When technology fails

Each year e JISC runs a very successful online confence with a good number of delegates – more than one hundred at peak times, I believe. For two years running now I have joined this confence and found the experience a rewarding one, though very different from attending a conference in person. Participating in an online conference demands that you plan your time and manage your presence carefully to get the best from such an event. For the most part, the technoogy has been almost flawless in the sessions in which I have participated.

Fast forward to the social media event I attended today. Three sites, all with good quality technology facilities, and experienced facilitators. In each location we have presenters and audiences from the FE and HE sectors. I was about to write ‘…but when the technology goes wrong’, however I think that would be unfair. It’s more the case that the technology failed to perform to the level expected, and for the audience, the impact can be significant. For a given class of learners who regularly meet on an educators campus, the impact may be limited; there is probably opportunity to revisit the agenda in a subsequent session. In the scenario I found myself in today, when several groups of professionals gather to cover what is potentially a very valuable agenda, the chances of repeating the exercise at an alternative later time might be slim. The point I’m making is that if we are unable to demonstrate among a group of professionals that the technologies we evangelise every day will work reliably and predictably on demand, the momentum we hope to achieve in embedding their use in the curriculum will never reach critical mass. I know there were delegates in the room with me today who need some convincing that social media tools can not only be valuable and beneficial to learners, but will also work more reliably than those systems that we already deliver to users in-house. There is massive potential in online conferencing, but if you can neither see what is being presented, nor comprehend what is being said, you can only describe the outcome as a failure. Let’s just be very clear: this is no fault of the presenters, and no fault of the facilitators – there is no blame here.

However, whatever the cause, I think there are some key things that should be accounted for in ensuring the successful delivery of content using technology.

Have a backup plan

As much as you can laugh off the first failure of the day, repeat failures, either in a single session, or over a series, will quickly result in frustration. You will lose your audience; similar to a presenter going off topic or using slides that are over complicated.

Take control

If the technology has failed, or is underperforming, you need to know when to step in and stop. Don’t keep trying, particularly if you have an audience. Take a deep breath. Organise a short break. Start a related conversation or activity. You expect students to behave appropriately when in your class, and intervene when things go too far. You need to apply the similar classroom management principles where technology is concerned in order to maintain focus, control and engagement.

Learn from failure

Failure is okay; it happens to all of us in our personal and professional lives. The important part of failure is taking time to reflect. Reflection as part of the learning process is the opportunity for us to review the aspects that worked well, and those that didn’t perform as expected. Perhaps it is obviuos for me to say so, but having an improved plan of action and revising the technology provision is likely to generate an improved result in future.

Don’t stop trying

Leading the way is all about pushing the boundaries, and there will always be ups and downs – I’ve experienced these myself in the classroom. The important thing is to keep innovating.

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