What to Do When the Technology Fails in Class

Model Perseverance and Problem-Solving

When the technology glitch stops the lesson, model how to solve the technology problem!. Peter Dazeley/GETTY Images

The best laid plans of any 7-12th grade educator in any content area who uses technology in class may be disrupted because of a technology glitch. Incorporating technology in a class, regardless if it is hardware (device) or software (program), can mean having to deal with some common technology glitches:

  • Internet access slow down;
  • computers on carts not charged;
  • missing adapters; 
  • Adobe Flash or Java not installed;
  • forgotten access passwords;
  • missing cables;
  • blocked websites;
  • distorted sound;
  • faded projection

But even the most proficient technology user may experience unanticipated complications.  Regardless as to his or her level of proficiency, an educator experiencing a technology glitch can still salvage a very most important lesson to teach students, the lesson of perseverance.

In the event of a technology glitch, educators must never make statements such as, "I am just terrible with technology," or "This never works when I need it." Instead of giving up or getting frustrated in front of students, all educators should consider how to use this opportunity to teach students the authentic life lesson of how to deal with a technology glitch.

Model Behavior: Persevere and Problem Solve

Not only is a technology glitch an opportunity to model how to cope with failure an authentic life lesson, this is also an excellent opportunity to teach a lesson that is aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for all grade levels by way of the Mathematical Practice Standard #1 (MP#1).

The MP#1 asks students to:

CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP1 Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

If the standard is reworded in order to have the criteria  language of this mathematical practice fit the problem of a technology glitch, a teacher can demonstrate the MP#1 standard’s objective for students:

When challenged by technology, teachers can look “for entry points to [a] solution” and also “analyze givens, constraints, relationships, and goals.”  Teachers can use “a different method(s)” and “ask themselves, ‘Does this make sense?'” (MP#1)

Moreover, teachers who follow MP#1 in addressing a technology glitch are modeling the “teachable moment”, an attribute highly prized in many teacher evaluation systems.

Students are keenly aware of the behaviors that teachers model in class, and researchers, such as Albert Bandura (1977), have documented the importance of modeling as an instructional tool. Researchers refer to the  social learning theory which notes that behavior is strengthened, weakened, or maintained in social learning by modeling of behavior of others:

“When a person imitates the behavior of another, modeling has taken place. It is a kind of vicarious learning by which direct instruction does not necessarily occur (although it may be a part of the process).”

Watching a teacher model perseverance in order to problem solve a technology glitch can be a very positive lesson. Watching a teacher model how to collaborate with other teachers to solve a technology glitch is equally positive.

Including students in a collaboration to solve technology problems, however, especially at the upper levels in grades 7-12, is skill that is a 21st Century goal.

Asking students for technology support is inclusive and can help engagement. Some questions a teach might ask could be:

  •  "Does anyone here have another suggestion on how we can access this site?" 
  • "Who knows how we might increase the audio feed?" 
  • "Is there another software we could use to display this information?"

Students are more motivated when they are part of a solution.

21st Century Skills of Problem Solving

Technology is also at the heart of 21st Century skills that have been defined by the educational organization The Partnership of 21st Century Learning (P21). The P21 Frameworks outline those skills that help students develop their knowledge base and understanding in key academic subject areas.

These are skills developed in each content area and include critical thinking, effective communication, problem solving, and collaboration.

Educators should note that avoiding the use of technology in class in order not to experience technology glitches is difficult when well-regarded educational organizations are making the case that technology in class is not optional.

The website for P21also lists goals for educators who want to integrate 21st Century skills in curriculum and in instruction. Standard #3 in the P21 framework explains how technology is a function of 21st Century skills: 

  • Enable innovative learning methods that integrate the use of supportive technologies, inquiry- and problem-based approaches and higher order thinking skills;
  • Encourage the integration of community resources beyond school walls.

There is an expectation, however, that there there will be problems in developing these 21st Century skills. In anticipating technology glitches in the classroom, for example, the P21 Framework acknowledges that there will be problems or failures with technology in the classroom in the following standard stating that educators should:

"...view failure as an opportunity to learn; understand that creativity and innovation is a long-term, cyclical process of small successes and frequent mistakes."

P21 has also published a white paper with a position that advocates the use of technology by educators for assessment or testing as well:

"...measuring students’ ability to think critically, examine problems, gather information, and make informed, reasoned decisions while using technology."

This emphasis on the use of technology to design, to deliver, and to measure academic progress leaves educators little choice but to develop proficiency, perseverance, and problem-solving strategies in the use of technology.

Solutions as Learning Opportunities

Dealing with technology glitches will require that educators develop a new set of instructional strategies:

  • Solution #1: when access to the Internet slows down because students all sign on at once, educators might try to problem solve by staggering student sign-ons using 5-7 minute waves or by having students work off-line until the Internet access becomes available. 
  • Solution #2: When computer carts have not been charged overnight, teachers can pair/group students onto available charged devices until computers are powered up. 

Other strategies for some of the familiar problems listed above will include accounting for auxiliary equipment (cables, adapters, bulbs, etc) and creating databases to record/to change passwords.

Final Thoughts

When technology malfunctions or fails in the classroom, instead becoming frustrated, educators can use the glitch as an important learning opportunity.  Educators can model perseverance; educators and students can work collaboratively to problem solve a technology glitch. The lesson of perseverance is an authentic life lesson.

Just to be safe,  however, it may be a wise practice to have always have a low tech (pencil and paper?) back-up plan. That is another kind of lesson, a lesson in preparedness.