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Is what you say, what you mean? December 30, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings.
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One of the many reasons I enjoy my job is the variety of tasks with which I am presented: practical and cerebral, creative and analytical, technical and social. One moment I might be wrestling with a strategy document and the next someone walks into our Support Office with a ‘problem.’


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Tommi Komulainen: http://flickr.com/photos/tommikomulainen/3380698264/

Although I enjoy the comradeship of two competent technical colleagues, sometimes resolving an issue falls to me and I’ve come to realise that sorting technical problems requires a skill not commonly associated with ICT Support – translation. Although some of my colleagues and many of our students have English as an additional language, that’s not the source of misunderstanding. No, instead my interpretative skills have required development along a different track entirely – that of translating “What I say” into “What I mean.” For example when someone comes into the office and says “This computer/laptop won’t let me log on,” they don’t mean that the computer is steadfastly refusing them access in an anthropomorphic way, they invariably mean that they’re forgotten or mistyped their username or password.

In case you’re in the position of providing technical support … and if you ever signed up for, or were volunteered as, the ICT Co-ordinator, you’ll often be the ‘go to’ person, this brief list might give you a head start:

1 The printer’s not working I didn’t choose the right printer from the list available and now my printout’s gone to another printer somewhere else in school
2 My laptop screen’s gone black In haste, I pressed the Fn+f5 key twice and the output is only going to the projector
3 The IWB isn’t interactive I haven’t plugged in the USB cable
4 The sound isn’t working I forgot that I muted the sound from my laptop yesterday
5 The computer screen’s gone black I twisted the monitor to the side to show someone something and it dislodged the power cable
6 My laptop keyboard’s stopped working I spilt my coffee on it yesterday
7 My laptop screen’s gone big I was running an application from CD designed in the Windows 95 era which reset my screen resolution to 800 x 640
8 This PowerPoint won’t open It’s got 27 x 9Mb image files in and I’m not patient enough for it to completely open
9 The wireless network in this room is rubbish I accidentally slid the wireless switch off as I was opening the laptop lid
10 I can’t get the Internet Had my laptop at home last night and forgot to switch my LAN settings back for school

Those of you in the position of providing resolutions for these issues on a regular basis will doubtless also recognise that items 1 – 5 might have been equally well translated as ‘I didn’t switch the xxxx on.’ Incidentally, if you have any translations you have made, do share them in the Rosetta Stone that is the comments below.

Although said tongue in cheek, these statements perhaps illustrate a couple of points. First that we’re often quick to blame the technology, when in actual fact it was something we did … or didn’t do. And if we begin to unpack why we do that, there’s probably a host of reasons, whether we’re a supposedly net-savvy 15 year old with a rep for tech, or have a PhD and have been teaching for some 20 years. Secondly it’s interesting that because there is someone to whom people can turn for ICT support, they do … perhaps too early? What happens if the ‘sound stops working’ at home, or the iron doesn’t warm up? Do we try and resolve it ourselves or do we ask someone else? Faced with a problem, how persistent, resilient and flexible are we? Or is it that the range, apparent complexity and constantly evolving nature of technologies is daunting to people who then feel they can’t keep up. Or are our skill sets becoming so narrow that we feel uneasy stepping outside our comfort zone? Is this a technological issue, or psychological or social?

And am I just saying that, or is that what I mean? But more to the point, what do you think?



1. Shane Pilkie - December 31, 2012

You raise an interesting point about the amount of time and effort people are willing to put into resolving their own technical issues. Teachers are very quick to blame the technology. It gives them an easy way out of a problem without having to acknowledge their own behaviours. They then continue to use this ‘blaming of technology’ as an excuse for not using technology with students. The latest evolution of this is to blame smart phones and Facebook for students not engaging in the classroom environment.
I think it’s very sad that too many teachers continue to blame technology rather than examining their own practice and commitment to professional learning.

2. ianinsheffield - December 31, 2012

Thanks Shane, though I don’t think the offloading of responsibility is necessarily restricted to teachers. I think all people sit somewhere on a spectrum stretching from those who ‘spit out the dummy’ at the first hint of a snag, to those who simply cannot rest until they have resolved things for themselves.

Under pressures of time and in the interests of not wasting it, I guess it’s wise to know the right time to quit and pass things on to someone who is better placed to effect a speedy resolution. However it’s not an easy call; quit too early and you risk never moving along the spectrum towards becoming more independent, but quit too late and you’re likely to have wasted precious time. I guess it’s about striking the right balance and as support providers, we need to strive to help people help themselves; to keep them as far as practicably possible within their zone of proximal development. As indeed a good teacher would with their students.

Returning to your original point about teachers ascribing blame and using it as an excuse, I’ve pondered long and hard with whether they are unique in this. I suspect not. I have retired friends who largely eschew technology and to a large extent, are still able to do so (I suspect our current batch of students will not have the freedom to do that when they reach that stage of their lives). But as for workers in other professions? I suspect they too blame technology before examining their own attitude towards it and how (whether?) they might change that. Where teachers are perhaps unique however is the extent to which there is an expectation (rightly or wrongly) that they should guide the actions of others (students) in their use of technology.

Is it necessary to know how a car works in order to teach someone to drive?

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