Dear Teaching Totally Techless

Dear Ms. Scholar, I’m teaching a student who is totally techless. He’s opened D2L only a few times, doesn’t use email, and doesn’t know how to perform what I see as pretty basic computer functions. He attends class regularly and seems interested, but is probably going to fail because he hasn’t completed the work posted online. What are your thoughts? — Teaching Totally Techless

Ms. Scholar at work.

Ms. Scholar at work.

Dear Teaching Totally Techless, It’s not clear from what you’ve sent that his problems are only technology related, but let’s assume your diagnosis is correct. What might cause someone to behave this way?

Perhaps your student has never been given the opportunities to develop basic computer skills and is afraid to ask for help. Ms. Scholar believes it takes considerable courage to admit a problem and ask for help, especially when asking for help goes against group expectations and norms. It also takes courage to work on developing a skill that is underdeveloped relative to one’s peers.

What are your responsibilities when you have an underprepared student with poor technology skills? Like Elisabeth Sauvage-Callaghan (Donato, 2014), Ms. Scholar is more likely to help someone who asks for help or accepts and follows up on offers of help. In a typical semester, most faculty have 100 or more students; hundreds of papers, projects, and exams to assess; and an active research program or service responsibilities to meet. Despite our best intentions, it can become almost impossible to identify and reach out to every student who is struggling, whether it be due to poor attendance, depression, test anxiety, or poor learning skills. Inevitably, Ms. Scholar finds that it is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.

In a course of 25, where most students are tech-savvy and only two or three are running into problems, most faculty will aim at the tech-savvy group and address the needs of less capable students mostly when they ask for help.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 7.35.21 PM

Figure 1. An example of tech help given.

When a larger number of students are struggling, however, Ms. Scholar takes time to discuss the technology problem during class. That may be enough for many students.

These difficulties her students have encountered have helped her recognize more fully the gap between her own knowledge and that of her students–and address it. Thus, she now often prepares materials to help students with technology.

Ms. Scholar has done a number of things that have been helpful. She has provided supporting material and links to her D2L site at the beginning of a course and pointed them out to all of her students. She tries to provide a brief tour of her D2L site early in the semester, especially in General Education courses, and reviews key D2L practices as they are relevant to the group. She has also posted a description, screenshot, or video illustrating how to handle a technology problem. See Figure 1. When she has done so – and that resource has been successful – student grumbling has stopped. Providing these resources to students early destigmatizes the process of questioning and makes it easier for students to ask for and accept help.

We can’t reach every student, but Ms. Scholar thinks about that one student who, if she reached out, would reach back. She remembers those students she has successfully reached out to over the course of her career. Because such attempts have sometimes been successful, she keeps trying. — Ms. Scholar

If you have questions regarding teaching, student/faculty issues, or other comments/suggestions, please write to: Ms. Scholar c/o

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3 Responses to Dear Teaching Totally Techless

  1. Dan Clark says:

    I often think about the volume of instructional time spent on the ‘administrative’ details of on-line/technology work in addition to the volume of student studying time spent on learning how to navigate on-line/technology. I have a feeling that if both of these invested parties have only ‘x’ hours to work with, that these technologies may actually diminish the amount of time spent on task in actual thought/engagement with the topics. That’s not to say that I’m not in favor of technology, but I am apprehensive to mandate the employment of homework/ course management tools that may not optimize the use of one’s time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jslattery22 says:

      I agree – in part. I think we should be considering to what degree our requirements are building the sorts of skills that are needed to be successful in this world. I just had a student say, “I don’t do technology.” She’s going to run into problems out in the real world.


  2. Pingback: Our Students, Their Phones | Hand in Hand

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