When tech fails when you are teaching about tech

The inevitable happened this week in the  college course on Education Technology that I teach to preservice teachers.  I was able to model first hand some oft-stated principles like always double check your links, always have a back-up plan! 

The majority of my assignment instructions were in a Smart Notebook file that did not properly upload to our Moodle site.  I had made some changes to cut down the length of the assignment and was reposting the file to the Moodle at about midnight the previous night. This is a step that I repeat successfully dozens of times a semester. As I have never had a problem with the process, I went to bed without testing the link from the student view.  

Next day in class, this link looked like it had something attached, but you couldn’t open it.  No problem….I have the original file on my hard drive, I will just upload it again. The crazy thing is that it just wouldn’t work. I double checked the file itself; no problems.  I deleted, uploaded, reuploaded, delete it again, to no avail. (There’s more to the story, and I did get the file uploaded later from home, but I still have no clue what went wrong over and over again.)

So this is where the teachable moments pile on. When I realize that this might be a complicated fix, I assign a 10 minute lesson segment that is accessible and that we will run out of time for later in the class at this rate.  And at this point students are starting to make some suggestions. The one that makes the most sense is to go to the blackboard site where Iam building  the course, but let’s say that it is in beta stage. The Blackboard lesson page has an out-dated lesson file which I delete (the things  we overlook at midnight!), and then proceed to upload the updated file. 

At first it looks like everything will be fine, but it soon becomes apparent that the majority of the class is unable to access the file. Another technology roadblock. The weird thing is that some students are able to get the file open without any issues while others are getting a zip file.  By now students are trying all sorts of things and calling out progress or lack there of.  One student discovers that if you just change the file extension  to .notebook that the file will not open (Kudos to Brittany). Of course it will and why didn’t I think of that.  But why did the file work for some and not others? Another student suggests that the person beside them is using Firefox and can open the file but they were getting the weird zip file in Explorer (Kudos to Victoria, I think). Of course Explorer is the problem (it almost always is!) and why didn’t I think of that sooner.

So this week’s lesson had some valuable unplanned outcomes:

  • When tech fails you, don’t be afraid to crowd source a solution. As the teacher you are likely  so busy thinking about how to alter the rest of your lesson, that an otherwise obvious solution eludes you.
  • When using technology, always have a backup plan. I can remind students of this over and over again, but what better way to learn it than when your prof has to model it firsthand!
  • Always double check your links and websites ahead of time. This is another thing that I remind students of frequently, and I am usually very  good at double-checking for  myself. This time I let the late night clock get the better of me, but I would always support improving a lesson plan over teaching the ol’ standby just because it is the easy and convenient thing to do.  
  • When a file or website doesn’t load properly, try changing web browsers. This is yet another thing that I suggest to students when they need to troubleshoot, but an even more powerful lesson learned in a first-hand experience. Like many networked systems, the college lab computers that we are using use Explorer as their default, so many students never even think to try a different browser.

In the end we were able to cover most of what I had planned, with the exception of some exemplar videos that were available for viewing later. Sometimes the unplanned lessons are just as valuable as the preplanned parts. I know that my students, some more than others,  will experience frustrations with the tech related tasks I set out for them during this course, so it is good for them to see that technology trips us all up from time to time…and that we just get back in the saddle and keep going. 

Besides, this tech hiccup was nothing compared to the two days of Microsft Office 365 hell that I endured with my high school English classes this week.  But we don’t want to get me started on that one!


5 thoughts on “When tech fails when you are teaching about tech

  1. This happens to me more often than I care to admit. My students are usually my first go to for any tech issue. Modeling resilience and troubleshooting!

  2. Cammie,
    I was in your class when that tech hiccup happened. You are right in thinking that it was a valuable learning experience for your students as much as for yourself. That evening I learned that if something goes wrong, acknowledge it. Then ask for help. I learned that students are pretty capable. If I, as a teacher, am willing to ask for help, I might just challenge my students to think critically, build off the observation of their fellow students, and experience the fun of being part of a team when we find the solution to an irritating problem. Kind of sound like crowdsourcing, actually.
    Thanks for the unexpected lesson. It was a good one.
    Liz Lobert

  3. Hi Cammie,
    As a future educator I have been scared to use technology in the classroom or for projects for school currently as I know it can fail. It has been a fear of mine standing in front of a class and having what I have planned not work. After reading your post it has reinsured me that I shouldn’t be scared. If it fails to always be prepared and to learn from the moments that don’t go as planned. I’m excited to be in your EDTS 325 class this semester to learn how to use technology and how to be prepared when it doesn’t work because it doesn’t always work.
    I look forward for following your blog in the future,
    Jaelynn Wiest

    • Well Jaelyn,
      I hope we don’t have too many live examples of “when tech fails” this semester, but it is bound to happen! I always have a back up plan in the back of my head and usually can be calm enough to find it and use it!
      Thanks for commenting!

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