Planning for Technical Difficulties: Knowing Your Backup Options

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, where recently she’s been researching different physical therapy assistant schools and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

If your school is like a lot of institutions these days, you have to share resources and probably don’t have much in the way of educational technology. So when you get to spend time in the computer lab or use the interactive whiteboard, it’s usually well-planned and eagerly anticipated. However, if you’ve been teaching long enough to lose greenhorn status, you know about the scourge of the lab – technological failure. Even with the best of lesson plans, you’ll be wracking your brain for something to do with a bunch of disappointed kids sitting in front of blank screens unless you have a pre-fabricated backup plan. While more seasoned teachers will be better able to think of something effective on the fly, it doesn’t hurt to know which options are open to you when the dreaded scourge of the lab attacks.

Partial Technological Failure
In some cases, you’re only halfway terrorized by technical difficulty misfortunes. If you happen to run into the problem of a few broken computers, for example, you can revise your lesson plan fairly easily. To make sure you’re ready for this one, turn your lesson into a group project that requires only one computer per group. This may sound simple – why should you plan ahead? – but there are often subtle snags when you translate an individual project to a group one. For example, unless you give detailed directions about splitting up tasks or collaborating, students are likely to waste time trying to make sure that they’re not doing too much work. To plan for this potential issue, you can start with a group project and not worry about changing it, or you can write up a modified lesson plan in case of emergency. Just be sure to watch out for differences in the amount of time needed to complete tasks, adding items to your lesson plan so you don’t get caught with down time.

Full Technological Failure
Again, group projects are a great way to conserve resources when technology fails you. Even with no computers, interactive whiteboards, or other technology that might be available at your school, you can save the day with a good backup plan. If your lesson plan involves specific Web content, print off a copy of the most important pages – you can send a student to make more copies if the need arises. If you divide your students into groups, they’ll only need one copy of each page per group, saving some time and some trees. Another way around this problem is to create overhead projector pages from the Web content, eliminating the need for copies. Your lesson plan shouldn’t need too much modification, but you might need to get creative to make your group projects interesting. Because your students won’t be able to find information online, part of the fun and the educational experience will be missing. You can replace it with something like developing skits that teach the information, writing literary journalism pieces, having students write tests about the information and take each other’s tests, etc.

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The Secret Weapon
No matter what happens, you can turn to this writing prompt or any variation of it: How would life today be different without (failed technology here)? This will get students thinking about how important that piece of technology can be, how it’s used by a variety of people and social groups, and what kinds of effects it’s had on the educational experience. You can count this as a completion grade or assign a grade to each essay, and extra credit is always another option. As long as students understand that their work is being evaluated, they tend to make a good effort. If you prefer short answers to this question, you can add other activities to the lesson plan, such as writing press releases about technology that has gone missing. Fresh ideas are great and help keep students from getting restless and taking advantage of the situation, so don’t hesitate to encourage students’ creativity no matter how you write your backup plans.

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