I have only been working in instructional technology full time for a few months, so I am not really prepared to call myself an expert on anything. Except, maybe, on providing support in an instructional technology department.
As a newcomer to instructional technology, I have spent a lot of time figuring out how to make stuff work. In my current role as a member of a support team, I not only have to figure out how to make stuff work for my own benefit, but also help other people at a university learn to use our learning management system and other educational technology tools.
So I am no course design expert, but I am good at troubleshooting what I do not know, and helping others to do the same. This is what I’ve learned is key in a support role.
People aren’t always going to be able to diagnose the issue on their own. If someone emails me to indicate something isn’t working, I poke around for a while before I jump to any conclusions about what is broken. An issue with the setup of a quiz could look like an issue in the grade book to an instructor, so I spend some time researching potential problems before jumping to any conclusions. Recreating issues is one way I investigate. To do so requires that I use my “sandbox” course in our learning management system, or a place where I can test things out without disrupting any courses, students, or instructors.
Populate a Resource
Once you figure out some of the most frequently asked questions, tips and tricks, or workarounds for issues within your learning management system or other tools, write them down! Have you ever put something in an unusual place thinking that there isn’t any possibility you will forget where it is stashed? Did you forget?
Figuring out a trick, workaround, or solution for a commonly asked question also tends to vanish from our memory (at least the first few times you need to recall it). When you find a way to make a tool work the way you need it to, or really nail some instructions, save them. Compile a resource that you, and other members of your team, can use. Consider organizing content based on the tool, and the way the issue typically manifests (i.e., incorrect grade calculation, missing quiz question, access to a discussion). GoogleDocs, Wikis, and WordPress sites are some good platform options. This is a huge time saver, and will also be a valuable resource when a new team member joins the mix.
Know Your Team
Even once you have investigated an issue, acquired all the information you can about what is not right, and checked to see if someone else has documented the problem, you might still be stuck. Technology is constantly changing, so you might need to phone the department expert for some advice on how to troubleshoot. It pays to know everyone’s specialty, or tools they use or favor in their classrooms or course designs. Even knowing whether or not someone prefers to work on a Mac or Windows machines can be helpful when you are diagnosing an issue. Other people may have a solution for your issue or be able to point you in the direction of a place that does.
Know Your Limits
If you’re lucky, your department isn’t the only one supporting technology on campus. If that’s the case, look into other resources on campus so you can know when it’s time to forward an email or point someone towards the department that can more quickly, accurately, and appropriately fix their problem or answer their question.
Give People Answers
I do not always have a complete answer or solution for someone’s question. Still, I respond with as much as I have figured out and a clear plan for follow-up. People like to be kept in the loop, and sometimes just knowing that someone is actively investigating their problem is enough to put them at ease.
Help People Find Their Own Answers
Spread the love—and documentation. Providing people with the resources for them to do things on their own will save everyone time—or at least it will eventually. Some tools are easier to train than others, so even if you have great documentation, be prepared to answer follow-up questions and provide follow-up training. When people do learn to use a tool themselves they will not need your help as much anymore, and might even become a resource for their colleagues.