If You Need a Plan B, Maybe Just Go With That Instead

I dig technology when it’s used well and thoughtfully and purposefully.  Heck, sometimes I just dig shiny things.  But I have to say that what I like and what’s worth spending time on and with in a classroom are two very different circles in the Venn diagram of my life.

I often hear that teachers using technology in their classrooms should have a Plan B or a backup lesson for if (and many would say when) a technology component of a lesson fails. The latest place I saw this was in Andrew’s piece over at Edutopia ((And I don’t mean to pick on him here.  This is just the latest place I saw the “Plan B” argument.  He’s been writing some really useful stuff lately.  Earlier in the piece quoted below, he gave a great answer for what to do when someone asks you if they should move from a thing that’s working really well to a new thing that everybody’s talking about.)):

Beyond ensuring that your students are actively learning or creating to meet certain goals or objectives, the key with technology is making sure that your technology use is organized, and that you’re ready to use it. And, as we all know too well, technology will sometimes present a minor glitch. That’s why it’s always important to have Plan B ready to go, possibly an analog version of your scheduled activity, in order to keep the pace of the class and keep the lesson on task. So that’s one of the first steps in successfully integrating technology into your classroom: have a backup plan ready. Without a plan to seamlessly transition from a digitally-infused lesson to an analog lesson, your class will surely descend into chaos.

I certainly think that teachers should always balance careful planning with the ability to move when the circumstances change.  If students already understand the material you’ve prepared and paced and planned around, you’d certainly change up the instruction.  A fire drill happens, changes get made.  Every once in a while, the rock solid wireless in your school may well stutter ((Like, say, in March, when everyone that has a screen seems to be streaming a college basketball game.  Or today, when a large software company launches a major software update.))  Occasionally, the website you’re sending folks to will get overloaded, or some other thing will happen.  I get that.

But the idea that I should always have a second plan ready to go if the technology fails says, to me at least, that the technology isn’t ready for my classroom, and probably shouldn’t be in my Plan A.

If Plan B’s plenty good, then why bother with the technology in the first place?  And if the technology isn’t so reliable, then let’s not rely on it.

Focus on the purpose of your activity in Plan A before you worry about anything else, technology included.  If you know the purposeful way you want to spend students’ time, you can make a Plan B, C or any other iteration on the fly without too much trouble.

Said another way – experimenting is fine for plenty of things, but if something just HAS to work, and is likely not to, don’t invest time and effort into giving it a whirl with a class full of students.  Their time, as well as yours, is better spent on other stuff.


26 thoughts on “If You Need a Plan B, Maybe Just Go With That Instead

  1. andycinek says:

    Hey Bud, thanks for opening this conversation. And, I don’t take offense to much, actually anything really, rather appreciate good debate and conversation and never think what I write should be excluded from constrictive criticism. So thanks for sharing this piece because you’ve provoked my thinking as well.

    There is part of me that completely agrees with your assertion: That technology for technology’s sake is better on the sidelines than in the spotlight. My point was that a piece of hardware or software should never be driving the learning, but there are many classes in my district and previous districts that rely heavily on it working. So whether the tool is an expo marker that all of a sudden goes bone dry or WiFi that just dies, the point is that there should be some secondary plan to keep moving things forward.

    The other piece is evaluation. In MA, at least, teacher evaluation has become all consuming for educators and administrators. Technology has become a big part of that evaluation and how teachers effectively demonstrate integration of it with the standards and curriculum. Teachers want to know that all the pieces of that lesson will work and not be left scrambling for projector sources that won’t connect.

    My job is to try and prepare teachers to synthesize technology effectively, but also provide them with secondary strategies to keep the learning moving forward. If you have a lesson that is so wrapped up in devices and applications that you’ve never used then maybe it’s best they sit on the sidelines and use analog methods. Regardless, the focus should always be on the purpose, relevancy and outcomes expected.

  2. Gary Stager says:

    Isn’t this just common-sense and what we used to call “going about one’s day?” I hate to say it, but 35 years after the first microcomputers came into your school(s), it seems tragic to still be viewing the world through such a technocentric and teacher-centric lens.

    Said another way, “If you need a plan B, then you’re doing too much instruction.”

  3. andycinek says:

    Gary, yes. I’d like to think that regardless of the teaching strategy or tool that there is a backup plan. The point of this all is that unfortunately with evaluations there is added pressure on teachers. Employing technology, regardless of the decade, can sometimes be an unreliable tool. Therefore, I suggested the plan b to keep things progressing. However, I also agree with Bud that if the added tool is not purposeful to the learning outcomes, then it best be left on the sidelines. But, with more schools employing and relying on technology daily, it becomes a tool that evaluators and administrators are looking for during instruction.

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