Technology Woes

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This kitty seems amused and maybe slightly deranged.

Technology is supposed to make our lives and work easier and more enjoyable. However, when it doesn’t perform like we think it should, it becomes maddening and “annoyingly funny” (h/t Bradley F.).

My students are working on a multimedia project connected to Lord of the Flies that asks them to explore different views of humanity. It requires them to incorporate every level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, and they may work with a partner if they choose, so there’s collaboration involved. Basically, it’s the perfect project (educationally-speaking).

As they started searching for materials, we discovered that Google Images is blocked on the district-issued Chromebooks that I checked out from the library. We had encountered this problem before, and I thought it was just a one-time thing. I followed protocol and emailed the help desk to get assistance. I received a reply 3 hours later requesting a screenshot of the issue. Since it was my conference period, I borrowed a student from another class to log in to the laptop so I could recreate the issue and send the screenshot. After I sent them the evidence, the help desk asked me to have that same student log in to a different computer (not a Chromebook) to see if the problem existed on that platform. So I tracked down a MacBook Air from a cart that another teacher had checked out, but I couldn’t find the same student to log in to check, so it had to wait until my next class began. (This is, quite literally, the definition of “runaround.” [I can feel my blood pressure rising right now as I’m retelling this story.]) So 4th period started, and I had a student log in to both a Chromebook and the borrowed MacBook. Sure enough, Google Images is still blocked on the Chromebook, but it isn’t blocked on the MacBook. I snagged screenshots of both situations and sent them on to the help desk. And then the day was over.

This morning, students resumed their work and found that Google Images is still blocked on the Chromebooks. I emailed the help desk again and included a request for an alternate video source since YouTube is also blocked (and not just on Chromebooks), and they said they were still looking into the issue and had no solution for the lack of video access. I’m writing this 24 hours later, and there’s still no resolution.

This incident makes abundantly clear the fact that the tech side of education is unaware of how the classroom side works. To ask a teacher to go find a different computer to test an issue is absurd and wildly inconvenient. To ask students to be engaged, innovative, critical thinkers and not give them enough access to be successful is frustrating, inhibiting, and demoralizing. The tools are useless if they have no teeth–they’re glorified paperweights and fancy word processors. When technology actually creates more work for us, it ceases to be the first option.

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Network Down

I read somewhere once that teachers make as many on-the-spot decisions as air traffic controllers. Never are teachers more tested than when things don’t go the way that we’ve planned them, especially when technology is involved.

Yesterday, the entire district network was offline for about 4 hours. Image

Image credit: http://res2.windows.microsoft.com/resbox/en/windows%20vista/main/7a7d2fcd-3f27-45e5-bd99-b1e214b87730_14.pn

With the end of the school year looming, this was not a good time to be inconvenienced. Really, there’s never a good time, especially when we’re encouraged to use so much technology so much of the time. Teachers had grades to enter; students had projects to complete. It was a very frustrating day, but we survived.

We experienced a similar outage just two weeks before, when internet and email access were down for almost 24 hours. And we survived that, too.

These incidents reinforce the fact that when we’re expected to develop so many technology-driven assignments and that technology fails us, we’ll need to have a contingency plan in place when the network goes down–and the network *will* go down.

Beyond that, I don’t ever see a time (in my English classroom, for sure) when we will never use paper and pen to accomplish a goal. Even with iPads and iMacs available, I still intend to have my students put pen to paper to express their ideas. There are just some things that technology can’t replace.