A few weeks back, I announced the first annual Epic Tech Fail Day here on the Radical.  My intention was a simple one:  To encourage teachers that are using technology in the classroom to share stories of digital failures instead of digital successes.

The way I figure, teachers new to technology need to see us tech veterans modeling digital resilience—the refusal to give up even in the face of techno-hiccups and/or digital disasters—before they’ll be willing to take risks in their own classrooms.

Fourteen readers took up this year’s challenge. 

Here’s a summary of each of their Epic Tech Fails:

Delaney Kirk—who is teaching an MBA class in Florida—had arranged a Skype session for her students with a few colleagues in Iowa…only to have the connection between her class and their guest speakers fail.  While her students could see their digital visitors, they couldn’t hear anything.  Moral of Delaney’s story:  Always have an extra activity planned to keep students busy in the event of an Epic Tech Fail.

Stephanie Dulmage—a first grade teacher—learned a similar lesson about always preparing a Plan B when her own Skype session went bad.  Excited about bringing a rain forest biologist into her room into her room as a guest speaker—and to show off the potential of new technologies to a team of central office administrators—-Stephanie was mortified when a power outage at Central Office temporarily took down the district’s web server.

Skype also proved to be the downfall for Joanna Seymour, who had planned a whole school event with Ray Zahab from Impossible2Possible to celebrate their efforts to address the worldwide water crisis.  Joanna was prepared, though:  She’d already downloaded several video blogs from the I2P website and used those to move forward and celebrate.

Bill Ivey’s not giving up on Skype even AFTER it froze three different times on two different computers as his students were trying to network with a sister school.  He’d planned a great activity for his kids which ended up becoming nothing more than a short connection via speaker phone.

A Google effort to prevent spamming ended up being the source of Julie Combs‘ Epic Tech Fail.  Excited to have her kids use Google Docs to collaborate around shared documents together, Julie prepared a handout detailing the steps used to create Google Docs accounts.  Turns out that Google sees multiple accounts being created from the same IP address as a sign of shady practices and locked Julie’s class out before enough accounts had been created.

Julie’s lesson:  “The more you use technology, the more likely you will experience problems, you just have to try to figure it out or ask for help, but you never throw your hands up and say, ‘that’s it, no more technology for me!’

For Sue Graves—a fifth grade teacher in Northern Arizona—an Epic Tech Fail ended up being an important lesson for her students.  They’d prepared for months to compete in a real-time math competition against students from around the country, only to be let down when their school computers wouldn’t allow them to access the competition’s website. 

“It was a crushing blow for them to realize that the technology that made them so excited to learn, only ended up disappointing them at the end,” writes Sue.  ” But we continue to use the computer with real time data to teach them not to give up just because of a technical difficulty.”

Carrie Guarino seems to be bitten by the Epic Tech Fail Bug as just about nothing went right for her during a lesson on developing convincing pitches for new products.  Not only did her data projector fail despite being a tool that she uses daily, her efforts to video tape her lesson for further evaluation and reflection purposes went awry.  She’s still smiling, though.  Sometimes that’s your only choice when tech goes bad. 

Competing with Carrie for the “Most Likely to have a Digital Disaster” superlative is Jessica Frahm, who has wrestled with everything from Skype to Glogster in her fifth grade classroom.  You’d be crazy not to stop by and check out Jessica’s Epic Tech Fail entry, which is fun to read and full of practical suggestions for making technology work.  

Consider that his Epic Tech Fail involves sixth graders hurling body-part laden insults at one another in a well-intentioned effort to learn Shakespeare, Kevin Hodgson has got to win the “Almost Too Funny to be True” award.  At least, that is, until he couldn’t keep his kids from accessing the Shakespeare insult generator that he’d found online. 

Nina Silver was the cause of her own Epic Tech Fail.  The Canadian communications teacher had her 11th graders ready to record an entire news program in her fully outfitted studio when she discovered that she’d forgotten to plug in her set of rechargeable microphones the night before.  She also discovered, though, that her students are pretty amazing kids committed to the work they’re doing.  They all came in the day after school ended to get their news program recorded.  Nice.

Sandra Hines, a technology professional development provider at the district level, proves in her Epic Tech Fail entry that digital disasters don’t just happen when we’re working with kids.  Her annual technology presentation—focused on cell phones as an instructional tool—at a district staff development session ended up being held in a middle school with a weak wireless signal and almost no cell phone reception.  Needless to say, her core message was not well received!

Dan Greenberg, another professional development provider from Houston, had worked within his department to develop a pretty impressive series of online courses for teachers—including one housing a recording of a popular webinar on using digital tools for differentiating learning.  The only hitch:  Someone forgot to pay the company housing the webinar and Dan’s best content was deleted!  Ouch.

The Gas Station Without Pumps—-a great name for a blogger who has chosen to remain anonymous and who works at the university level—-points out that access to power…something that we all seem to take for granted here in the developed world…can cause its own tech failures in his post detailing the damage done to research efforts by alarmingly frequent power outages in California.

Imagine being a middle grades student in a one-to-one school on the day that your new computer is delivered.  Imagine listening to about a dozen speeches delivered by your teachers, your principal and some guy they call “the technology director” while you’re staring at an almost unbelievable stack of laptops just waiting to be opened. 

Then, imagine FINALLY being able to turn your machine on only to see a blank blue screen and a spinning hourglass.  Nightmare, right?  And the core of Pat Woessner’s Epic Tech Fail.

Interesting stuff, huh?  And stuff that includes a few lessons for anyone interested in seeing technology integrated into classrooms.  Those lessons include:

You’ve got to be persistent in order to incorporate technology into your classroom:  Technology is going to fail—plain and simple.  But that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth ever using again.  As Julie Combs writes, “If your car broke down, would you stop driving forever? Of course not. Technology is the same. You have to know when and who to ask for help because it is never always going to work perfectly.”

You’ve got to build a network of digital allies in important places:  There are tons of people with digital know-how in our schools and districts.  Sometimes those people are the media specialists who are trained by the district to use new tools. 

Sometimes those people are the tech guys who are making decisions on what to buy—and what to block! Whoever they are, win them over early and often.  As Jessica Frahm writes, “Enlist help!  Media coordinators are your friends – very, very good friends!”

You’ve got to learn to laugh a little:  For whatever reason, teachers who get struck with a wicked case of the techno-hiccups seem to be fragile creatures who are devastated every time something goes wrong.  The best remedy for this fear is probably a sense of humor.

As Dan Greenberg writes, “Isn’t that what an epic fail is all about? You do the best you can at the time, put in place provisions, hopefully get a good laugh out of it, and look for ways to avoid it next time.”

Many thanks to everyone who has taken the time to write for this year’s Epic Tech Fail Day!  Your willingness to be open about your own struggles will make struggling safe for other teachers.  I’d encourage you to continue writing about your digital disasters—and sharing those stories with everyone that you know!

While I’d love to give everyone a copy of Teaching the iGeneration—my newest book on teaching essential skills with Web 2.0 tools—I’ve only got five promos left.  The winners—who I’m going to contact by email in the next five minutes—are:

  1. Dan Greenberg
  2. Bill Ivey
  3. Jessica Frahm
  4. Sandra Hines
  5. Sue Graves

Remember, though, that anyone can download a complete copy of Teaching the iGeneration for the next two weeks.  Solution Tree is making it available in advance of a digital conversation that we’re having here on the Radical at the end of August.

You can find details about the conversation—-including a link to download TiG—by visiting this post.  Here’s to hoping I’ll see you online in our conversation, which runs from August 26th to August 28th.

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