Sunday, September 12, 2010

Teaching with digital media: a small point

Julia has just reminded me of a fact. Well, two facts. One is that I often make plugs for things like Twitter and blogs in teaching. But lest I seem like one of those utopian Technology Will Solve Everything techno-hippies, I want to trot out the other fact, too:

If you teach with digital media, you are signing up to be tech support.

You might not want to hear it, but there it is. With college first-years who may have just received their first laptop, you might even have to do a little handholding with ye olde Microsoft Word, or explain to someone how to rename files. (Oh dear.)

But it's even more the case if you use course software, Google docs, Twitter, or any other program that the students haven't used before. (Especially if your course software has a clumsy interface *ahem* *cough* not talking about UCB of course.) If you're reading this blog, you probably don't think it's possible to be confused about how to sign up for a Twitter account. But if you're not in the habit of signing up for accounts, it can indeed be confusing.*

I actually don't think this is a bad thing--or at least, it's not a good reason not to teach with digital media. It's important for students to develop facility with computers and the web, and they have to pick it up somewhere. For me, teaching first-years has been a crash course in the falsity of the idea of the "digital native." But instead of panicking, we can do what we do -- that is, teach. My meager knowledge gets me pretty far. The classic XKCD flowchart describes pretty well what I usually do, and as it points out, if I'm stumped, there's always Google.

So while it's a little unnerving to find oneself playing tech support (and if you've required your students to do something online, you do have to do it at least a little), it's also pretty manageable as long as you set boundaries.

And in a pinch, there's always, you know, real tech support.

It's a little frightening how many people will look on you as some kind of tech guru simply because you have the IT support person's email address on a Post-It on your desk. But there it is, like the tech support you'll undoubtedly be giving.

*I won't lie; configuring my first Wordpress blog led to tears.


skg said...

Interesting to know that my five- to eight-year old experience during teaching of offering tech support for online office hours, held via instant messaging service (choice of two), is itself not yet outmoded.

The less technology-friendly the person over thirty-five, the more they want to believe that those young'uns eat and drink contemporary tech like water, or perhaps like Mountain Dew Jolt Red Bull what's the current energy drink of with-it preference, again? (35 isn't randomly chosen; it's the latest cutoff I know for GenX, whose range seems to vary a bit, as well as the pivot point for allllllllmost having been able to grow up with a personal computer if one's family had both money and interest in such newfangled gadgetry.)

skg said...

Hmm, the Blogger interface refused <s> and <del>, both of which are permissible HTML, then allowed <strikethrough> but didn't render it. Fail.

Natalia said...

Yes, there are many ways in which Blogger fails. I'll probably move to Wordpress soonish, although I still maintain that Wordpress gives people like me less control.

The few times I've used online office hours it's worked great.

Julia Bloch said...

Another unforeseen consequence: Twitter apparently enables my impulse to bombard (spam?) my students with additional info. We'll see how that goes over.

Natalia said...

It's both a good and a bad thing that it's so easy to ignore Twitter...