Everyone has heard the saying, "Technology is great when it works," but in education that saying should also trigger the thought, "Be ready with plan b." As I worked with my first classes this year, I saw an example of plan b and no plan b. Luckily for the no plan b instructor, they were able to muddle through and troubleshoot the technology enough to get it to work. Sadly, it wasted class time that was desperately needed for the lesson. I can talk about this example without guilt because I was the instructor. I failed to make sure the website students were going to work on was not blocked. It was a simple matter of logging in on a student computer and going to the website. With this quick check I would have known that I needed the site unblocked, but I forgot. However, we have an excellent music teacher in our district that did everything she could to plan ahead for her lesson and still ran into some tech trouble. Fortunately, she was ready to modify the lesson and still teach the students some of the skills they needed for recording in Word and emailing their document as an attachment.
Although we can always hit snags as we work with technology in the classroom, here are some things that can make the experience more enjoyable.
Check all websites on a student computer:
Either log on to the student computer as yourself and see if the website is blocked OR have a student sign on to a student computer and see if they can access the website you want to use with your class. If the site is blocked, follow the school's procedure for getting it unblocked. In our district, teachers need to put in a ticket to have the site unblocked. Just remember that the tech department has to get approval from your building administrator, so make sure you leave time for the all individuals to complete their tasks.
Check the tech skills your students need to complete the assignment:
Sometimes as educators, we make the mistake of assuming students know how to use all the programs on the computer because they can use their cell phone or play video games, but the reality is student's only know how to work the devices and programs that are important to them. If your students have never created a movie, then show them the basic steps so they can get started. Most students can get going with a brief introduction to a program. As they advance in the program, they will ask more specific questions based on their needs.
Check your own tech skills:
Not knowing how a program works doesn't mean you shouldn't use it for an assignment, but it does mean you should get some extra help. Check with your tech department and see if someone can come introduce the program to the students for you. Then let go of the controls and take part in the learning process with your students. Learn from the expert and from the students. Ask questions, play with the program and model the skill of being a lifelong learner.
Have a back-up plan:
Despite all the effort one can put in to planning a lesson or assignment around technology, things can go wrong. The power could go out. The program could crash or lock-up. There could be hidden links within the website you had unblocked that are now being blocked.
Technology can be a great tool in education if you are willing to practice the mottos of education...
Be a lifelong learner,
Learn from your failures and
Always have a back-up plan.