I used to teach in the classroom. And as a teacher I often bemoaned with my fellow classroom compatriots all of the technical bugs, issues, hiccups, and downright “show stoppers” that typically occur at the start of the school year. I’ve had a classroom full of learners unable to login to their computers, the internet connection completely drop, computer mice mysteriously stop working, and several other technological maladies that would make any sane person want to toss their computer beneath a passing school bus.
That having been said, I’ve also spent the last year and a half outside of the classroom as a part of our district’s tech staff, working on integration, training, and assisting teachers in making sure the technology works, but more importantly, making sure that it’s being used effectively. I’ve had the benefit of seeing two starts to the school year in this position as an “tech person”, but still have vivid memories of what the start of the school year was like when I was still in the classroom. A few thoughts have bubbled up from these disparate experiences in the past few days that I thought I might squeeze into a digestible list of “tips” for any and all teachers that find themselves frustrated with the technology that’s misbehaving on any given crisp September morning.
1. Don’t Treat Everything as “Mission Critical”
The biggest mistake I made by far early in my teaching career was assuming that everything I did in the classroom, with my students, was the most important moment of their educational lives. Every learning opportunity was more precious than the last, and the potential for missing out on an opportunity because the internet or computers were misbehaving seemed like sabotage that would have irrevocable impact on my students’ educational career for the rest of their lives.
Alright, so maybe I didn’t actually feel that way, but I reacted that way, pummeling my tech director’s inbox with URGENT emails about issues that had put a stop to the learning in my classroom, and honestly, it was more indicative of my failure to adapt and/or plan for back up activities, than it was a reflection of the district’s management of the technology. The reality is that for every 36 teachers in my current district, there is one tech person to support them. And let’s be honest, as a teacher, when was the last time you had a room full of 36 students and were able to put out every single fire and knew exactly how to fix every learning and/or social problem at any given moment? Now take those students and spread them all out across a building, and it’s physically challenging to try to be on every scene repairing cables, fixing issues with some management software, diagnosing printer issues, etc.
Plan for backup activities, make sure that you minimize the amount of “must have” technological tools, and when things do fail, don’t panic, and if you do need to contact the tech staff, make sure to include as much information about the problem as possible.
2. Backup Online and Cloud Resources Locally
Before my district was able to secure fast, reliable internet, there were often several days when the students in my computer lab were unable to download significantly important learning materials (videos, audio, interactives, etc.) due to the slow connection. Lessons that should have taken just a few minutes were stretched into an entire class period as students grouped around computers where the resources could be accessed, or sat idle while their computers had to restart due to a stalled download that froze machines.
While I did find ways to help manage the lag from a slow connection (more all group presentations using my machine), ultimately I found a lot of success in simply planning for failure. By changing my expectations to “it probably isn’t going to work” I found myself planning much more thoroughly and effectively. All important resources were downloaded in advance and then either placed on the school network where students could access it, or on the machines themselves. Worksheets, activities, and important online resources were cached and saved locally. Resources that I couldn’t download were pulled up at the very start of class to be loaded in the background while I did some pre-lesson activities with the students.
Plan your day as though the internet doesn’t exist, and you’ll be prepared if it does fail you. Even in this day and age you can’t guarantee some construction crew won’t cut the line, or a major server crash won’t destroy the connection.
3. The Tech Staff is Not Always “Doing Something to You”
There are always policies and procedures that are put into action that were made without all interested parties’ input being given or acknowledged. There will always be certain gripes to be had about management and leadership, but for the most part, I’ve learned that 99% of the time, the tech staff is trying very hard to make sure that the services you’ve come to rely on are up and running, and reliable for everyone in the building. That can sometimes mean certain measures are taken to ensure everyone has a basic level of access, that while not stellar, is quite capable of letting you get done what you need to do.
I always try to pad my explanations to teachers with a dose of reality, but not from the typical “high and mighty” attitude that a lot of tech people are notorious for displaying. Even if your tech person doesn’t commiserate with you, you can at least ease the pain of dealing with grumpy tech staff with the knowledge that they’re more than likely dealing with the same sort of headaches and issues that you are. The technological systems we’ve come to rely on are rarely closed systems. They rely on other systems, technologies, and resources that quite often might be beyond the control of your district’s tech staff (or at least beyond their immediate control). When you’re dealing with an issue like network printing, and are anxious while waiting for your tech staff to figure the problem out, keep in mind that they may be waiting for some other tech support person for one (or more) of the district’s vendors to figure out why the printers aren’t playing nicely with the many systems within your district.
When it comes down to it, dealing with tech staff is no different than dealing with any of life’s other unexpected challenges and problems. How you react, and communicate with people that are supposed to help you, says more about yourself than it does to help anyone get issues resolved any sooner.
I know this is a pretty mundane post, with nothing more than pretty typical “change your attitude” advice for dealing with problems beyond your control. I can’t help feel optimistically that if we just took a big “breather”, and accept the fact that what we do in a single day, during a single lesson isn’t going to make or break a student’s learning, we can start to break the cycle of “tech staff versus the world”.
image: Blue Screen of Death – http://www.flickr.com/photos/nodomain1/2766943876/in/photostream/