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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

"My screen is blue."

"My computer froze and I lost all my work."

"It didn't save."

"It's blocked."

One of the biggest distracters of technology integration is what I like to call the "technology fails." They are frequent, inevitable, and frustrating. This reason alone is why many teachers avoid integrating technology in to his or her class.

Technology fails are inevitable, but can be prevented by putting in place procedures that will allow your classroom to progress smoothly. I recently spoke with several Instructional Technology Specialists and asked them how they handle these daily problems. Their overall perception is that technology will occasionally go awry, it is inevitable, but regardless of the technology, lessons have always had their fallouts. This is how we learn and get better.

Rich Kiker, Instructional Technology Specialist from Bucks County, PA notes that, "attitude changes everything" when integrating technology into one's classroom. Kiker adds that teachers must persevere and not just give up because technology went wrong during one lesson.

The more we fail with technology, the more we will learn from it. This can only be accomplished by trying, even if that attempt requires training wheels. Teachers must take that first step and use technology, knowing fully that it will most likely go wrong.

As with any life lesson, it is a rare occasion when we get something right on the first try. Steve Anderson, an Instructional Technology Director in North Carolina, states that, "The key is to expect the failure, and have a back up plan. Now, that isn't to say to live and teach and present in fear but to think, what am I going to do if "x" happens?" Plan B must always be available whether you are using technology or not. The ability to adjust and adapt is one of the qualities of being a solid teacher.

Teaching is a profession where you have to constantly adapt and adjust on your feet. It is a profession in constant motion between the hours of eight and three. If you are trying technology for the first time, and your school is lucky enough to have an Instructional Technology Specialist in the building then take a moment to sit down with him or her and go over what you want to accomplish with this lesson. Don't simply ask them to create it for you, but have them give you some guidance on some ideas for this particular lesson. Present them with clear objectives and how using technology can enhance the learning process and produce quality outcomes.

We must realize that not trying technology is doing our students a major disservice. Again, using technology will be frustrating at first, but give yourself some time to get used to it and set up some time with your Instructional Technology Specialist. Technology is not something you have to use everyday, but sprinkle it in when you feel it is applicable and will enhance your teaching and students' learning.

Understand that the first day you attempt to use Google Docs in your composition class, you will most likely encounter one of the quotes from above. It happened to me on occasion, but it did not deter me from using technology and learning from my mistakes. In the end, technology integration made my job easier and allowed the kids time to learn in a dynamic environment and with tools that will be essential to the 21st Century Job Market.

I can also guarantee that your school will block and filter many sites. If your school blocks a site that you use don't just huff and take it. Write a short, effective proposal to your Administration and Technology Director as to why the site should be unblocked. Give them the lesson plan, standards, and outcomes. Show them that technology and this site is essential to student learning. When you put the framework around the students' learning, there are few Administrators that will turn you down.

I challenge you to try something new. Choose three tools (maybe more, maybe less) that you will commit yourself to learning this year. When you feel comfortable, integrate these tools into your lessons. Stay focused on these tools and don't try and use something just because someone told you it works in their class. Stay focused and maintain a comfortable pace. I promise you, your students will thank you for it.

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Jay Morris's picture
Jay Morris
Technology Integration Specialist

Andrew, You have put reality to words. As a Technology Integration Specialist my most important responsibility is to give teachers the confidence to persevere. I am very fortunate that they keep hurdling the snafus and making great things happen for students.

Andrew Marcinek's picture
Andrew Marcinek
Director of Technology and EducatorU.org Co-founder, Boston, MA


Kudos to you and all you do for your colleagues. A technology Integration Specialist is no easy task. Many times we are mistaken for IT guys. Keep persevering and giving your teachers the best tech instruction in order to create a dynamic learning environment for their students.

Ann Black's picture

Exactly what I/we need to hear three weeks into starting a 1:1 computing program. Thank you!

researchpaper's picture

Agree to the fact that technologies despite their potential to fail sometimes are essential for learning and probably they are essential because of their potential to fail. Students need to see all the real-life situations and one of the lessons they need to learn is how to act when, for example, in the middle of making a presentation, computer fails to operate. Being able to solve easy computer problems on their own develops analytical and trouble-shooting skills, which are now in demand everywhere.

Gillian Thorne's picture

Technology failures occurred long before computers were being used in the classroom. The most valuable point of the blog was that teachers must be able to adapt. Some years ago I was facilitating (as a new principal myself) a weekend workshop for forty aspiring principals in a remote location; we were locked out of our building on Saturday morning, after the Friday night session; all my materials and technology for the whole day on Saturday were in the building, and I had to improvise for eight hours with whatever paper and pencils we had. But it worked. Teachers need to learn pedagogy first; there is not much new when when we break down learning tasks into their important objectives. We should never forget that technology tools are just that--tools. As for preparing students for 21st century skills, we need to prepare them for life and learning. The technology skills they learn now will be no more relevant in their adult careers than DOS and Fortran are today.

ken smith's picture
ken smith
year 7-12 mathematics teacher/eLearning /IT teacher yr11/12

I couldn't agree more andrew ,I have noted though by changing to a Mac over 5 years ago ,computer problems are non-existent and a lot of cheap effective software that can enhance student learning is available and from a new tech based teacher point of view is so easy to learn and use.Making more interactive cross curricula investigations in maths showing real life situations has lifted the interest in mathematics by reluctant students.Multimedia learning is a must

ekhildenbrand's picture
Instructional Tech. Specialist & Computer Teacher from Phila. suburbs

Amen to Jay's comment about being "IT guys." I had to explain to my colleagues that I do not know how to repair every hardware, network, and printer malfunction (though I have successfully handled quite a few!) And sometimes, I think, one of our contributions is simply that we remain positive and motivated to troubleshoot our instructional technologies rather than throw in the towel.

ekhildenbrand's picture
Instructional Tech. Specialist & Computer Teacher from Phila. suburbs

Sorry! That was Andrew's comment on being "IT guys!"

Debbi V's picture
Debbi V
First Grade Teacher Virginia Beach, VA

As a first grade teacher I absolutely fear those "technology fails" you mentioned. There is no greater chaos than 19 little voices calling your name because their computer isn't doing what you told them it would, while you are trying to figure out why, but have no clue. However, I wholeheartedly agree that we have to do it. I also agree that you need a solid "Plan B" and I feel like that in itself is a learning experience for the children. They need to learn flexibility and how to have a backup plan, because technology will inevitably fail them at some point when they are in charge one day. I have made it a goal to integrate more technology in my lessons this year and to allow my students more opportunity to create with technology rather than just "playing." I'm formulating my "Plan B" now so I can be prepared.

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