10/24 Daily What: The emotional labor of your IT personnel

For many years, I was a language instructor at the same university where I now work as support staff, and I remember the frantic feeling of unexpectedly needing tech support while trying to teach a lesson. Now I am the person the instructors come running to when something isn’t working in one of the classrooms that I manage, and I sympathize entirely with their panic and their need to get the equipment working RIGHTNOW. Time is precious when you are teaching a language class, and your strategies and activities often rely on everything going according to plan. On top of that, you have to accommodate the panic-inducing feeling of victimization that takes over when you are affected by the seemingly cruel randomness of ambiguous tech issues; seeking outside assistance in front of your students is both embarrassing and destabilizing. There is a delicate rhythm that you establish as you teach the difference between direct and indirect pronouns, and it has to be maintained if you are to keep all the students engaged for the entire hour. The second it gets interrupted because the audio on your carefully-chosen Youtube video isn’t playing, students’ eyes slide right down from you to their phones, and you won’t have an easy time getting them back.

If you are an instructor and you are having a technological issue in your classroom, someone in the constellation of Instructional Media staff with whom I now work is on call to help you, and that was sort of how I thought of it: tech support was simply there to react in the event of a problem. What I now know is how much of these people’s time is spent trying to anticipate not only problems but also needs and wants and even subconscious instincts, well before they receive the inevitable panicked phone calls from instructors in classrooms. Yesterday, a couple of technicians were enabling a screen mute function in one of my classrooms (which allows instructors to turn off the screen temporarily without having to power down the projector itself) and once they got it working and they tested it, they were off. I assumed that was it. Then, their supervisor checked it out and affirmed that it was indeed working but the job wasn’t done yet because the “mute” button didn’t blink when the screen was muted. But…I thought…the function works - does the button really need to blink? Yes, the supervisor said, it does, because in every other classroom configuration on campus, that’s how instructors know that the mute function is working and the projector is still on. Even though it has nothing to do with the actual function of the machine, that blinking needs to be there so that the instructors feel secure, based on their prior experience in the knowledge that things are operating normally.

This attention to (seriously tiny) detail for the sake of preserving comfort and ease for instructors and students alike should not surprise me, because it is not the first time I have seen it in action. On the day I defended my dissertation, in fact, I preemptively put in a request for the presence of an IMS technician before the start of the presentation, just to ensure that I would indeed be able to hook my computer up to the projector and get my Powerpoint slides to work, an operation I had performed dozens of times. That day, I needed someone not for any real technological assistance but more for reassurance that everything would be okay. If the guy who came to hold my hand felt in any way that his time was wasted, he did not show it; he clicked the projector on and wished me luck on my defense.