Epic Tech Fail Day

Inspired by Scott McLeod’s Leadership Day and Tweets from andyjb and stephe1234 I’d like to announce the first annual Epic Tech Fail Day!

Designed as an effort to raise awareness about the importance of being digitally resilient in the 21st Century Classroom and to help teachers new to technology understand that even digital veterans have computer meltdowns, Epic Tech Fail Day authors should write short pieces about the struggles that they’ve had in their work with technology…and then share lessons learned from their disasters. 

Here’s a sample I wrote this morning.

Submission Details:

  1. In your post, include a description of your digital disaster, the reasons your failure occurred, the lessons you learned, and—if appropriate—links to tools that others can use to avoid your disaster.
  2. Get your contributions posted online before August 12th.
  3. After posting your contribution, fill out this form so that I can find you easily.
  4. If you’re Twittering, use #epictechfail as your hashtag so we can find your posts there, too.
  5. Once all entries have been collected, I’ll link to the submissions here the Radical.
  6. The five best submissions will win a free copy of my newest book, Teaching the iGeneration.

Topics You Might Write About:

Maybe you had a great video-based activity that went horribly wrong because all of the video cameras in your school decided to die at the same time—or a lesson built around digital photographs captured on cameras without USB cords!

Maybe you’ve fought the Flip Camera Codex battle—something that teachers in PC schools have grumbled about more than once in the past few years.  Maybe your class wiki project fell apart in a sea of vandalism from students who weren’t quite ready to take digital projects seriously. 

Maybe you’ve:

  • Had the Internet go down more times than you can count when working with kids in the computer lab.
  • Found it impossible to even sign up for computer time in your school!
  • Stumbled across great sites, developed terrific lessons using new tools, and had all your work go to waste because of “the firewall.”
  • Discovered at the last minute that the computers in your school weren’t compatible with the external tools that you were counting on your kids actually using.

If so, consider writing for Epic Tech Fail Day!  Making your struggles transparent will help others to understand that digital efforts aren’t easy—but that glitches aren’t failures in the eyes of a determined teacher.

16 comments

  1. Nina Silver

    It’s all about knowing when the students have bought in to using the technology: Hello from Canada. I am a communications technology teacher who is lucky enough to have a 2 camera television studio and control room as part of my lab. Although we are still using (embarassed) Hi8 recording devices, I am able to teach students all about the roles in live to tape television production with the use of studio and control room equipment, radio headset mics, lighting and audio mixing boards.
    In June, as part of a culminating activity with grade 11 students, we pre-planned and prepped an entire class newscast. Students had produced pre-packaged news stories and commercials to run in our live to tape studio day that was to be the final evaluation day for students that semester. Scripts had been written, graphics prepared, and even cue cards were produced.
    The studio day was booked during our last day of in-class exams. Following that day, students were to be free for the year except for any final exams they had to show up for over the next week.
    My students had worked extremely hard getting ready for this final production day; with everyone assigned a task from control room director to graphics, floor director and announcing.
    Well, as you can surmise from the fact that I am entering this story, everything fell apart 5 minutes into the final show when the radio mics stopped working.
    Whose fault? Mine. I forgot to re-charge the radio mic sets the night before the shoot.
    As this event was suppose to be my last opportunity to evaluate my student’s knowledge of the roles they had studied all semester, I had to think fast.
    I also had to rely on the dedication of my student crew.
    Proudly, I was able to get all students but one to come in the next morning, on their own time, to tape the show. They showed up willingly and with professionalism as they not only wanted to get good grades, but because they had truly come to understand the limitations, joys, and power that come from using communications technology. Needless to say, they all received great marks.

  2. Bill Ivey

    My own story would also be a repeated Skype failure – not one, not two, but three separate freezes on two different computers. It finally ended 40 minutes later with my class crowded in my office for a quick five-minute speakerphone chat with students at our partner school instead of the 30-minute conversation and activity we had planned. (The kids kindly gave up break to do this, so after it was all over, I left them in study hall with my office mate and ran to the supermarket to pick them up snacks.)
    The speakerphone idea was Plan C, and shows the importance both of having backup plans and of teachers using cell phones to stay in contact until the students are officially connected. I also learned never to rely on wireless in my school for Skype-based projects, but always to use the cable.
    I agree that Skype will be notoriously common among epic tech-fail stories because it places such demands on school networks. I still think the advantages are well worth the risks!

  3. John Ferriter

    Bill… I too share your observation about Skype… I’m wondering if any of your readers has any explanation?? Why do Oprah and Ellen DeGeneres and other network shows show large screen Skype videoconferences without fail???

  4. Carrie Guarino

    Epic Tech Failure: I feel compelled to share this story. As you will discover, my first attempt at videotaping a lesson was a complete and total flop, but my sense of humor helped me keep things in perspective. It was such a total bomb that it was comical. My master teacher and I laughed until tears came to our eyes.
    The lesson I had prepared for my landslide unit involved teaching the students how to write a proposal to me about their final project (I need to do a language arts lesson for Task 4). I am teaching this unit to two 6th grade classes. I decided to give the lesson a try with the one class to see how it worked and determine if any modifications needed to be made. My master teacher watched me deliver the lesson, and we both agreed that it seemed to be a good one to videotape. With some minor modifications, I came the next day prepared to have my master teacher videotape this same lesson for the other class. We practiced videotaping earlier in the day during a math lesson to make sure that were comfortable working with the camera. When it came time for science in the afternoon, I prepared the students by explaining what we were doing with the camera and why we were doing it. When we were ready, we started the camera.
    I had a great hook for this lesson. I had something in my pocket and had the students guess what it was. One guessed $20, another candy, and the last student guessed gummy bears. I told him that he was so close, and then I whipped out a pack of Wrigley’s 5 Cobalt gum and held it up before the class. There was great excitement as the students began talking about how they had seen this gum before, that they had tried it and it was the best, etc. During a poll where I was determining the students’ experience with the gum, behind me there was a loud noise as the screen for the projector suddenly flew up on its own. The kids, the master teacher, and I all burst out laughing. I wasn’t worried about this being caught on tape. I thought it would demonstrate my sense of humor and ability to get the class back under control so we could move on with the lesson. Once the students were composed, I told the students that we would now watch a commercial for this gum on the internet. I had the commercial all cued up on the computer, so all I had to do was turn on the projector. I pushed the button. Nothing happened. I smiled. I pushed the button again. This time there was a blue screen (I use this projector every day, and it always turns on and shows what I have on the computer screen). “Oh,” I thought, “I must need to change the input.” I pressed another button to change the input. Again, nothing. I thought. I decided to turn the projector off to hopefully reset it, and simply turn it back on. The students were being awesome as they patiently waited, and waited, and waited. After about 3 minutes of waiting, I asked my master teacher to turn off the camera. I didn’t want to send in a videotape that had the scorers viewing me trying to get my technology to work. Argh!
    We took a break to fix the projector and started from the top. I felt like I was back in high school on stage practicing a play. Was this real teaching that we were taping? Anyhow, we started again. I asked the students if they could guess what was in my pocket. A student raised his hand, and in a very slow, mundane way said, “Is it gum?” Not skipping a beat, I said, “Yes. Yes it is,” and whipped the gum out of my pocket. The students, all together, let out a slow, dry, “Wow.”
    Oh well, so the open flopped because the element of surprise was gone. But, they had not yet seen the commercial, so at least I had that going for me. The commercial was fun and provided the connection I needed so the students would understand how to pitch their ideas to me thereby selling me on their project. The middle part of the lesson went well. Sometime during the middle the lesson, my master teacher picked up the camera, tri-pod and all, and moved to a different location. I discovered later that from the angle she was videotaping, most of the views were of the top part of the overhead projector framed by the outside of my head. She had moved so she could get my whole face in the picture. After awhile, I knew we were getting close to the time limit. I wrapped up the table group discussions and was talking about their assignment which I said was due on Monday. I was scanning the room checking for understanding when I saw my master teacher madly giving me the time-out sign (the one that is used for basketball and football). I assumed she was telling me that we were running out of time. I had planned on closing by having each table group share one of the ideas they had come up with for a mock proposal, but I figured we didn’t have enough time. The only thing going through my mind at that time was the conversation I had with my faculty advisor the evening before talking about my need to do some type of closing (I almost always leave this out of my lessons). So, thinking we were out of time and not wanting to miss another closing, I yelled out desperately, “Anybody, what have you learned today?” I took a couple comments, and then the lesson ended. After we had turned off the camera, my master teacher told me that what I had perceived as a time-out sign was her way of trying to tell me that the assignment needed to be due on Tuesday instead of Monday because Monday was a holiday. Oh my gosh! What a disaster. Fortunately, like I said before, I do have a wonderful sense of humor, and my master teacher and I had a great laugh over the whole fiasco. We would just have to try again with a different lesson. I was only bummed because I had really wanted to have this video done. Oh well.

  5. Sue Graves

    Hi Bill!
    I teach 5th grade in a small, rural town in Northeastern Arizona. Our epic tech fail day was a sad one for the students. They had logged into a site where they were going to compete with other 5th grade students around the country on Math facts and concepts. Each student had to fill out a log in questionnaire form prior to the competition day. The kids spent weeks preparing by answering questions that were posed from the site using problems and games that they found. On the day of the competition the students, hyped to beat others around the country, pumped to display the knowledge that they had gained, confident in their skills because they had prepared in advance, were sadly disappointed to find that the computers for some reason would not log onto the real time site. 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. However, we had our own competition between the classes that had joined. The winning class was given extra recess and popsicles. We continue to use the computer with real time data to teach them not to give up just because of a technical difficulty.

  6. Bill Ferriter

    These are great submissions, y’all. Thanks for sharing your struggles and making your work to overcome them transparent.
    My belief is that doing so will help other teachers to have the confidence to tackle technology too—and maybe some strategies for avoiding common digital traps, too!
    Keep spreading the word, huh? The more contributors we have, the better Epic Tech Fail Day is bound to be!
    Rock on,
    Bill
    PS…Interesting to see Skype mentioned more than once, isn’t it? My guess is that has something to do with the demands that videoconferencing can place on school networks?
    Whaddya’ think?

  7. Joanna Seymour

    Our epic fail occurred the morning we had planned an all school Skype with Ray Zahab from Impossible2Possible. Our students had been learning about the world water crisis and had held a very successful fundraiser. Ray was going to Skype with us to thank our kids for their efforts and allow them to ask him questions about his new trek.
    We had been diligent about setting up and testing all of our equipment. As the time came for the Skype we could not get a connection with Ray. He was visiting another school in Canada and their Internet link went down.
    With the whole student body assembled, we switched to plan B, which was to put my cell phone on speakerphone and use a microphone to hear Ray. It definitely wasn’t as effective as Skype, so all of us decided to set the Skype visit up for the next afternoon.
    Luckily, I had planned for worst case scenario and had downloaded several of the videoblogs to fill time while the students were waiting. The Skype visit the next afternoon went flawlessly.
    What I have learned from integrating technology is that you need to be prepared and flexible, and always have a plan B!

  8. Julie Combs

    My plan was to introduce the students to Google docs so they could collaborate on projects live no matter where they were. The students were excited about the prospect of being able to work on their group presentations online in real time.
    The first step was creating user accounts at Google. I wrote step-by-step instructions with pictures so they could get through this portion of the lesson quickly. Shortly I knew something was amiss because about 10 hands went up at the same time. (never a good sign in a computer lab) Some of my students’ accounts were created as expected, and others were getting an error message. Thankfully, my students had seen tech lessons go awry before and they knew to give me time to troubleshoot whatever was the issue. It turned out that to prevent spamming, Google has their accounts limited per IP address. The way my lab was set up, it appeared to Google that we were spammers so they locked us out. Needless to say we were all disappointed, but I turned it into a teachable moment by discussing that when the chosen technology doesn’t work for you, then look for alternatives. The students brainstormed other ways to share the information quickly and they chose the method they preferred and the lesson went on.
    When teachers call me and ask for help fixing something with their technology, they often ask me, “how do you know this stuff?” My answer is, “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!’ 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.”

  9. Stephanie

    Last year our school was studying the rain forest. I found a rain forest biologist from MSU to Skype with my class. I set it up during a time when the adminstration from central office was doing a walk-through in our school. The students were all set with questions, I had Skyped with the rain forest biologist prior to the day, the administrators were in and I was ready to connect. I established connectivity and right after the introductions I lost contact – I quickly tried again but no luck. I was in a panic 23 first graders ready to Skype, a team of 6 admin in my room, and no connection. One of the administrators in the building was a tech person who contacted the main office about this issue. Unbelievably so – right when I was scheduled to Skype the power company shut all the power down at the main office which affected our server. What luck! At that point the admin left and I got the class refocused. About 20 minutes later I did establish the connection and the lesson went on w/o a hitch. Unfortunately, the central office team had already left and one of the main reasons to plan it at this time was to educate them. The silver lining is that once we skyped with Dr. Urquhart it was such an amazing experience that it was worth the frustration. I certainly learned to be flexible, use the tech support in your district – they are very willing to help, and always have plan B.
    Be flexible and persistent with technology applications – it’s well worth it!

  10. DelaneyKirk

    Last spring I found two speakers in Iowa that agreed to present to my MBA class in Florida via Skype. The speakers had to be at their office in Des Moines by 7:30am on a Saturday for my 8:30am ET class. You can see this coming. Of course, we couldn’t get Skype to work even though I had practiced with it and them the day before. We got the picture but no sound. So not only did I have to scramble to fill in that hour with my students but I felt so badly for my potential speakers. Next time I would have a contingency exercise for the students. But I’m still not sure how I would solve the technology problem.
    And I would really love a copy of your book and promise to review it on my website 🙂