The Zen in Online Learning

Author: JimS
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Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

When the center monitor in my three-monitor setup failed to turn on this morning, I didn’t panic. It happened before, and reinserting the HDMI connector into the graphics card usually did the trick. So I turned the computer off, crawled under the desk, unplugged the connector, and plugged it back in.

I turned the computer on, but the monitor remained dark. No problem, I thought. Try the same maneuver again. I did, but it still didn’t work. I was beginning to panic a little. I turned it off and checked the back of the monitor to see if the power and HDMI connectors were tight. I unplugged and plugged them back in.

The three-monitor setup for my desktop computer.

I turned the computer on again, but the monitor was still dead. Panic was setting in. I tried the remote control to see if the settings were correct. (This monitor is also a TV set.) Nothing came up on the screen, not even the menu.

I turned the computer off, crawled under the desk, and checked the power cord connection to the power strip. It was firmly in place. I went into pre-panic mode. I repeated the same steps over again, unplugging, plugging, futzing with the remote, turning the computer off and on. All for naught. The monitor showed no signs of life.

I tried swapping cables and adaptors to see if these were the problem. The monitor remained dead.

To see if the port on the graphics card was the problem, I plugged the left monitor into the center port. It worked. OK, I wouldn’t need to spend $200-$300 on a new card. But I’d probably need to spend about $200 for a new monitor. Would that solve the problem? Or would I still be at square one?

Was it the graphics card? The monitor? The motherboard? The power supply? The hard drive? Something else? I was on the verge of full-blown panic.

I decided to retreat. I unplugged the center monitor and took it off the desk. I then moved the left monitor into the center position. This two-monitor setup would have to do until I could get a replacement monitor.

Later in the day, I decided to test the old center monitor once more. I plugged it into a power source in a different room, and, voilà, it came alive. Bright and shiny. I tried the remote control, and the menu came up, allowing me to experiment with some changes.

I brought the monitor back into the desktop lineup. This time, I plugged it into a different socket in the power strip. It worked. The problem was with the power strip. Problem solved.

That night, I turned the computer on, but this time the right monitor didn’t come on. What was going on? Was this some kind of intermittent problem with a random twist to it? The worst kind of problem because it seems to defy systematic solutions? To hold off panic, I decided to apply what I had learned earlier in the day. I checked the power connection at both ends: at the monitor end and the power strip end. This monitor was plugged into a different strip. The connections were tight. I then checked the on-off rocker switch on the strip and, sure enough, it was leaning toward the off position. I switched it back on, and the tiny green led light came on. And so did the monitor.

I have no idea how the power strip got turned off. With all the fiddling that I was doing earlier with the center monitor problem, I probably pressed the switch partially off — just enough so it wouldn’t power up at a later time.

This ordeal reminded me of my Nighthawk 250. I’ve had this little bike for years and love riding it for relaxation. It’s mechanically very simple, like a WWII jeep. When it won’t start or runs rough, I know it’s the battery or, more than likely, the spark plugs. Over the years, I’ve changed the battery twice and cleaned or changed plugs countless times. I order the plugs online and have four backup sets. I’ve ordered parts online and replaced all the lights — head, tail, turn-signal — at least once at different times.

Computers are, ultimately, machines. And to work with them, we need to rely on the Zen in all of us. We need to get down on our knees and get our hands dirty. Since computers are the backbone of online learning, we, as students and teachers, need to be willing and able to troubleshoot, to crawl under our desks and futz with cables and connectors, with power strips and cards. We need to understand the basic logic of machines, mechanical and electrical, and we need to apply it to fix our own problems.

There’s really no other alternative. Getting a repair person to come to our home every time we run into problems would be expensive, and, worse, the service may not be helpful. Purchasing new equipment might not solve the problem. The point is that computers, like motorcycles, aren’t rocket science. A simple process of elimination is all that’s required for most problems. All we need to do is systematically work through the possibilities until the problem is identified. Once identified, the solution would be self-evident.

We don’t think of our web experience in online learning as Zen, but it is, perhaps even moreso. Just as we need to be able to deal with hardware issues, we need to be able to solve  application or procedural problems. There’s no getting around it. We all need to learn how to navigate and use web services and media. Relying on others simply won’t work. It’s either Zen or die. It’s like learning to breathe all over again in a new and alien environment. We can’t ask others to do our breathing for us when we’re online.

In the end, Zen is an attitude, an understanding that there’s an internal logic to things like motorcycles and online learning and confidence in our own ability to learn and apply that logic. All we need to do is not panic and actually dig into the here-and-now process that’s baffling us. Via this intimate hands-on approach, via Zen, we slowly master the art of learning.

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The Zen in Online Learning

EdTech Café

EdTech Cafe
 Standford EdTech (Author)
EdTech Café is a podcast series produced by the educational technology team at Stanford Medicine.
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