Thursday, September 15, 2011

When Technology Fails and We Succeed

I have come to realize that learning about new technologies and using them are two different things. Since my last post, I have experienced a couple learn-by-doing moments that I feel would be helpful to share.

On our Facebook Faculty Group Wall, a teacher friend shared yesterday’s NY Times article “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?”  which developed into a discussion thread of unanimous agreement. In the spirit of that, let’s talk about my wonderful failures of the past couple weeks. In an attempt to have a live discussion, I set up both a faculty meeting, and subsequently a class presentation, through vyew.com. I have the free version of service, but I was hoping to lead a discussion very similar to those I have experienced through Blackboard or Illuminate...sans the cost. I guess you get what you pay for in this case because while I was able to load the presentations successfully for both meetings, some of my staff members had a hard time accessing the meeting room and talking/listening became a problem. Nevertheless, I thought I had figured out the user errors on my part and how to better run it when I presented a lesson with my students.

I suppose it would be an accurate statement to say that the lesson proved relatively chaotic and ultimately ineffective as a whole-group activity. I cannot attribute this to the software because I am sure that somewhere in the product description of “free service” it indicates that there is a limit on how many attendees can enter a room, but what transpired was in retrospect rather comical in a way. I loaded a simple power point on outlining for my composition class and invited the students into the room. They got in; great success! Except that as the number exceeded 10, the kids already in the room lost their space, getting booted out. It did take us a good ten minutes to figure this out, and naturally, it was the students who put the variables together...kids are so brilliant.

Aside from minor setbacks of lost time and the necessity of assuaging any student and parent frustrations resulting from the confusing class session, this failure generated much growth. I conferenced individually with the students, who still did view the presentation and successfully complete the outline in spite of the failed meeting. My students, despite some being convinced they could not succeed in this type of environment, all rose to the problem-solving challenge and collaborated to answer questions from those who could not comprehend the task solely based on the presentation. It was messy, but the work produced then and subsequently has been impressive. This experience also taught me an important thing about the online environment: whole class instruction is exactly contrary to the beauty of the open flow classroom. The flipped model combined with the ability to deliver instruction on an individual student level when they are ready to receive it is actually attainable in this structure because it is forced. I have also realized that I can effectively use small group conferencing through Vyew which seems to do well when there are not too many competing voices in the room. Instead of trying to lecture to the students all at once, if I have something to say, or just want to show them the Hudson River, I post a video for them like this one.

My second failure was small and impacted only myself but worth sharing. There have been multiple mentions of Glogster and QR Codes in recent blogs and conference presentations, so I thought I would put together a project where students created multimedia Glogs to share various elements of our school’s history and its programs, which could then be linked to QR Codes to put up around the school for families to scan during admission tours and to give out at community events for those interested in learning about our school. I spend more than a few hours creating a sample Glog and screencast for my students only to link the QR code, scan it with my iPhone...and bring up NOTHING! Admittedly, I should have realized beforehand that this would be a problem, and it might have registered just a split second before the loading of the page failed, but in the end, the Adobe/Apple stalemate imploded my project. And yet, from this emerged some new collaboration through Twitter from fellow teachers who introduced me to webdoc.com which does not run on Flash. My students took to it right away, so quickly in fact, that they never really watched the presentation on it and nevertheless finished, in some cases, days before the project was due. Check out this one on our Dance Program.

I cannot say for certain whether I wish the conference had gone smoothly or that my QR/Glog mash-up project had mashed harmoniously because I really do believe the hackneyed-but-not-too-often-practiced sentiment that failure is not only acceptable but critical to our success. It truly depends on what is at stake and the nature of the failure. The only inexcusable failure, in this case, would have been a student feeling completely disconnected or incapable of success. As it stands at the end of the project, all my students and I learned more through navigating our obstacles in order to still reach a summit together. Nothing was lost...not even time.

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