Webpage Down!

You may have noticed that I didn’t post yesterday. It’s actually an ironic story.

Early Monday morning, I learned that the Indiana DOE website was shutdown due to Drupul vulnerabilities. In no time, we were given an official press release, which I sent out via our social media streams. Essentially the website and all of our office’s webpages would be inaccessible for the remainder of the day. Since I had two requests from people in the field for information that is housed on those pages, I went to my Google Drive and pulled up my planning Docs that were used to build the pages. In no time, I had a copy with a viewable link that I could share. And while we did decide to extend the deadline for a competitive grant that was posted on the website, it was more out of courtesy than necessity. Our information never lapsed in accessibility since we had backup resources that could be shared. It wasn’t ideal, but the work continued.

Over lunch it occurred to me that this idea of webpage down and how to respond would be the topic for my Monday evening post. I drafted some mental notes and looked forward to cranking out a post after work. A little after 4:30 p.m., I logged into my blog and saw that I had some updates pending. Without even thinking, I clicked Update All to the plug-ins on the list. In a matter of minutes, I realized that the update was taking longer than usual. I clicked refresh, and my dashboard went to a white screen. I closed the tab, opened a different browser and put in the URL to my blog log-in. I got another white screen. I went back to the first browser and opened a new tab, clicked on my bookmarked page, and got a white screen. Sigh. It was Monday all right.

Technology fails. We are irresponsible users if we don’t accept this premise and plan accordingly. When you embrace digital learning, you also embrace the following three things:

1. There are stumbling blocks…filters require you to check sites logged in as a student to make sure that the content is accessible for class.

2. There are glitches…wifi connectivity in your classroom means that you know better than to expect all 27 students to be able to be online and moving at the same lightspeed as you manuever through a strand of web resources.

3. And there are complete fails…webpage down!

How do you embrace these things? Easy. You plan for what you can and for those things you cannot plan for, you keep an open mind and are creative in problem-solving.

Before Google Drive lockouts and testing sites crashing, we had simpler technology integration problems. I remember the long awaited reward movie not playing in the decrepit classroom VCR, and the library having no extra TV/VCR carts available for loan. What do you do when a class full of sophomores’ expectations are dashed? You involve them in problem-solving, and it might just result in them breaking into groups and pulling off their own spoofs series of the play for their class’ and teacher’s entertainment. In reflection, I found that our spontaneous activity was far more valuable than what was planned.

Alternatives That Don’t Suck
In today’s digital classroom, we have a completely different dependency on technology. Much of our content, delivery and interaction is embedded in online resources. Every case of technology fail will need to be approached differently, but with one singular question in mind: what learning objective needs to be met and how are we going to do that differently? Alternatives don’t have to be resorting to lecture, worksheets or dragging the class set of textbooks off the shelf. Acknowledge the fail. Encourage your students to explore options. Detours are an opportunity for discovery. Could your class benefit from a day of brainstorming, critical analysis, reflection . . . what are some collaborative activities that will engage them offline?

Some Problems Can Be Avoided
Be proactive. Especially at the beginning of a unit or at the start of your students’ independent research, it’s a good practice to save offline versions of websites for consumable content. You are not only able to survive network outages this way, you also enable the anytime, anywhere learning mindset. Evernote is a very popular tool for this purpose, and one day I will train myself to be better about using it to its full potential. In the meantime, here are three Chrome Extensions that I find invaluable for this purpose:

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Do you have a Webpage Down story to share? I’d love to hear how you dealt with it!