You’ve spent hours preparing a lesson, incorporating a wide range of resources from the Internet. You give yourself a pat on the back for having developed a rich, authentic learning experience sure to engage students with its heavy use of various technological tools. The students are ready, you are ready and then the Spinning Rainbow Wheel of Death appears. Your computer has frozen and your well-prepared lesson is effectively useless. All your efforts have gone to waste, leaving you with a feeling of failure and sense of “Why do I bother with technology?”
Technological failures in the classroom will be varied, frequent and inevitable. Technology will fail during learning experiences and it will continue to fail. In this way, it is actually very human! As teachers, we are masters of thinking quickly on our feet and always being 2 steps ahead. How often have you been in the middle of a lesson, realised that what you’re doing is not working so steered the lesson in another direction? In this sense, we are actually well-equipped to deal with the inevitable technological failures that we will encounter in the classroom.
So how can you use technology effectively in your classroom and what do you do when it fails?
- Be Prepared
Jacqui Murray refers to the Law of Technology Failures: The reliability of technology is directly proportional to your needs. That is, technology will always fail when you need it most! So be prepared with backups. If you have a lesson centred around Internet research, perhaps have a few screenshots of websites you intend to visit. Save these screenshots into Powerpoints or Notebooks. If the Internet is down, then use the software instead. If it’s a really important presentation (and you’re an Apple user), then have websites and documents open on your device and be prepared to display it via cable or AirPlay. Install three browsers on your computer, so if Firefox doesn’t comply, then maybe Google Chrome will. Become familiar with the programs or systems that you intend to use, so that you can anticipate glitches. If all else fails, be prepared to shut down and reboot the system!
- Be a Problem-Solver
As teachers, we encourage our students to take risks with their learning and to develop their problem-solving skills. Technology failures enable teachers to practice what they preach and to model these skills of risk taking and problem solving. Verbalise the process you are going through to try and solve the problem, demonstrate that we don’t have all the answers and are willing to take risks as learners as well. It’s also useful to know the basics. The same kinds of problems reoccur. Here is a great document outlining some common technological issues.
- Turn it into a Teachable Moment
Technology failures are a great opportunity to show students how you cope with frustrating setbacks. It’s also a perfect chance for you to turn the lesson around and encourage the students to come up with solutions- what do they do in these situations? Google the solution together and model how you assess the credibility of a site’s information. Having trouble with digital media? Model how to source information needed from an online instruction manual.
- Ask Questions
How many times have you walked past someone’s classroom and seen a lesson on the Interactive Whiteboard that looked engaging? Or involved a program you were unfamiliar with? Take advantage of the skills and knowledge of others on your staff. Ask questions. Gather tips. Know who to ask if you encounter problems regarding specific programs.
- Know Your Content
If technology fails, you can always revert to good old-fashioned paper and marker. A colleague who is a highly effective user of technology admitted that when ICT fails in her classroom, she asks herself- “what would a teacher who taught pre-technology do?” The technology is a vehicle through which to deliver your content- it is not the content itself.
- Embrace Professional Development Opportunities
Opportunities abound to participate in Professional Development workshops and seminars. Be willing to attend these courses and become your school’s Expert on that particular program/ app/ project.
- Be Persistent
In Marcinek’s article, “How to Weather the Frustrations of Technology Integration” he quotes Rich Kiker, Instructional Technology Specialist from an American school, who believes that “attitude changes everything when integrating technology into one’s classroom. Kiker adds that teachers must persevere and not just give up because technology went wrong during one lesson.” Using technology can be frustrating, but to not use technology is not an option.
In the 21st Century Classroom, we encourage our kids to see mistakes as an inevitable part of the learning process. It is through our mistakes and failures that we learn. Teachers need to be willing to take risks with technology use within the classroom, knowing fully that it will inevitably fail us. Whilst we can’t control when or how the technology may fail us, we can control our reactions to the situation.
Here is a great visual summarising the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers Who Use Technology.