Melissa Giddins

Exploring technology and literacy in education.

Learning from Failure

I had a reminder again today about how important it is to be flexible as a teacher. I would like to add to that and mention how important it is to be flexible when planning to use technology in your lessons. Let me tell you a tale.

As you can see from my previous post, I had an idea and sought advice as to how to implement my idea. It was simple.

The Idea:

My class would collaborate, discussing themes from a text they had just studied (Twelfth Night), looking at key ideas and which of these could be seen as Universal Themes, relevant to a modern audience, brainstorming to create an entire list to work with.  They would then look at the idea of appropriation, defining the term, and exploring how they could utilise the universal themes to create an appropriation of Twelfth Night.

The Plan:

The brainstorming process would take place digitally, to save time. Usually I would have everyone grab eight or so different textas and write all over the whiteboard with the students then copying down the results in their books afterwards. Considering this is a Year 10 class and they all have DER laptops I decided to find a way to brainstorm and record results digitally, saving time and utilising their laptops.

First idea was to use Google Docs – blocked. Wallwisher – blocked, but you can have it unblocked for a specific closed version but I did not have time to set that up. I looked at a few other programs and then found one called PrimaryPad through a blog called Free Technology for Teachers. Primary Pad did exactly what I wanted and it wasn’t blocked. I set one up, tested it, everything worked, so I put the link for our PrimaryPad discussion onto our Moodle page ready for the students. Then, knowing how things sometimes don’t go as planned, I created a wiki on our Moodle as a backup in case the Primary Pad thingy didn’t work, and placed that on their moodle page too.

Next step in the plan was to have students create a presentation with Prezi.Com to synthesise their ideas. I created a quick prezi myself as a demonstration and then placed the link for the demonstration and Prezi.com on their moodle page.

The Reality:

One student didn’t have her laptop as it was in for repair and there were none left in the pool to replace it, one student’s laptop just would NOT connect to the internet, one student’s trackpad/mouse wouldn’t work. Well, only 3 not working right out of 28 ain’t bad.

Primary Pad kept disconnecting from their server with a “server synchronisation” error. After five minutes or so of countless attempts by all in the class, I figured this was a compatibility issue with the DET server and all its numerous layers of permissions. So we went to Plan B. We opened the moodle wiki, only to discover that only one person could have the edit page function open at a time. Kind of defeats the purpose of a wiki in my mind and definitely did not meet our needs, but nothing I could do about it at the time. Plan C – we got textas and brainstormed on the whiteboard and then the students copied the information into their OneNote notebooks. They have a section for Appropriation in their OneNote notebooks for English so I told them to just use that – please take note that thinking on one’s feet does not always allow one to be creative (they had mindmapping software on their laptop for goodness’ sake and I didn’t get them to use it!).

Part two went well! My prezi loaded and played for them. I played the YouTube demonstration/instruction videos to the class, they went to the Prezi.com site, signed up and started creating! I did have to go around to at least half the class and close tool bars and autohide tool bars in order for students to be able to see the X at the top right hand of the movie that kept trying to play over top of their first prezi. Once we had taken care of that though, we were all systems go.

Lessons learned:

  1. Just because the DET internet filter says that something is “allow” doesn’t mean it will work. Check it first. At school.
  2. Your definition of a wiki and someone else’s definition of a wiki may not be the same thing. Also known as “one wiki is not always the same as another”. Now I couldn’t really check this one by myself because it needed more than one person logged in to check it, but I could have checked it utilising another member of staff, had I done this preparation at school and not at home. So, check it first and start preparation earlier.
  3. Have a backup plan for your backup plan.

In future:

  • I am going to try to create a shared OneNote page for a “brainstorm and record” activity. As you can’t set one up from a DER laptop, this means setting one up from the staffroom ahead of time, ready for the class to use.
  • I would also like to have a go with Wallwisher so will try setting one of those up in advance and having it unblocked.
  • The students have Freemind on their laptops so I could get them to create a mindmap rather than just typing results of verbal brainstorm into OneNote.

On the bright side, the students REALLY enjoyed using Prezi.com and overwhelmingly said it was more interesting than using PowerPoint, was fun to use, made them think about more elements of visual literacy than using PowerPoint and they learned how to use it quickly and with little fuss or teacher instruction required.

Moral to the story? Learn from everything, failure included, and above all – be flexible!

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May 17, 2010 - Posted by | Digital Education Revolution (DER), Laptops 4 Learning, Moodle | , , ,

7 Comments »

  1. Great post Melissa. Just goes to show how the best laid plans….etc. This, however, is where we often lose those teachers who are anxious about technology – the oft heard “Always a problem with technology – it’s too hard.” It’s good for those teachers to see that even us technophiles have problems 🙂

    Comment by Pam Thompson | May 17, 2010 | Reply

    • I think it also shows why it is important for us to try things first, model failure as well as success, and be able to blaze the trail so that other teachers, those digital dinosaurs and immigrants who are doing their best to join this Digital Education Revolution, can use something tried and true instead of being placed in situations that decrease their confidence instead of increasing it. Probably should have said that in the post!

      Comment by mgiddins | May 17, 2010 | Reply

  2. This is a situation where I do wish I had an IWB. I’m not the biggest convert to IWBs, but it’s in this gap – where you want to go beyond the whiteboard, but don’t want to stuff around with 30 individual connections – that I imagine they are most useful.

    If only teachers (in general) reflected this closely on other aspects of their practice – questioning technique, group work structure, notetaking, assessment feedback etc – our lessons would be very refined indeed!

    Just keep swimming, eh 😉

    Comment by kmcg2375 | May 17, 2010 | Reply

  3. I have an IWB in my room, but it doesn’t work with the DER laptops or any other laptop right now due to not having the right drivers. So I had the perfect tool right there in front of us, but no way to utilise it! Plans are place to fix the IWB issue, just frustrating at the moment. I am continuing to breathe, and keeping on swimming! 🙂

    Comment by mgiddins | May 17, 2010 | Reply

  4. “The best laid plans…..”

    I think you did really well, resilience, flexibility, “appearing” non flustered, getting ont with it.

    And, most importantly, critical reflection.

    Great stuff Mel. 🙂

    Comment by Jan | May 17, 2010 | Reply

  5. Hi Mel

    I, too, have experienced problems with wikis. The issue with a wiki is that if a logged in user saves a modification whilst someone else is logged in, and then the other person saves their modification, the first person’s save is lost.

    That sounds really bad, and I’m sure you knew that!

    Wikispaces.com solves that problem (mostly) by combining changes. The MacOS server we use, doesn’t. It does warn the second user, though, that someone else has edited the page.

    PrimaryPad (or other sites based on EtherPad like titanpad, piratepad or ietherpad) solve this problem beautifully!

    Unfortunately it didn’t work for you, but it has a fantastic timeline – not only can you have multiple persons editing a page at once, but at any point you can watch the life of the pad played from beginning to end. This extra dimension makes it a perfect tool for collaboration in schools. All changes can be seen, so you can trace what people do, and revisions can be saved at any point, and you can revert back to any of these easily.

    When I hear stories from government-run schools of the huge restrictions placed on what you can access at school, I am thankful that I teach outside the ‘state-run’ system.

    But well done for persisting! As Pam said, so many people become exasperated by this kind of experience and give up.

    Great post, thanks for sharing it with me!

    @deonscanlon

    Comment by Deon | May 17, 2010 | Reply

  6. As an IT professional in ‘real life’ and an author working in schools whenever I can, this post rang a loud bell with me. Doubly so because I have been caught so often confident of the technogy only to come undone at the slightest of obstacles (once as simple as no extension cord long enough could be found!). Not only do we have to be flexible enough to learn from the mistakes, we also have to be persistent (and hard-headed) enough and to go back and have another go. Of course when it works, it’s brilliant. I love technology in the classroom and so does every classroom full of kids I’ve worked with.

    Comment by Sandy Fussell | May 17, 2010 | Reply


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