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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