Monday, February 13, 2012

Using Your Computer for a Football

It is stating the obvious when we say that technology has changed the way that we do business in our schools today.  The amount of information that is available, the speed at which we can access content, the types of collaboration and connectivity that we can have with others, and the type of data that we can quickly gather from and for our school community is truly staggering.  But as a tech-evangelist who champions all of the advantages that technology can bring to our schools, there is still one thing about technology that drives me crazy.

When technology does not work.

Today, we took our Grade 9s through the course selection process for next September.  It is a fairly simple process of data entry that takes less than 5 minutes of actual computer time to enter courses.  In British Columbia, we use a system called BCeSIS, which is a central student information system for nearly all schools in BC.  Our Grade 9s were to directly enter their course selections into the BCeSIS system, and then be able to review it with their parents at home online.   However, as our 9s sat in four computer labs poised to enter their selections, the system froze.  And when reset everything and we brought another group in, the system froze again.  While incredibly patient, you could see the anxiety on the faces of our students because they were unable to select their courses.  You could see the frustration of their teachers who had scheduled this time out of their classes to get the course selection process completed.  I felt bad for all of them, and in the end we had to abort the mission and reschedule for another time.

We had tested it.  It had worked prior to the session.  We had adult and student helpers.   We thought we had covered every base.

The technology just didn't work.

Suddenly, I found myself becoming gun-shy with the direct entry of our courses into BCeSIS.  We have a thousand more students who need to enter their courses.  What if it doesn't work next time?  How will the kids get their information into the system?  Will we have to do it by paper?  Will we have to find a workaround?   Should we just use paper like we have in the past?

This made me reflect on how difficult it can be for teachers when they are trying to use technology to increase the engagement of their classes or teach 21st century skills to their students, only to have the technology conk out on them.   Multiply this by a factor of ten for a teacher who is a neophyte with technology; the negative reaction that tech failure can cause for someone trying something for the first time with their class is one that can last for a long while.   I use technology every day, and here I was, mad, cringing at the thought of BCeSIS crashing again, and ready to 'abandon ship' for a paper solution.

I know that in the end, it will all work.  We will call and find out the reason for the crashes, and we will get all of the information from the kids.   But I only know this because I have had technology crash on me too many times to remember, and I have had people there to support me when I wanted to give up.  Bearing that in mind, I think it is paramount that those of us who are more comfortable with technology in tech leadership positions recognize the potential fragility of new tech users and consistently provide them with support for them when tech goes bad. 

Otherwise, I fear that we may find more computers being used for footballs, like the one above.


  1. Great bit, Cale.

    I just wrote a similar piece for Ed Week's Teacher Roundtable -- but they haven't posted it yet.

    My argument was a simple one: SURE we can figure out workarounds when these kinds of disasters happen, but given that it's 2011, should we really have to?

    When we count on digital resilience from teachers INSTEAD of make the kinds of investments necessary for making sure that digital connections are reliable and consistent, we can't be surprised when the pace of change in our classrooms is glacial.

    Rock on,

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