Things I Know 132: With tech, teachers fear the unknowable

Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown.

– George Shinn

It takes quite a bit to get me visibly frustrated. I like to joke that teaching G8 for 4 years prepared me for any frustration that might come my way.

In some ways, it’ not a joke.

Deep in the throes of adolescence, eighth graders’ brains are in a constant state of flux. As such, so were my lesson plans. Outside of the classroom, I needed a score card to follow the ever-shifting line-up of friendships in the social melee that was the cafetorium.

Teaching G8 honed my interpersonal skills like nothing else. Understanding and shifting to meet the needs of my students meant I was able to do the same for most adult problems that came my way.

I’m not unflappable, but most flats are pretty securely tied down.

Until moments like yesterday.

All I wanted was to watch a movie on Netflix. For whatever reason, the Wii was not cooperating.

We reset the router, reset the modem, reset the Wii’s Internet settings, reset anything that could be reset – nada.

With no information but the icon that relays signal strength on the Wii connection screen, there was little I could do to diagnose the problem, let alone solve it.

I decided the combination of the television being on a different floor than the router combined with the thunderstorm that was rolling through must have caused the problem. I needed to believe that was correct.

I shifted my attention to the upstairs, Internet-enabled television.

Located in a part of the house that was an addition, it’s never gotten great wifi reception.

Frustration mounting, I unplugged the TV and moved it to the living room coffee table.

There, I tried over and over again to find a strong enough signal.

While I could establish a connection, nothing was strong enough to support streaming.

Thirty minutes after the process began, the decision was made to crowd around my laptop and watch the show.

I was bested by the machine.

The fact that I couldn’t get it to work was less a frustration than not knowing the why.

“This should be work,” I kept repeating aloud with varying degrees of anger in my voice.

It wasn’t, and I had no idea why.

With eighth graders, when something didn’t work, I could change my approach, gather more information and attempt to solve the problem in a new way. In even a refusal to share information, there was information to be gathered. I could adjust my tactics to fit the changing needs of my students.

Yesterday, the tech was tougher than an eighth grader.

No matter my approach, the outcome was invariably the same – across two different machines. No level of cajoling would solve the situation.

We like to think it’s change that scares resistant teachers from embedding technology into their classroom practice. We credit fear of the unknown as the greatest barrier.

I don’t think that’s it.

It’s not fear of the unknown, it’s fear of the unknowable.

With their students, teachers can question, assess and converse to solve nearly any problem. With technology, there comes a point where teachers’ ability to problem solve runs up against the wall between what they can know about how it works and what they cannot know.

This is akin to knowing from the display screen there’s a paper jam somewhere in the copy machine, but having no way of navigating to that particular innard of the beast to remove it.

I was upset yesterday because I couldn’t know why what I wanted to do wouldn’t work. With kids, that very rarely happens.

3 thoughts on “Things I Know 132: With tech, teachers fear the unknowable

  1. Great post Zach. I think we have all been there. Slamming our collective heads against the invisible wall of technology when the damn thing should work, because we have done everything right, and it still doesn't. But we, teachers who are willing to take the time and the patience and who have the obsession to problem solve, will find a solution. We will ask, we will google, we will experiment, we will lose sleep, we will pull hair out, we will find a solution or die trying because we believe that problems by nature have solutions. It ain't pretty and our spouses think we are crazy, but we try everything until we succeed. Why? Because we are open to failure. We are open to the idea that there must be trial and error. It will take time and we may not instantly solve it, but we keep at it, because we enjoy the process of it all. We enjoy the way our minds struggle and get angry. We enjoy the methodical processes, the nearly neurotic obsessive nature of it all. Most importantly  we enjoy the pay off when it is solved. I am sure you will do the research and figure out what it was that went wrong with your Wii. You may not have solved that problem that night, but the solution is there, and if you are like me, you will not rest to find out why so it won't happen again. There are no problems only the amount of time we are willing to dedicated to their solutions. If we decide that this statement is no longer true than we give up on technology on science and begins to believe that perhaps there are little fairies at work or perhaps some ghosts or magic or …..well you see where this is going. Thanks for this post!

    • Jabiz, yes. Definitely. We are the solvers of problems. I spent longer trying to get Netflix to work than I'm necessarily comfortable admitting.What I wonder in thinking aloud here is how we help restore our colleagues whose fatigue at the multiplicity of problems they are already working to solve in the physical world. Until that's alleviated, I don't know how successful we'll be at helping others make time to solver problems in the virtual world.As always, the optimism and energy of your comments is infectious. Thank you.- Zac

  2. Great post Zach. I think we have all been there. Slamming our collective heads against the invisible wall of technology when the damn thing should work, because we have done everything right, and it still doesn't. But we, teachers who are willing to take the time and the patience and who have the obsession to problem solve, will find a solution. We will ask, we will google, we will experiment, we will lose sleep, we will pull hair out, we will find a solution or die trying because we believe that problems by nature have solutions. It ain't pretty and our spouses think we are crazy, but we try everything until we succeed. Why? Because we are open to failure. We are open to the idea that there must be trial and error. It will take time and we may not instantly solve it, but we keep at it, because we enjoy the process of it all. We enjoy the way our minds struggle and get angry. We enjoy the methodical processes, the nearly neurotic obsessive nature of it all. Most importantly  we enjoy the pay off when it is solved. I am sure you will do the research and figure out what it was that went wrong with your Wii. You may not have solved that problem that night, but the solution is there, and if you are like me, you will not rest to find out why so it won't happen again. There are no problems only the amount of time we are willing to dedicated to their solutions. If we decide that this statement is no longer true than we give up on technology on science and begins to believe that perhaps there are little fairies at work or perhaps some ghosts or magic or …..well you see where this is going. Thanks for this post!

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