What’s your plan B in teaching when the technology is completely broken?


In one of my Graduate Teaching Scholar (GTS) weekly meeting, someone came up with this question: What’s your plan B in teaching when the technology is completely broken? When the computer doesn’t run and the projector doesn’t function? I have to admit I never thought about this question before. I heard people talking about plan B in teaching, but I never link it with complete technology malfunction. If it’s just a computer problem, maybe I can borrow a spare one from my TA. If it is just the projector problem, I can still proceed when students sharing and looking at the PPT from their computer screens— though not as efficient as before, at least it works. But when there is a complete system broken down, honestly, I don’t have a plan B.

The way I design my teaching is so integrated with technology that it would be a disaster if technology is completed teased out from the classroom. The same is true for our lives. Technology has penetrated into all aspect of our daily lives. It is hard for me to envision what life would be without technology. Yes, I am a centaurs. I use Google Maps every time when I go to new places (sometime I still need it to go to Christiansburg). I looked up in Yelps to find interesting restaurant while in new places like New York or DC. I have TED app in my smart phone so I can listen to TED talks while walking or waiting for the bus.

In my perception, technology is a place where we can outsource part of human workload to. I am more convinced with this belief as the reading of this week continues. Machine and man can collaborate in the optimal senesce that both worked in their comparative advantages (like the man-machine team in chess game). Computers are good at storing, searching and computing information, while human brain are unique in terms of analyzing and adjusting based on intuition and insight. The development of technology makes technology more capable on what original done by human. By outsourcing these tasks to machine, it leaves man with more energy (cognitive resources) to explore other unknown fields.

Ok, back to the previous question, what will you do when there is complete technology break down in your class, instead of calling it a day?

7 thoughts on “What’s your plan B in teaching when the technology is completely broken?”

  1. I teach first year engineering classes and I would say I do not rely on technology as much as most of instructors in my department do to teach the same class. A lot my colleagues ask students to submit responses/feedback on a DyKnow panel in which students can just write responses and submit the slides to the instructor. I personally do not like that and instead ask my students to speak up in class. Apart from that, I try to use the minimum amount of technology and avoid it unless required. I use power-point slides for my classes. My students have a copy of the slides before the class begins.There have been times when 1) I have forgotten my computer to the class or 2) the projector has not worked. In the first case, I modified my class so that I did not have to use power-point. I discusses the content with the class without using slides. In the second case, I asked students to look at the power-point slides on their computers. Similarly, when the audio system did not work, I asked my students to listen to an audio clip in class using their own laptops or their peers’ laptops.

    1. Hi, Ashish, Thanks for your reply. You really have a lot of back up plans 🙂 But here is one problem I find with direct response in class: some students may be too sky (or it takes more time for them) to come up the answer on the spot. So generally they may get discouraged by that. But I think, it also depends on the class size. We can pay special attention to them if its a small size. I am curious how it works in large class size, like 50+ students.

  2. Yanliang, you are correct in a class with manageable number of students, we can think about teaching them in old fashion using black board, discussions and activities. it might be difficult in a big classroom. but I surely have an idea, that we will have the “best class that day” and I am confident. Ok why? I think I will engage my students and play a quiz in the class. It will involve class materials and also outside knowledge or it can be just a fun game. We can also play dumb charades with movie names and in-class conceptual terms. The class that will be different from all the other days and hope students will love that.

  3. This is a situation I have never thought about. And, I think this situation is a test for my ability of teaching. Instead of dismissing class (there are instructors doing so), I’d like to organize my students do group discussion reflecting materials we covered. Or, we could discuss how to improve learning of the materials in my course. Interestingly, no modern teaching technology, my students and I would have more chances to communicate as persons.

  4. Yanliang,

    Great post. This is something I’m pretty familiar with and not for the right reasons. In Venezuela we have been facing a lot of problems in the country as a consequence of bad economical and social policies. One of the problems we have had for the last decade are regarding electricity. It’s pretty common to be 4 or 5 hours during the day with no access to electric power. Therefore, you can’t rely on technology all the time. I always try to plan my classes and have a written outline, and to make sure I have alternatives to deliver the same information just by using the board.

    I remember when the problem started, my students were suppose to present their final project on the last day of the semester, they came into the classroom and there was no electricity, everything they prepared was on power point. I asked them what they wanted to do about it. For me it was really fulfilling when they decided to go ahead and present with whatever resources they had at the moment. They used the board, they used pencil and paper, they also acted (they were going to show a video and decided to play the video on stage).

    I think those students understood better than anyone that you need to be prepared all the time and that the most important thing is that you are comfortable with the information you are delivering.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Great post and comments here! I think that question reminds us of the importance to “use” technology and not “be used” by it, meaning that, although the technological means did enable us with powerful resources, we are not really dependent of them to make things work on the classroom. What is really powerful resides on us, our minds, our ideas and creativity. Maybe it would be healthy have a day without technology once in a while.

  6. The screen is 7-inches diagonally with LED back lighting and has a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels.

    This allows you to always stay on top of your costs and stay on top of your budget.

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