A foolproof solution to tech breakdowns in class

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Thursday, September 15, 2016

A foolproof solution to tech breakdowns in class

Technology fails. But how we react to it can teach students life lessons that we never expected. (Public domain image via Pixabay.com)

Technology fails. But how we react to it can teach students life lessons that we never expected. (Public domain image via Pixabay.com)

It never fails. At some point, if you use technology in the classroom, it’s going to burn you.

  • The projector won’t turn on.
  • The Internet will go down.
  • The website you’re using will display strange errors — for everyone.
  • The power will go out.

Everyone has their stories. Suddenly, you’ll feel out of control … kind of like the classic “I Love Lucy” scene where she and Ethel are trying to tame the speeding chocolate factory machine!

The truth is that so often, our classroom technology works just the way that we want almost all of the time. But when it fails on us, those can be the memories that stand out.

I’ve reacted to technology meltdowns in so many ways. I’ve gotten frustrated. I’ve felt defeated. I’ve even given up and said, “We’ll just try again tomorrow.” And with all of those, I’ve wished I could have handled it better.

One method for handling those meltdowns has worked so well that I’d call it “foolproof,” in that when class is over, I don’t regret how it happened.

Here it is:

Smile, and say, “Let’s try something else.” Then try something else.

Sound too easy? (Sorry if that wasn’t the “silver bullet” answer you were looking for.)

Here’s why I think it’s the foolproof answer:

  • Technology will fail on us at some point. The sad part about that is that, so often, teachers will use those failures as a reason to give up. They’ll say, “It’s blown up in my face before, and I’m not going to let that happen again.” But working through these problems is a life skill as technology becomes more ingrained with our work lives and our personal lives.
  • You’re modeling how to keep your composure in times of stress. That smile before saying, “Let’s try something else,” is crucial. It tells your students, “My plans are failing, but I’m still in control of my emotions.” Plus, when we let our emotions take control, we lose the ability to think clearly on our feet. This is also an important life skill, and one we know our students will need.
  • Your comfort level transfers to the students. I’ve seen this in the classroom and in workshops with teachers. When the teacher (or presenter) feels stressed or uncomfortable, those feelings are projected on the whole room. Say it takes a few minutes to fix the technology hiccup … or say it totally fails and there’s no saving it. You still have the rest of the class (or presentation) ahead of you. How you handle that setback sets the tone for the rest of your time together.
  • It gives you a chance to try something different — or think on your feet. Sometimes, the best of our creativity is displayed through constraints. (In this case, coming up with an alternative in the moment.) If we have a back-up plan, we get to try Plan B instead, and we can evaluate its pros and cons afterward. If we don’t have a back-up plan, we do the best we can … and sometimes, amazing things happen when we think on our feet.
  • It can be a bonding moment. I remember assigning students to create an infographic using a site I had found and really liked. They started working on it and it was cumbersome, to say the least. It didn’t work on our old, decrepit desktop computers. I admitted defeat and asked the students for alternatives. They made some suggestions and they got to take some control of the class (which was a good thing). That glitchy site also became a running joke that we all got to enjoy together through the rest of the school year.

We put ourselves at some level of risk when we use technology in the classroom. But almost anything in our lives carries some level of risk, too.

But what’s more important … the great, engaging, more effective learning this technology has the potential to create, or our fear of failure?

We can’t steer clear of something that scares us to the detriment of our students and their improved learning.

[reminder]How have you handled technology meltdowns? What suggestions do you have?[/reminder]

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  • Jacqueline Moore says:

    Great article. This happened today during an online lab with my graduate students. We took a moment, tried the tech one more time, and then moved on. No use letting it ruin a great session!

  • Laura says:

    I love this idea – especially considering how often I have had to resort to other things last minute! I also think that this is a great jumping off point for a conversation with students about how to handle it when things go wrong and how to model the right way to handle it. I just wrote (bit.ly/2d1kVTI) about how often students get stymied by very basic roadblocks, and how important those skills are, especially when considering Bloom’s Taxonomy and the theory of connectivism. This is an actual life skill – and the ability to flip out and recover and keep moving from plan A to plan B and all the way to plan X is one of the most important things ANYONE can learn!

  • Frau Davis says:

    I definitely think modeling appropriate behavior is a lesson students really need to learn. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at rolling with the punches. I like to see these break-downs as student step-up opportunities. I had linked an MP3 for my independent German 4 students to listen to but it came up a mumbled string of letters. After I investigated, I found another student whose was working and let him step forward and troubleshoot for those who were stuck. His solution was “aggressively refreshing the page”. Hey, it worked! By showing yourself taking risks and keeping a positive attitude when things go wrong, you’re helping your students learn 21st century skills. 🙂

  • Gillian Fuqua says:

    My usual response is, “oh poop!” Then, I get all dramatic and I say, “Let’s have a 5 second freak-out!” Then we all laugh.
    The plan B that I pull out depends upon how much time is left. Sometimes I’ll just have kids read if it’s fewer than 10 minutes left. If I still have a chunk of time we use paper and pencil (gasp!) to jot notes or sketch out ideas. Then we can have conversations about what I would create if I could. It helps kids to think through their ideas. We have discussions on related topics. And sometimes we just play a game – always good to have an excuse to allow our kids to be kids!
    I agree that it is crucial to demonstrate flexibility. The goal is for kids to have an understanding our our contents. They, and we, can’t get tunnel vision about how that understanding is expressed. Tech glitches force us to remember there are loads of ways to express understanding.

  • Stewart Parker says:

    I thought it would be great to have the students collaboratively create a Prezi. Apparently, you can have too many students working on the same Prezi. It was a disaster. Everyone was working over everyone else. Students were accidentally (or purposefully) delete other student’s work. The train wreck was complete when all of a sudden the entire presentation went blank. So, I had the students get some poster paper, and they did the assignment old school. They enjoyed creating their posters way more after the debacle of Prezi! After that, when I told them we were doing a group activity, they groaned, “Please, not another PREZI!!!”

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