A Plan B for Your Plan B: What to Do When Your Tech Fails
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A Plan B for Your Plan B: What to Do When Your Tech Fails

By Leslie Alvarez, Director of the Office of Teaching and Learning

Here at the OTL, we realize that a fully online term was not part of anyone’s plans back in January. With the changes over the last few weeks – yes, only weeks! – you are probably already down to Plan C or D when it comes to the spring term. We continue to be amazed by our DU community and applaud the hard work that’s been done to serve our students during this global pandemic.

Now that the quarter has begun, I’d like to offer some ideas for ways to be flexible when things go wrong. In this blog, I will offer some specific recommendations, but it is important to say first, and foremost, DON’T GIVE UP! Whether you’ve been teaching only a couple of years or many, it is worth remembering that excellent teaching means taking risks. Granted, this term you are taking risks by necessity. But, any time we try something new, and especially when adopting new technology, we will have moments where things don’t go as planned. When these inevitable moments happen, try not to accept it as a sign you’ll never get it. Just as we are asking of our students, we must persevere in the face of challenges.

Luckily, some of the challenges are predictable. When using synchronous tools like Zoom, there are two issues you’re likely to encounter in the early days of online teaching: 1) poor or inconsistent internet connectivity and 2) growing pains as you adjust to the technology. Here are some ideas for adjusting on the fly.

Adjusting for connectivity issues: What if you’re in the middle of a Zoom session and the connection goes south?

    • Ask students to turn off video in Zoom. This can reduce the load in a way that may clear up audio or video problems when you or your students are experiencing slow internet speeds.
    • Move off Wi-Fi and use your personal hotspot if you have enough data and a phone that will support it (this goes for students and faculty). See how here.
    • Keep a back-up plan in your back pocket. Create a couple of back-up lesson plans that you can make available in Canvas in case Zoom crashes during a synchronous class meeting. Part of your message can guide students to engage in a different activity, such as interacting in smaller groups on Zoom or recording themselves as they think out loud in response to prompts you provide.
    • Switch to an asynchronous option. In a blog post last week, I recommended that no more than 50% of your course be synchronous. That was a general guideline, and it is perfectly fine for your course to be primarily asynchronous. Remember, the key to having “distance education” and not “correspondence” is “to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and instructor”.
      • Some asynchronous options
        • For lecturing: Kaltura is built into Canvas and can be used to pre-record lectures. You can share your screen as you do in Zoom. Bonus—if you’d like to flip your F2F classroom in the future, you’ll be a step ahead with pre-recording your lectures. See here for some basic steps and look for webinars with Alex Martinez on the OTL calendar.
        • For discussions: Asynchronous discussions encourage interaction among students and faculty. Get started with discussions here.

Adjusting for Growing pains: what if it’s not the internet that’s the problem? As new users of these technologies EXPECT some bumps in the road. Many master teachers are finding themselves in uncharted territory.

    • In the words of the sage Alex Martinez (Academic Technology Specialist) Find a co-pilot. If you’ve been to any of Alex’s recent Zoom webinars (see our calendar for upcoming dates), he not only suggests this in his sessions but also models it. For each webinar he has designated helpers that can “staff” the chat box and alert him to sound or video issues. In your class, find a student or two and rotate the role.
    • Get in extra practice with colleagues or friends. If you’ve been consuming any news at all you know that Zoom is now ubiquitous. Everyone from grandparents to elementary school children are taking the plunge.  Virtual meetings and happy hours are popping up everywhere. If you are a CBS Sunday Morning fan, you may have even seen David Rothman’s piece on Living and working from home without going stir crazy where he shares about communicating over Zoom, in addition to other creative ways to stay connected. Find some colleagues to practice with. Or, catch up with friends. Don’t forget, as noted in a recent blog, always use Zoom inside Canvas with your students for the best privacy protection. To use it with colleagues or others, use our DU login.
    • Again–don’t give up! If technology crashes or you have an online session flop, please don’t quit using synchronous options altogether! Keep trying and practicing. This pandemic is stretching each of us to learn new techniques and new technologies. This is a great opportunity to model the process of learning for our students. Sometimes learning is frustrating, sometimes learning feels slow, and sometimes learning can be a fun and transformative experience if we are willing to keep going.

As always, we at the OTL are with you as this new reality and new quarter unfolds. We’ll get through this together!

Leslie Cramblet Alvarez