Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fall Diary, August 19: Day 2 - thoughts on tech support

Today was Day 2 of the semester, with three assignments to do: a "Declaration" at Desire2Learn (really a quiz, but I relabel the Quiz tool as "Declarations" since it is the only kind of quiz I use), creating a Blogger blog, and posting a first Blogger post with images. You can see the assignments here: Orientation Week.

Since I have about 100 students, it's easy to do a percentage: I'd say that 95% of them had no problems at all. I think that's GREAT, so no complaints here. In fact, it's way better than I expected ... although, since this is my first time using Blogger with students, I wasn't really sure what to expect!

Of course, a few students did run into problems, and because the Blogger instructions are being used here for the first time, I was so grateful for their feedback in terms of being able to update the instructions to avoid confusion in the future. Biggest source of confusion: difference between creating a blog and a blog post. I shouldn't be surprised by that; for some years, I've noticed that students often use the word "blog" to refer to a blog post... but I didn't anticipate the way that would be a problem for the assignment instructions. Lesson learned.

One student also ran into terrible trouble because she put forward slashes into her blog title, and that was in turn a result of not understanding the difference between a blog and a post (she used today's date as the title of her blog). I think that was the cause of the problem ... to be honest, I'm still not completely sure what went wrong, but she was great about troubleshooting it, and she even added me as an admin temporarily on her blog. So, I'm pretty sure it was the forward slashes that caused the problem. I can say with 100% certainty that it was the weirdest Blogger problem I've ever seen (somehow the CSS would not load fully, with very bizarre consequences for blog display and functionality). But we got through it, and the blog is working just fine now! And I did learn that an admin can delete herself from a blog, so I was able to delete myself instead of asking her to go in and delete me after we were done troubleshooting.

That problem is a good case in point, though. The student needed timely intervention and expert help to solve the problem, and she was understandably stressed about it. If she had had to wait a long time and/or if we had not found a solution to her problem, that would have been a really negative experience for her, and I would have felt very badly about it too.

Luckily for me, though, I can usually provide tech support in a timely and reliable way.

Timely. Since I teach fully online and only online, I'm available M-F to help students in a very timely way. I don't provide that kind of support on evenings/weekends, but the students know that they can get pretty much instant access to me during the regular work week for any question they have, no matter how random, and for serious problems of course I'm willing to work with students on evenings and weekends too... but that almost never happens.

Reliable. I try to make sure that I have personal experience and at least some technical expertise in the tools that I recommend or require students to use for these classes. And I will confess that I actually enjoy troubleshooting a problem because it allows me to extend that experience and expertise, which will thus allow me to do an even better job in the future.

Some faculty might expect to the IT Helpline to provide all the tech support for their students, but that seems to me like expecting the Writing Center to provide all the writing instruction. There are some things that we just need to do as faculty members using technology for academic/professional purposes, and one of those things (I believe) is to help our students learn to use technology for academic/professional purposes too. It's obviously at the beginning of the semester when students require extra support, so I anticipate spending that extra time at the beginning of the semester. And at least so far, it really hasn't been bad at all.

Plus, it's good for the brain! Critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills: you need ALL of them to troubleshoot a computer problem.

Meanwhile, about this analogy between tech support and writing support, I actually have more to say, but I'll save that for tomorrow.

For now, I'll close with one of my all-time favorite computer cartoons:

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