When the Tech Tool Fails

Here is my response to @jasontbedell‘s request for help with his book. He was looking for stories of when teachers used a tech tool in their classroom, and it didn’t work.

My worst moments with technology have come when I found a great tool that I thought supported what I was doing in the class, only to find, as I employed it, that the time required for the students to use the tool was far beyond the time I wanted to spend on the topic. The worst example of this was when I thought it would be fun for the class to create movies showing the causes of the Revolutionary War. It seemed like a great way to highlight cause and effect, as the Americans and the English acted and reacted to each other, an important lesson in history.

I divided the class into groups and had each group choose 4 key events that led to the war. They then wrote a script and planned for making their movies. At this point, it seemed like a brilliant plan. They were talking about all sorts of history ideas, debating significance and making clear choices about what to include and what to leave out.

Then it was time for the filming, and each group had 4 major events to portray. The back of the classroom was piled high with costumes and props that they had created. The filming began. Each group disappeared off, around the school, to get the best backdrops for their scenes. After the first day, a slight portion of one scene had been finished. After the second day, a bit more. So it went for over a week, by which point, I was beginning to wonder if there was any history being learned in the midst of the mad dashes for costume changes and grabbing of props.

They were having a great time, one that I let go on for almost two weeks, when I finally pulled the plug. At that point, the students didn’t even protest, a sure sign that the activity had gone past its time of value. It was a good idea, but one that needed to be focused better. I had given each group far more than they could accomplish while still learning history.  The technology no longer supported the growth of the students’ understanding of the topic, but instead became a distraction.

When I do it again, I will still have them make a movie, but I will have them choose one event per each group to script and film. Then from whose scenes, they can create a class movie. The same enthusiasm will be generated by creating a movie, but it will make the task one that can be done in an appropriate amount of time.

12 responses to “When the Tech Tool Fails

  1. principalofchange

    I don’t think it was that big of a fail. I like your idea about providing a bit more structure so your students could complete their movies AND gain understanding of key social studies concepts.

  2. Hadley,
    Hah, I have so been there! The best part of this post is the reflection. It was not to scrap the whole project, but to just reign it in and make it even better next time. Great Post!

  3. Yoon Soo Lim/DoremiGirl


    Great post! I’ve also been there! And Ann’s right – the reflection part is big. You know now how to tweak your plans and give more specific instructions. Movie making, in my opinion, is a HUGE project. I try to teach students to bring written words to life (script writing, storyboarding), editing the clips, learning about sound, adding music, more editing, and, oh yeah, acting! There are many skills involved in these lessons. Maybe I can offer one suggestion: give students very “short” time frame for the movie: 2 minutes. It seems like it’ll be too short to put something worthwhile. But it’s like writing an important tweet in 140 characters. Highlighting important words and info (message) while shortening words by leaving out the letters (editing) to fit 140 characters for people and have them understand my message clearly. So maybe starting small will get things rolling in your classroom! Keep it going, Hadley!

  4. This is an important topic, because technology use will not always be successful. I remember not properly preparing or having a back up plan then the Internet signal did not work or I ran into the time issue. There have been moments when I got so frustrated with technology. It’s a reality and to ignore this issue is almost like not preparing teachers for the worst. I think many new to technology will try it out and when it doesn’t work they will get frustrated and never try it again. I applaud Jason for this effort!

  5. Great post We’ve all been there. Congrats for having the guts to pull the plug mid-activity and not let pride get in the way.

  6. I recall doing a very similar activity encountering very similar issues with time management and the value of the learning. My solution to this, as I was sure that the process had value, was to stagger the learning. As groups completed scaffolded tasks they moved on to clearly defined segments of the film making process with little mini-reflections built in to keep teams focussed. I didn’t want this to become about the tool, I was more interested in the learning. Yes, it’s harder to plan that way and there needs to be a great deal of flexibility in the teacher’s planning, however I would suggest that the power of the learning from the students trumps all of that.

    • Colin,

      Great idea. I like the reflecting and scaffolding. It basically means that we need to clearly identify our goals before we start, so that each step of the process is heading in that direction.

      Thanks for the comment!

  7. Hi,

    still love your post and stories about your classroom projects. It gives ideas for my future class with both positives and negatives.

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