Asking The Right Questions Helps Me Help You

The other day a teacher asked me to hook up her Elmo document camera using a USB cable and the ImageView Elmo software. It was a perfectly legitimate request because she could then use her document camera inside a Window. I began the work and then asked her what spurred her request. I assumed she was going to say that she didn't want to be limited to using only the computer image or the Elmo. But, when she told me why she wanted the software, I quickly realized that, while this solution would work there was a better solution for what she really wanted to do. Without going into further detail, when I discovered what she really wanted to do, I was able to give her a solution that better suited her needs.

I usually do a better job with this. When a teacher or staff member asks for hardware or software, I usually ask, "What is it that you're trying to do?" I hope I never come off as questioning their motives, I just want to be sure I'm addressing their real needs.  A teacher may ask for students to have email accounts when what they really need is a way for students to collaborate on a document. A desire for a student response system may better be solved with an online polling site. A request for YouTube to be unblocked may lead to a wonderful discovery of other educationally geared video sites.

If you're an technology coach, coordinator, or director, I urge you to seek out the "question behind the question." When teachers ask for assistance, do a little digging into motives before starting on solutions. Teachers, when you're looking for a fix, you may find better and more effective answers if you start with, "I'd like my students to be able to ..."

Communication is the key to success in much of what we do in education. And, with limited resources of both money and time, it's best that we understand the question before we start solving the problem.


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