So I run 3 – 4 times each week. This past week on my shorter run, I was studiously trying to avoid being run over by less-than-aware drivers when I stepped into a bad spot in the road. Before I knew it, I rolled my ankle and scraped my hands on the pavement as I went down. Because I was close to traffic and didn’t want to get hit, I immediately got my bearings and took some deep breaths. I was only about a quarter of the way into my run and I wanted to finish so I begin what I can only describe as a “hop-limp” running style as I continued on my way. After about 30 yards I was approaching normal, but running carefully just to be sure. Eventually I was back at my normal pace and finished my run somewhat later than normal and a little scraped up.
So now you know more than you ever wanted to know about my exercise habits. The funny thing about my adventure is that it is analogous to how online instructors should handle technical problems when they arise. When you “run” into problems while teaching an online course, follow these steps:
Get Your Bearings
Whether it was a technical glitch or one of your activities/assessments didn’t work as expected, it is important to get your bearings. Whatever the problem take a deep breath and realize that it will be okay. Reflect that same thought to your students by posting an announcement about the issue and/or communicating with them via e-mail or other method. Reach out to your support network to find out what happened so that you can answer questions posed by your students. If you don’t know, it’s okay to let your students know that you don’t know, but that you are in the process of finding out what happened. Figure out where your students were when the event happened so that you can move onto the next step…
Keep on Moving (the limp-hop)
In most cases you are under a time constraint when teaching online just as you are in a face-to-face course. You have a set amount of work to do in a limited amount of time. So even if you have a partial work stoppage due to a technology glitch or outage, it is important to keep moving forward. How can you do this? Try using another tool to finish the activity that the students were working on when everything hit the fan. *Best Practice Alert: If you are using a technology intensive tool for a course activity/assessment, it is always a good idea to have an alternate activity planned in case something goes wrong. Think of it as like having printed slides of your presentation just in case the projector doesn’t work in your face-to-face course. Find another way to continue the activity so that your students won’t miss out on the the learning experience. For example, if you were using a blog, try switching to a discussion forum.
What really goes without saying here is that you keep the lines of communication flowing. During downtimes and technical glitches of tools, the students just want to know that they won’t be penalized and that the world is still turning. Even if the course seems to be inching along, a follow-up e-mail letting them know that you are still with them does much to lessen anxieties. It may seem like a glacial pace compared to what you were doing when the problem occurred, but continuing to move forward at any pace will give your students a sense of comfort that you are still in control of the course and they are still in control of their learning.
Getting Back in the Groove
Once the problem has passed it is important to ensure that you and your students are back in the normal rhythm of your course. Communicate with your students and let them know that all systems are “go” and that they should return to normal course interaction practices. If the tool that had the problem is to be used in an assignment let the students know that you will watching for any issues that may arise. You will notice a familiar refrain when it comes to doing these things. Each step in the disaster recovery process involves communicating with your students! It may take some encouragement on your part, but your students should slip back into the familiar course interactions that they are used to.
As with most situations when you deal with technology, it is not a matter of if it will fail you, but when it will fail you. Keep in mind, how you respond to these problems and glitches often has more of an effect on your students than the problems themselves. Make sure to get your bearings, keep on moving, and get back in the groove and everything will be all right. You may have a few scrapes and soreness, but you and your students will come through it and finish strong!