Problem-Solving Overview


During the writing process, it's possible for unexpected things to happen. A pen might run out of ink, a program could crash, we might realize that there's a whole unexplored conversation we need to account for. It's understandable that for many writers, this could cause stress or panic, particularly when engaging digital interfaces. It might feel like things have gone "wrong." First-Year Writing seeks to support writers by incorporating problem-solving and troubleshooting methods into its coursework in order to allow writers to develop habits of creative thinking, exploration, persistence, and playfulness.

Troubleshooting means problem-solving technological issues, and in some computer science fields, involves a specific set of procedures and checks depending on the field or system. In First-Year Writing, troubleshooting more broadly refers to diagnosing the issue and creatively solving the problem, or finding a workaround solution.

Moments of unexpected results are also moments that allow us the opportunity to explore more deeply how something works and reflect on how diverse audiences engage with different interfaces, digital or analog. See our page on Studio Pedagogy for more on creative exploration in composition.

Troubleshooting engages several of our digital literacy thresholds:

  • Problem-solving and Risk-Taking: Our ultimate goal in constructing FYW courses around digital literacy is not to teach our students particular skills, but rather habits of problem-solving and risk-taking. These habits can also transfer to other aspects of writing that need problem-solving. It's less important that students have particular knowledge of how to work Audacity, for example, than it is for our students to develop agency and self-efficacy when encountering new, and potentially intimidating, platforms or conversations. Working in unfamiliar environments or with unfamiliar tools requires creative problem-solving and exploratory risk-taking - not being afraid to click a button and see what happens, try out a risky line of inquiry, or a unique way of composing a project.
  • Technology Is Made By People and Works Because of People: It's common to feel like technology is a kind of "magic," since it sometimes behaves in unexpected ways and we can't always visibly see the code or inner-workings of technology. FYW courses seek to help writers recognize that technology, while a tool, is not a neutral tool - it's a tool made by people who have intentions and biases, and cultural and political contexts, however visible or invisible those are. Moreover, technology is a tool that works because of users who also have intentions and biases. Even if something unexpected happens, it's because a user made some sort of query or input.

These threshold concepts emphasize reflection and metacognition, creativity, agency, and self-efficacy.


Why are problem-solving and troubleshooting scary?

Many people are intimidated by the prospect of problem-solving or troubleshooting and might give up on the issue before beginning to try to solve it. This can happen for a complex set of reasons:

  • They're afraid they'll make the problem "worse" by attempting to fix it.
  • They don't feel they have the agency or self-efficacy; they feel like they're not "experts," so they can't even begin to work on a solution. Some may not even realize they can troubleshoot the issue.
  • Solving the problem might take too long, or the writer may be too close to the deadline.
  • They may think that there is a "right" way the final product should look, or they want it to be "perfect," and are reluctant to find workarounds that may change that outcome.
  • Most software and apps conceal how programs work from users (and apps in particular have very streamlined interfaces), so if something doesn't work, writers might not be used to having to find workarounds.

Problem-solving and troubleshooting require creativity, flexibility, persistence, and risk-taking. To troubleshoot, users need to be prepared for potential solutions to themselves do unexpected things, or for there to be multiple steps involved toward a solution and/or workaround.

These pages are meant to provide both instructors and students resources, and self-efficacy, for problem-solving and troubleshooting in First-Year Writing courses.