Cutting down on last-minute scrambling with technological glitches by having your students practice the activity before the real assignment or assessment is due.

One of the worst feelings as an instructor occurs when you work tirelessly to put together an assignment or assessment in your course only to have the technology fail you. You spend countless hours organizing an activity with the learning objectives in mind, ensuring the activity is perfectly aligned to the curriculum, only to find that the students can’t even access it because the technology isn’t working. Talk about frustrating!  While in some respects you will always be at the mercy of the technology gods, for example the old adage “It is not a matter of if technology will fail you, it is a matter of when.”, seems to come to mind.  However, there is a very proactive way to greatly reduce the chance of a technological failure in your course………Practice!

Oftentimes assignments, assessments and activities that deal with third-party software or technology other than the Internet browser take place at stressful times during the semester or are associated with a stressful activity (test taking).  At this point, you are taking the normal stress and anxiety levels associated with coursework and compounding them with the added fun of using a new or different technology.  Why not introduce your students to the “new tech” at the beginning of the semester or make the activity less than 25% of the course grade.  Below you will see some great examples of “practice activities” that you can use in your course.  You don’t have to limit yourself to these activities as this best practice transcends just these examples.

The Syllabus Quiz (Killing 3 birds with one stone)

This activity touches in three important areas that will affect how the student goes through the rest of your course. By completing this exercise the student will:

  • become familiar with the testing mechanism in the learning management system before they take their first major exam or quiz.
  • learn how to use-third party applications (lockdown browser or remote proctoring) to ensure academic honesty during the assessment without the added anxiety of a big test being due.
  • at least know the information in your syllabus that you think is most important, ensuring that they have at least looked at the syllabus once during the course.

NOTE: Be sure to make the Syllabus Quiz worth enough points so that the students will follow through on taking it.

The “Introduce Yourself” Presentation

One of the ways we can bridge the gap of interactivity in online and Hybrid courses is to allow students to record presentations and upload them to the course.   This means that the student can present a project, assignment or some other activity while sharing video, audio and whatever is running on their desktop or laptop computer.  We all know that many students undergo stress when they have to give an oral presentation.  Take that stress and tie it to the added stress of “Can they hear me?”, “Is my webcam working?”, and “Can they see my PowerPoint?”.  Give your students a fun activity at the outset without the added pressure of a major assignment deadline and the stress diminishes considerably.

Sample “Introduce Yourself” Presentation Guidelines

  • Place activity in first week or getting started unit of your course.
  • Include directions on how to access recording tool and start recording.
  • Have student create a 3-5 slide PowerPoint or Keynote presentation that Introduces them to the class and record themselves giving the presentation.
  • Tell them to have fun with the presentation!

Note:  Tools that can work for this assignment include:  Adobe Presenter, Slide Bloom, Tegrity, Jing etc.. It will depend on if you want a view of the student along with the presentation.

Use this Concept in other Scenarios

This principle applies to many other activities you may do in your course.  Having your students use a wiki to post their educational and professional goals and it will be easier for them when it comes to completing group projects, case studies and portfolios using wikis later.  If you require your students to meet with you in real-time using a webinar tool, it is always a good idea to have a pre-meeting meeting to iron out any difficulty they might have in getting the web conferencing tool to work. A web meeting room is another tool where a Microphone headset is mandatory.  You never want to get stuck in that feedback loop that comes from hearing yourself in someone else’s speakers during a web conference.

In conclusion, you can avoid the wailing and gnashing of teeth that takes place when students encounter a technical difficulty by practicing and ironing out the bugs. This best practice can save your life when it comes down to evaluation time.

Note: In most cases work with whatever support system you have to let them know when your students will be doing the dry run so they know to expect the phone calls and e-mails.