Iowa hosted its first ever Iowa One to One Institute yesterday
in Des Moines. This conference was conceived of at a meeting of Iowa one
to one educators who expressed the need for a day of collaborating and sharing information and
resources. Their desire was to create a conference to support
others involved in one to one and those schools moving to one to one.
The conference would provide schools a chance to collaborate as well as
share success stories.
CASTLE took the lead in planning and managing the event, but we also had lots of other contributors. Current one to one schools provided presenters and some technology for the day. Apple, ByteSpeed, CDW-G,and Tierney Brothers also supported the event in various ways. It was an awesome day for those involved, and we have received great feedback from participants. I will be posting more details and resources from the day very soon, but
my post today will focus on what may have been the biggest obstacle that we faced yesterday.
For those of you who were in attendance, you know that I am referring to the internet.….or lack of internet. At about eleven in the morning the internet totally crashed and left us
without service. The hows and whys may not be very relevant to many
of you, so I will save that explanation for the end of my post today. My reason for writing is simply to address the question that I posed in the title.
What happens if the technology fails?
My first response is one that I heard from my high school English teacher many times. OTHER students came to class unprepared offering up the excuse, “I forgot do do my homework because.…(insert various excuses here)”. The teacher’s reply was simply, “Don’t forget.” I realize that this is an extremely simple solution, but it is also an effective solution to the question that I posed. Don’t let technology fail, or at least not on a regular basis. Schools must design systems that drastically reduce technology failures. There must be plans in place to get machines and the system up and running quickly if they do fail. I may be stating the obvious, but I’m certain there is a very strong negative correlation between technology failures and technology use in schools. As technology failures increase, technology use will decrease. Eliminate this huge barrier to education by developing a robust technology system, and also by creating a plan that can address problems quickly.
Even with the best planning, it is likely that there will be times when technology fails. Does that mean that classes should shut down or simply turn into a study hall? This question reminds me of a Simpson’s episode where Bart stole all of the teaching manuals. Because the teachers didn’t have their manuals, school had to be canceled. Obviously, that solution isn’t real practical. As much as I hated to see the internet go down at our conference, the presenters demonstrated how learning can continue even with a lack of technology. They did it in different ways, but all of their strategies could be directly applicable to students as well. My list below isn’t comprehensive, but it highlights some of the ways learning continued.
- Participants were engaged because they were genuinely interested in the topic.
- Participants were engaged because they had choice in what they attended. This is possible in schools even with our standards.
- Collaboration was encouraged and there was an open dialogue between participants and presenters. There didn’t seem to be a hierarchy of knowledge in the rooms.
- Participants actually became unofficial presenters during the various sessions. The presenters actually valued and sought out the knowledge of the group.
Again, this list is far from comprehensive. I missed out on a lot as I was running around trying to figure out what had happened with our technology. Hopefully, those of you who read my blog frequently realize that I don’t see technology by iteslf as the solution for all problems in education. Adding technology to schools without altering educational practices will not transform schools. My list above hits on some of those educational practices that I write about and talk about regularly. Technology is only a tool, but when used with transformative educational practices, it may be the most powerful tool ever in education.
.….read on if you care to know more about our technology failures from yesterday.
As we began planning this event, we had two major concerns and all of the minor ones that go along with preparing for any conference. Our first concern was finding a building with the capacity for a large conference, and our second concern was the internet. If you aren’t from Iowa, you may not realize that there are very few facilities in central Iowa with the capacity for a conference our size. The second concern, internet use, is one I feel the need to address. As I paced the halls yesterday, I stewed about the bad press that we would generate about the Iowa Events Center through blog posts, twitter, and word of mouth. I realized that our group consisted of, or were connected with, individuals from all of the largest educational organizations and various other organizations in the state of Iowa (educators generally seem to be a very well connected group).
So what happened?
When we initially began planning for our event, we made it clear that 500–600 participants would need wireless access for our event. After visiting with the technology director for the Events Center, we decided that they would need to boost their wireless access for the day. We agreed and kicked in additional money to ensure that participants would have access for the day. We stressed how important it was that participants had wireless, and that we would have some very heavy users. I was ensured that the internet connection for the day would be sufficient. As it turns out, the internet connection appeared to be sufficient. The day started great, and there were very few problems for the first hour and a half. At about 11:00 that all changed. It turns out that the problem was an equipment failure. The systems network gateway failed. It was explained to me that this problem was totally random, and wasn’t due to our wireless usage. The gateway, which had not had any
problems in the past 4 years, actually failed at one of the points of
our lowest usage. At that point, the Events Center staff replaced
their gateway with a back-up system. Unfortunately, they were unable
to get their new system to a level that would meet our needs.
At the conclusion of the day, Scott McLeod and I
met with our event manager, sales manager, IT staff, and assistant
general manager of the Iowa Events Center. They were very apologetic,
and they explained exactly what had happened. I certainly am not an IT person, but I accept the explanation
that we were given. They were able to convince me that they do have the capacity to host a conference with heavy internet needs, and have done so in the past. Unfortunately, we were unlucky enough to be there on a day of an unusual equipment failure.
Pencils break, paper tears, and technology fails at times even when we have plans in place to minimize those failures. I feel fortunate that our presenters were able to move
forward even with our internet problems. I don’t feel the need to bash the Events Center, and I realize that as the expression goes #%*# happens.