Technology… you’ve gotta have a Plan B!

Posted by: Spiros Soulis, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, Design and Social Context College, RMIT University.

Our teaching is being revolutionised, new and innovative teaching spaces are beginning to emerge across campuses all over the country.  Here at RMIT teachers/lecturers  are about to move into the new Swanston Academic Building that is boasting:  Anywhere, Anytime at RMIT – Student Computing is set to transform any lecture theatre, classroom, student portal or even a café at RMIT into a virtual learning space (RMIT News May 2012). More and more of our teaching is now being conducted in these new teaching spaces incorporating computers, wireless technology and interactive smart boards (see last fortnight’s post by Jason Downs).

This is an exciting time but are we becoming so reliant on technology that we are becoming complacent in preparing for when things go wrong? Are we expecting that it will work anywhere and anytime? My experience has seen it crash and burn on many occasions leaving me adrift without a paddle.

I recently attended a Professional Development session on using learning spaces for effective student learning.  One of the academics present stated that when the technology failed (in this case the internet) they just ended the class! “Goodbye and see you next time!”  Surely as teachers/lecturers we need to be prepared to be able to deal with whatever situation is thrown at us within the classroom (bar nuclear fallout of course).

So I’ve thought of a few things teachers/lecturers could do to prepare in order to soldier on.

I think there are some items that any teacher/lecturer just can’t afford to leave home without. You can’t go wrong with having a couple of whiteboard markers in your bag and some A3 paper and Blu-Tack (wonderful stuff!). Whiteboard markers can be used as permanent markers on the A3 paper in the absence of a whiteboard, to write a few questions, pose a few issues, put up a quote for discussion, or brainstorm some ideas on the upcoming assessment task. Copies of a PowerPoint presentation with notes along the side always help in those moments.  That “if the technology fails again” handout with copies for everyone is also always a winner.  This shows students you have planned ahead, covered all your bases, in short, that you’re PREPARED.

We need to be teaching sound planning and preparation to our students, adapting to unforeseen circumstances and responding to changes in what is required from us. If students are presenting or teaching themselves and the technology doesn’t work, it shouldn’t be: “Goodbye and see you next time!”  When this happens to me and I am overcome by a cold sweat as my lesson plan begins to fly out the window, I put the question to the students: What would you do in such a situation? How would you respond? How would you keep your audience engaged and still try to deliver your objectives?  You then whip out the A3 paper, use your markers, and then put them up using your Blu-Tack. Then sit and watch their response to the challenge.

As lecturer ‘crankycat’ commented on the ProfHacker blog:

You just roll with it. Either the mic will work or it won’t. Either the mouse is charged, or it isn’t – the show goes on. The best armature against getting tripped up is good familiarity with the system, with a back-up, and with your material.

And- I’ll admit it– it’s kind of FUN when you get to improvise on the fly.

For more, read the entire ProfHacker post at:

http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/when-technology-publicly-fails/27586)

And share your alternatives to saying: “Goodbye and see you next time!” in the comments.

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