Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A Paperless Survival Guide to Managing the Occasional Tech Snafu

Things go wrong. So it's always best to be prepared when they do.

One of the things I've found, especially with teachers new to working in a live social tech environment, is the fear of the tech breaking down and said teacher being stuck twiddling the proverbial thumbs.

So here's a shortlist of things you can do (or should think about) when broken tech brings the pain.

1. Prepare tabs of all sites you plan to lead students through in advance; this way, should your network go down, you can still manage through the majority of your web content. Students should also save offline syncs of info-style pages regularly accessed -- like e-books, encyclopedia entries, etc. In fact, tab-prep can suffice as a pre-classtime requirement for students.

2. If you have both wired and wi-fi networks available, consider setting up a small local hub in your room to connect computers should the latter go down. Or if you have your own portable 3G hotspot, share it.

3. Should the network fail while using Google Docs or while writing blog posts, have students dump their work into a word program and work there until the connection is re-established (this is what Gears should have been able to do). Anyway, make sure that your students know to do this from day one, it will save a lot of headaches.

4. I realize this could be considered a controversial one, so I won't tell you what to do, but I'll make a suggestion that you think about making "educational fair use" temp downloads of those YouTube videos you want to show. While I don't publicly condone hacking, there are plenty of easy-to-use and easily-Google-able resources that will help you do what you need to in a pinch.

5. Find alts. If you need a backchannel and Twitter gets scrambled, try TodaysMeet. There are plenty of Web 2.0 sites made specifically for education, as well; search through Richard Byrne's site for ideas.

6. Design assessments based on students both collaborating and playing to their individual strengths. If your network is shaky, you might be able to have a few kids online while others are working offline. Rotate it up, let kids share tech, for the sake of argument consider the parameters of a shaky network an opportunity to experiment with group dynamics and new forms of collaboration.

7. Let kids access the Net via their phones and personal Internet devices.

8. Have students create any and all new accounts -- i.e. Twitter, Google, YouTube, Jing -- from home or from the library. All new account registrations basically work the same these days, so just give the students the info they need and have them set up their resources as homework. This gets rid of the problem you often encounter in a classroom when trying to make multiple accounts simultaneously under the same IP address. There's nothing more frustrating than having an entire classroom of kids fail at trying to set up online accounts just because of security and redirect issues. It's a waste of time; so save time and have them do it on their own time.

9. Be prepared to improvise. And I'm not talking about flying by the seat of your pants. I'm talking jazz. You've got to practice the skill and hone the craft of improvisation everyday in every class so that when things do go haywire you're not completely screwed. If it were up to me, I'd make "Authentic Improvisation" -- as opposed to "B.S. Improvisation" -- a required class in ed school.

10. Know your students. I'm convinced that at least part of the fear of tech going down in flames in one's classroom is really a manifestation of a deeper issue: teachers not really getting to know their students and therefore not having the trust, conversational faculties, and mutual understanding of learning goals to get past a rough spot. If you and your students trust one another, you should be able to teach each other using nothing more than voices and gestures. And that's not some newfangled idea: that's what teachers have/had done for thousands of years.

11. Take a nature walk. Every classroom community benefits from mutual engaged experience. So you lose the wireless and your lesson is shot? Use it as an opportunity to go out and experience something with your students. Take 'em out for fresh air and conversation. Take 'em to the cafe for a snack and a chit-chat. See if the gym is open and shoot a few baskets with 'em. Don't dwell on what didn't work; rather, use the opportunity presented by a snafu to look at the world in a different way.

Now, if that wi-fi keeps going out or those computer batteries keep drying up after a half-hour of use, you're obviously going to have to deal with that problem. No one can integrate tech and education in those conditions. But with a good network in place, on those relatively rare occasions when things do fall apart, you should be able to manage without losing your hair. Consider the tips I've offered (all of which I've used at one time or another) and please leave some of your own ideas in the comments. Good luck!


  1. I am not sure how making downloads of YouTube videos is controversial. Isn't the point of YouTube to share information?

  2. Hey Shelly,

    Thanks for the plug. Here's one of my lists of backchannel options for teachers.


  3. Well put and some great ideas!

  4. I had number 8 happen on the Second day of school trying to create gmail accounts. Luckily the point was to make google accounts so we just used already established emails to great the googles and had them create gmails later.

  5. I love the idea of teaching paperless! Regardless of how we teach, there will always be the occasional snafu, and it is okay. As long as we have the information able, with a backup plan (whatever that plan may be), it is all good.
    Kind regards.

  6. DAvid K - for goodness sake read the terms and conditions for YouTube:
    "You agree not to distribute in any medium any part of the Service or the Content without YouTube's prior written authorization"

    Are you a teacher?

  7. To Anonymous,

    In a perfect world you wouldn't need to "download" material, but for the shaky network, or student who wasn't there/doesn't always get it first time scenario having them review the video at their own pace later makes a world of difference.
    Having a discussion about ethical use and copy-write/creative commons is a must in a Web2.0 classroom.

  8. Enjoyed reading your tips. Too much time can be wasted lamenting the tech problems ... better to have a back-up plan in place. Some of the best learning experiences spring from improvisation!


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