Blog Post

Troubleshooting in the Classroom: Digital Pedagogy and Problem Solving

Teaching and doing DH in the classroom, in my short experience teaching with blogs and digital media in the last 5 years, is all about troubleshooting with the added complications of making something work for a group, not just for your own research purposes. You don't need to just teach yourself how to do something, you have to teach 35 (or however many) students, all with different experiences with technology and possibly with different computers, platforms, qualities of wireless Internet access, and learning styles. While this can feel horrendously challenging because you are responsible for making something work for so many people, trouble shooting with your class can actually create wonderful class bonding moments, especially early in the semester, that help set the tone for collaborative and cooperative learning as the semester continues.

To get myself and my colleagues mentally "psyched" to take on the challenges of digital pedagogy as fall semester 2012 starts, I have listed 4 ways that we can think of error messages and "failures" as productive and experiences worth having with your class. I have to say I try to be brave and include some new technology or a new program each semester, and with this exploration and experimentation always comes difficulties.I find it useful to keep these things in mind:

1. When you fail, you fail together as a class and when you figure it out, you succeed together as a class. It gets students talking to one another and to you, even if it is about error messages, broken links, or uncooperative programs.

2. Give students a certain grace period to mess around and play with the technology before they have to be held accountable for it working. This makes it fun and risk-free to play around with technology and gives them a period in which failing is okay and even, perhaps, expected. For example, I always have students tell me when we work in Wordpress, "I swear I hit the publish button and I don't know why my post didn't publish" when really a student either didn't do the assignment on time or they just saved a draft of a post instead of publishing it -- a skill I teach them during the first week of class. I usually give my students 2+ weeks and a few practice assignments before I hold them accountable for publishing on time or making another program/platform work properly for the class. During the trial period, I encourage students to try and upload youtube links, images, music files, and more, and to figure out what they don't know how to do but would like to be able to do. I hold mini in-class lessons to teach students the Wordpress skills that they need and want to do their work for class.

3. You can teach the idea of trouble shooting just like you teach the idea of drafting. So of course, as we know, tech usually fails when we need it most, and so teaching students to trouble shoot in advance is like teaching them to draft their essays and improve upon the way they convey their message to the reader, and also like teaching students to use drop box or to back up their work in some other way -- it's something that you need to know how to do in order to survive in a tech-driven educational environment and publishing world. You have to be able -- or learn how to -- to systematically investigate error messages or failures and use the Wordpress help forum or google questions on teh internet to find answers. Teaching trouble shooting like drafting turns those moments where technology won't cooperate into an important teachable event.

4. Encourage new experts in your class to help you figure out problems and teach the solutions: Students like to help each other out and share their ideas when they have figured how to make something work that other students cannot do. I also always ask if there are computer science students in the classroom or those who like to program for a hobby -- 9 times out of 10, someone is or does, and they love to share their knowledge usually. This empowers students to know that if the learn something important and communicate that information to the class, they will be valued by their classmates as well as their teacher.

How have you incorporatd trouble shooting and DH "failures" into your courses?


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