In my final week of reflection on ISTE Students Standards for my graduate work in Digital Education Leadership at Seattle Pacific University, I am focused on ISTE 6: Technology operations and concepts. I also encourage you to check out my previous posts from the quarter on ISTE Students Standards 1, 2, 3, and 4. ISTE Standards for Students 6, asks students to demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems, and operations. This sound understanding includes the expectation that students can also troubleshoot encountered technology issues, a skill also included in my own state of Washington’s K-12 Educational Technology Learning Standards below.
Recently, I have been working with students on their development of book trailers, conferencing with them regularly on their progress and technology needs. By design, this assignment is highly individualized, incorporating student choice in both content, digital tools and devices. Students have all read different novels, are using a variety of tools or apps, and are bringing their own devices to class. This personalized approach has led to highly motivated students. As is the case with any project involving technology, troubleshooting needs abound. The use of many different technologies in the classroom only increases the likelihood that I don’t always have the answer myself. As a result, I have been thinking a lot about how to teach my students to troubleshoot with increasing independence. There is a common misconception that today’s students possess a technological expertise beyond that of their teachers (Margaryan, Littlejohn, & Vojt, 2010). Rather, there is research to support that in many ways our students are mislabeled as digital natives. The research of Margaryan et. al (2010) found that students had limited expertise of widely used technologies. In my own classroom, I have seen how frustrated students can become when technology fails them upon the first attempt. We know that technologies will continue to emerge and change into the future, and offering students the ability to bring their personal devices and select their own digital tools will only continue to enhance their 21st century skills. The reality is that educators will never have all of the answers to technology questions. The common denominator will be to teach students to become their own problem solvers.
What skills do students need in order to troubleshoot technology issues?
The Classroom Culture
The answer may begin with a classroom culture that not only encourages the ability to persevere in the face of adversity but expects that students are capable of it.. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology report, Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Facts for Success in the 21st Century, defined grit as the ability to succeed in a goal despite obstacles using the utilization of both academic strategies and mindset (2013). With new technologies and tools emerging every day, it seems imperative for a student to be prepared both mentally and academically to independently address challenges. Relying on the technological expertise of a teacher will only inhibit a student’s success in the long run. Rather, part of our job as educators is to help students find success by teaching them how to respond to expected failure (Hoerr, 2012). Failure and routine setbacks can be presented to students as part of their learning process (U.S. Department of Education, 2013). This is not to suggest that students should struggle for hours on end to independently solve a technology issue. However, students can learn in an environment that encourages them to seek out answers from various available resources. Good instruction and classroom culture acknowledges that student growth and occurs because of high expectations like this, which subsequently send students the message that their teachers believe they are capable of it (Dweck, Walton, & Cohen, 2011). I started to wonder if I was facilitating this type of learning environment. Was I even providing enough time and patience for students to work through their setbacks?
Students can develop the confidence to approach setbacks if their own autonomy as a student is encouraged. Personalized experiences also provide the optimum opportunity for this rigor (USDE, 2013). This autonomy can be also be hampered if a teacher tries to solve a problem for the student prematurely (Dweck et al., 2011). One such student in my class, whom I’ll call Daniel for the sake of his privacy, exemplifies the power that promoting student autonomy can have on troubleshooting. Daniel does not possess exceptional grades or records of work completion. However, the choice he was given on the book trailer project motivated him. He arrived ready to work every day because he thoroughly enjoyed the book he read and had been given the autonomy to create the trailer of his own design. He even has set himself apart from the other students by choosing to film live-action sequences with the help of his friends on weekends. He also independently researched free special effects to implement. Given his high aspirations for the final product, he also required the most troubleshooting support from me. I wondered how I could help Daniel become as autonomous in his troubleshooting as he was with his creativity. My inquiry into how I could scaffold students to troubleshoot more independently led to the process below.
The Troubleshooting Process
Defining the Problem
Bates (n.d.) stated that one method to address the never-ending emergence of new digital information is to focus on problem-solving skills. The first step to problem solving is to define the actual problem, and I was inspired by the following quote which supposedly originated with Albert Einstein: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” In the same vein, students can be encouraged to spend more of their time defining their problem first. This can better prepare them to search for resources and, ultimately, solutions. My fellow graduate student, @ingersoll_ryan, who often helps undergraduate students troubleshoot technology provided some initial advice that helped me to craft some guiding questions.
- What is my end goal?
- Can I clearly articulate what I am unable to do?
- Do I know as many details about the problem as possible?
- What terminology is needed to properly search for a solution?
Once a student has defined the problem, they are better prepared to utilize available online resources. A connectivist approach to education argues that knowledge is developed when a student creates a network of available online resources and opinions (Bates, n.d.). In this model, the teacher plays a less dominant role in the learning process (Bates, n.d.). This network of resources can be referred to as a personalized learning network (Drexler, 2010). Much like Couros’ “The Networked Teacher” diagram, a student network of personally curated contacts (personalized learning network) and resources (personalized learning environment) can guide him or her through the constantly changing world of technologies (2006). This is also part of encouraging an autonomous student, who is given the ability to find experts in practically any area according to Drexler.
Daniel chose to use iMovie for iOS to create his book trailer. He liked the trailer template available in the iOS version initially because it provided a prefabricated storyboard. However, he later discovered that he was left without enough customization options. He wanted to revert his iOS trailer template into a fully customizable iMovie on his MacBook at home, and immediately came to me to solve this problem for him. I did not have the answer, and that was okay. It is important to note that as a teacher I won’t always have the solution. Our classrooms can and should model this real world environment situation. I started to ask probing questions about what he had already tried. He hadn’t tried anything yet, and I realized that he was close to giving up before he even began to troubleshoot. I wondered if Daniel might feel more empowered to persevere if he had already created a list of resources to seek out support on his own. How could I push Daniel to become more independent? I started by modeling how I would troubleshoot by looking at the iMovie help section and typing keywords into Google search. Over time, I started to witness him asking his classmate for help, and he also reported back to me that he had found some helpful YouTube videos over the weekend. I learned that if we work to shift more of the responsibility for problem solving onto our students, we will guide them to discover resources for success both for this project and into the future (Drexler, 2010).
- Where can I go to find resources to help me?
- Have I investigated resources such blog posts, YouTube videos, or the help section of the digital tool being used?
- Have I asked a classmate or friend for advice?
- Have I used social media to solicit help from experts?
- Can I save helpful contacts to my personalized learning network?
- Can I add helpful resources to my personalized learning environment?
Implementing, Evaluating, Reflecting, and Sharing
The time to reflect on the troubleshooting process is just as important. Students might want to evaluate how useful their discovered resources were and if they would return to them again as part of a growing personal learning network. Equally important is the opportunity to share and collaborate with peers about their findings, contributing to the personal learning network within the classroom walls. Students could present what they’ve discovered to others. A classroom wiki could also be developed to house student curated troubleshooting resources.
- Do I need anyone’s permission to implement?
- Should I enlist the help of others in the implementation?
- Did the solution(s) work?
- Can I return to the same resources again for help or information?
- Am I more comfortable solving problems like this in the future?
- Can I share out what I learned for the benefit of others?
- Could I present what I learned to the class?
- Could I contribute what I learned to a class wiki?
The process above could be useful if the classroom culture is apt for it. I’m interested to know what you think. Do you think the troubleshooting process I’ve outlined could work in your classroom? Do your students develop personal learning networks of their own? Do they share out troubleshooting tips to one another?
Bates, A.W. (n.d.). Building an effective learning environment. In Teaching in a digital age (5). Retrieved from http://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/part/chapter-5-building-an-effective-learning-environment/
Couros, A. V. (2006). Examining the open movement: Possibilities and implications for education. Doctoral dissertation, University of Regina, Regina, SK, Canada.
Drexler, W. (2010). The networked student model for construction of personal learning environments: Balancing teacher control and student autonomy. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26(3) 369-385.
Dweck, C., Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2011). Academic tenacity: Mindsets and skills that promote long-term learning. Paper presented at the Gates Foundation, Seattle, WA. Retrieved from https://web.stanford.edu/~gwalton/home/Welcome_files/DweckWaltonCohen_2014.pdf
Hoerr, T., (2012). Principal connection: Got grit? Educational Leadership, 69 (6), 84-55. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar12/vol69/num06/Got-Grit%C2%A2.aspx
Margaryan, A., Littlejohn, A., & Vojt, G. (2010). Are digital natives a myth or reality? University students’ use of digital technologies. Computers & education. 56(2). 429-440.
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2013). Promoting grit, tenacity, and perseverance: critical factors for success in the 21st century. Retrieved from http://tech.ed.gov/files/2013/10/OET-Draft-Grit-Report-2-17-13.pdf
Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Educational Technology Office. (2008). Washington state k-12 educational technology learning standards. Retrieved from http://www.k12.wa.us/EdTech/Standards/pubdocs/K-12-EdTech-Standards_12-2008b.pdf