Classroom Technology Fails: How to Prepare for Disasters
Even the best lesson plans can be sabotaged by a technology fail. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid a total collapse of your lesson.
All thirty five of my students had the Google Expeditions viewers in their hands, patiently waiting to take a virtual tour of Argentina. We had been talking about it for a week. I only had the Expeditions kit checked out for one day. And the internet was down.
If you’ve ever been in a room full of 9th graders whose devices are not working, you know that they are not shy about letting you know there is a problem. How I reacted would be crucial in how the rest of the class period went, and, more importantly, how my students might react in the future when they are faced with unexpected problems.
Even as a teacher who is comfortable with technology, I definitely have been frustrated when lessons don’t go as planned. However, experience has taught me to plan for failure, embrace it, and not let it catch me off guard. I always go into a lesson knowing that nothing works one hundred perfect of the time, even with the best-laid plans. Problems happen to the best of us. This is true for lessons with and without technology.
There are several things teachers can do ahead of time to ensure lessons enhanced with technology run as smoothly as possible. First, identify tech-savvy kids who can be leaders and troubleshooters in the classroom. For example, when my students needed to connect their Chromebooks to a monitor to do a presentation, a student volunteered to show everyone how to do it when it was their turn. In our district, each elementary school has a group of Tech Ninja students that consists of representatives from grades 3–5 who meet with Innovation Coaches once a week. They then bring their new technology knowledge into their classrooms to assist their teachers and classmates. They have also been very helpful when reserve teachers are in the class.
“It’s fun to show your teacher something new. My teacher was amazed when I showed her how conditional formatting works!” — 5th grade Tech Ninja from Lakeaires Elementary School, White Bear Lake, MN
Another helpful strategy is to practice the lesson ahead of time with a small group of students or colleagues. Make sure the links work. Make sure websites aren’t blocked for students. Make sure you know how to run the game you are playing so you can anticipate any issues that may arise. When trying a new tool, I often ask a few students who are done with their work to be my guinea pigs and give me feedback on the activity. I am always honest with my class when trying out a new activity, which shows them I am willing to be a risk-taker, just like I am always asking them to be. I am modeling a skill I want my students to develop as well.
Why we can’t let the fear of failure make us avoid technology
Some teachers are nervous about putting themselves in a situation where technology doesn’t work and therefore get frustrated or, worse yet, avoid it altogether. This is a huge disservice to students because there are so many powerful experiences that can happen with the assistance of technology. Students today can connect with people around the globe and experience things that simply aren’t possible within a traditional setting.
Here are a few examples of learning in my district that would’ve been missed if technology wasn’t available:
- Fifth graders created a monthly podcast that connected them with people around the world like professional athletes, a refugee, and business people.
- A student with autism played her ukulele part in her school concert by playing on her iPad instead of using the instrument that was too difficult for her to hold.
- A science class launched a plastic bear mascot into the stratosphere.
- Middle school health students received real-time feedback on a formative assessment using Google Forms.
- Students worked at their own pace through a math lesson online, differentiated to meet each student at an appropriate level.
- Students from White Bear Lake, Minnesota now have an ongoing relationship with students in Haiti, thanks to Google Hangouts.
Remind yourself about the power of technology and muster the courage to try something new, knowing you have problem-solving skills, backup plans, and support available.
As far as the Google Expeditions debacle goes, I used it as a teachable moment and modeled several of my problem solving strategies when the internet wasn’t working for us. First, and most importantly, I kept calm and told them we would figure it out together. I couldn’t control the internet but I could control how I reacted to the setback. I checked the connections to make sure everything was plugged in. I restarted the router that came with our kit. I called the technology office to see if it was a district-wide problem or if it was just me. Sure enough, the internet was down in our whole district and they were working quickly to get us back online. In the meantime, my students got a head start on a lesson I had planned for the next day. Within a few minutes, the internet was back up and we were on our (virtual) way to Argentina.