Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Murphy's Law

It seems that when you use technology in your lesson; if something can go wrong, it will at the most inopportune time.

This week I have been gearing up in helping to prepare one of my teachers for her observation. The administration wants to build technology integration capacity outside of the computer lab (i.e., not just by me - the technology integration teacher, but by all teachers throughout regular instruction in the classrooms). To motivate teachers to integrate technology, the administration asked that one observation per teacher this year demonstrate technology integration.

During her observation, this particular teacher (Mrs. T) wanted to use the iPanel, an interactive monitor / graphics tablet from Interwrite. This device runs the same software as an electronic whiteboard, but you sit down and write right on the monitor's surface instead of standing with your back to students and writing on the whiteboard's surface. We had the device on loan for evaluation purposes from our helpful local reseller (Peripheral Vision, LLC). I demonstrated the equipment and Mrs. T was very excited about the capabilities. She and her students tried it within a number of math lessons. The students were really engaged and enjoyed easily seeing the activities with the attached LCD projector. We thought we had a great plan for her observation.

Now this leads me to the Murphy's law portion of the story. As it turns out, the iPanel uses a special pen and the pen tip fell out unbeknownst to Mrs. T. She sent me a frantic email. I told her not to worry. I contacted their technical support that kindly put another pen tip in the mail at no charge. Unfortunately, it would not arrive in time for her observation. I tried other Interwrite pens, but they were not interchangeable. I then borrowed an existing Interwrite Schoolpad from another teacher in the building. Again, we thought we had a great backup plan.

Murphy strikes again. Although I had tested the Schoolpad with the same laptop she intended to use for her observation, when she started to teach the Blue Tooth connection wouldn't autoconnect. She turned it off and back on as I had advised her, but still it would not connect. She reverted to using her traditional blackboard at this point. I jumped in and made the software manually connect. This time it did work. Whew! She competed the rest of her lesson with the SchoolPad. The technology added engagement and focus to her delivery.

Typically teachers don't deal well with this type of unpredictability brought on by Murphy's Law-like events described above. Children create enough unpredictability - they don't want to add more chaos because of technology. I believe it was Alan November who I heard use the phrase that technology integrated lessons need to be "Monday morning ready" (i.e., they need to be able to slip right in to our teaching and be ready to go first thing on a Monday morning).

I feel this application of technology did not pass the "Monday Morning Test". This is not a criticism of the hardware or software. I take some responsibility for the problems. I think as a technology coach, I need to have more backup supplies and teach troubleshooting techniques more effectively. In hindsight this seems obvious, but prior to these experiences, I have tried "not to confuse" teachers with the technical aspects and "let them focus on the instruction". I now feel I need to adjust this philosophy, because if teachers cannot function independently of me when they integrate technology in their classrooms, they will not fully adopt technology-integrated instructional strategies.

I invite other technology coaches to weigh in on how they prepare for the dreaded "Murphy".


Anonymous said...

This is an interesting point for discussion. You havn't blogged in a while.. are you still coaching? Initialy I, too, would think that teachers need to concentrate on instruction. But if there is no mouse squad that can offer quick assistance, a little troubleshooting knowledge can go a long way. Were you able to incorporate a plan for that? I may join the ranks of tech coaches and I am curious how your thinking about this issue has evolved. Hope you have a moment to add your thoughts.
Best.. Lynne

KB Learns With You said...

I am still a technology integration teacher. Lately, i spend more time teaching technolgy infused lessons to stodents, but am still passionate about coaching teachers when my schedule permits.

We have trained grade level representatives as the fisrt line of defence as troubleshooters. This has helped alot. Next year, I'd like to get some intermediate students trained on trouble pshooting as well.