I firmly believe instructors should not have to become technologists in order to teach online. We have instructional designers and educational technologists for that very reason.
That being said, educators do need to possess a fair understanding of the technologies they choose for instruction before they can evaluate the effectiveness of the technologies and the return on their investment (transaction costs). These costs may include investments in time and resources on the part of both students and faculty.
Some thoughts on where we might find a balance between these transaction costs and a reasonable return on our investment…
1) Familiarize yourself with the help resources –
Knowing who to call and when to call them can save both you and your students valuable time and relieve potential frustration. Is it a design issue, or a delivery issue? Is it a systems issue or a lack of familiarity with the application? By posting these resources clearly in the course menu, you and your students can focus more on learning and less on technology.
2) Become comfortable with the tools –
If you are planning to use an assignments dropbox, what types of file formats does it accept? If you can only accept a specific format be sure to specify this requirement in your syllabus and again under the assignment instructions. Provide a number for the help desk in case students run into trouble; or better yet, link to a video tutorial on how to resolve the most frequent issues. If you link to a publisher’s website from within your Blackboard course, provide a direct link to their support services.
3) Orient your students to the technologies you have selected for your course –
If you use a wiki, or plan to use Twitter, Polleverywhere, or other web-based tools, provide a tutorial within your online course. If its a blended or enhanced course, schedule class time in the computer lab and help get everyone on-board. By giving them a low-stakes assignment or assessment before the real thing, your students are less likely to have to deal with the anxiety and frustration that may accompany unexpected results when its time for the real deal.
4) Become well acquainted with your Instructional Designers / Technologists –
These people are the experts on the tools. It’s their job to know what works and what doesn’t and how to find the work-arounds. If they haven’t run into your challenges before, they are likely to know a guy who knows a guy. So give them a call, schedule an appointment or stop in during open lab hours. These are the people who can help you sort out the myriad choices when it comes to teaching and learning with technology – and just possibly help to bring a little more balance into your life and teaching with technology.