skills. I’ve updated the original article by adding a few paragraphs to clarify my intent. -Jim

      • I only wished to relate to my own experience. I did not intend to suggest that everyone troubleshoot at that level. For me, troubleshooting is almost an everyday experience. It comes with the territory, so to speak.

        Troubleshooting can apply to many fields. Many of us have had to troubleshoot relationships, for example. It simply means you have a problem to solve. If you are teaching online or F2F, you probably had a problem to solve at some time that was related to technology. You either solved it yourself or called for help. If you had help, you either learned from that experience so you could become more independent, or you didn’t. I hope you did.

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