Friday, September 14, 2007

Putting too much trust in technology

The title of this post is stimulated by the technology hassles we have been having this week in the Facilitating eLearning Communities course. Who would believe it - two nights in a week and the computer conferencing system failed to function. Twice we were embarrassed in front of an international speaker. Twice we were unable to login and proceed smoothly as we have in previous sessions. Twice the course facilitators were getting blamed for the breakdown. And why? Because we had "put all our eggs in one basket" and we had begun to trust the technology.

The cynics would say - well it is to be expected.
The skeptics would say - I was surprised it has worked so smoothly so far.
The optimists would say - it will work well next time.
The extrinsically motivated would say - well I will just give up and go do something I really enjoy doing - this is too frustrating.
The intrinsically motivated would say - lets find a solution and do something else to help the community.

What do online facilitators say? What do classroom teachers say?


Imagine you walk into a room to teach your class. The lights wont turn on and the room is dark so they wont be able to see the whiteboard and you were going to use it for the session. What do you do?

OR

You are talking away flicking through your slide presentation and feeling like you have hooked your students. The actually seem interested and they are asking questions. Then the lamp blows on the data projector - no screen presentation. What would you do?

Do you keep talking and wing it and engage the group with some activities to help them piece together what has already been said. Or do you pack up and go home grumbling that they can read the text book.
  • How do you placate the disappointed students who are getting ready to up and leave?
  • How do you provide alternatives when the technology fails?
Yes these are all very real situations aren't they and ones we dread when we have so much content to get through and exams that have to be passed.

But let me ask this question - if you were the students who would you blame? The technology - hey that can happen, the teachers - they tried their best and its not their fault they didn't invent the thing. They don't manage the electrical grid. Yourself - I hope not.

And so it is with technology in online learning. We can do our very best to set systems up and design learning for our students, and set up interesting lectures and activities. But sometimes students cant access the materials or the sessions, sometimes the software wont run, sometimes the system fails. So what do we do?

Last night when Elluminate failed, again! And I was grappling with downloading Java to get Elluminate to work on my home computer, trying to find our guest speaker, trying to contact the IT technician to get help, trying to let every one of the four groups who were invited to the session know what was happening , trying to answer the phone calls and texts, trying to download Skype so I could message people, reading and answering the group email, messaging the facilitator who was trying to keep it all together :O

- I saw some really interesting stuff happening and a community forming. It is almost as if we have to have ripples and bumps to get traction in a community.
  • The email group changed from being asynchronous to synchronous.
  • People were downloading skype and setting themselves up on it.
  • jokes were being passed around.
  • discussions were starting.
When we did finally get on Elluminate there was some really good questions and discussion around issues such as confidentiality online, obstructions to getting online from colleagues, what should go on the wiki. We also heard about Merrolees' web 2 project and passed around ideas for online facilitating. I saw some very sturdy beams being raised in the barn. I saw some excellent facilitation going on within the group. I saw people pulling together to find solutions. I saw lots of creativity and critical thinking going on. I was amazed.

Now I am really pleased Elluminate failed. Now we actually have a community thing happening and people supporting each other. So that people is what you do when the technology fails you find alternatives, or make sure there is a sense of community happening in your class so that people will pull together when the walls fall down or the technology fails.

Now I can pack my bags and put them at the door...well almost...but I am getting ready because several of you have already climbed the cliff face and reached level 5 in Gilly Salmon's pyramid for online facilitation. If you don't know what that is you better go look.......:P

Bron


2 comments:

Carolyn McIntosh said...

Yes Bronwyn I do think that this frustrating happenstance did stimulate our group to start 'talking' together. I found it really good to start 'talking' in this way and felt I started to get to know the others with whom I was communicating a little better. I think the Skype group is growing and we might be able to have some casual of campus discussion happening there too. I am looking forward to the ongoing support of the groups as we tackle getting those dwangs in place.

Nancy White said...

GREAT STORY! It really resonated for me. Some of the takeaways for me are consistent in my practice:

* Always have a technology "plan B" ... and C, and D
* Working through adversity (with humor) brings a group together, stronger and more engaged
* We are now in a networked world, not a walled garden, so we have to layer new skills on top of scaffold's like Gillys - and we are now exploring those skills!

Brava!!!