Friday, May 21, 2010

Be Prepared!

"Emergency preparedness is a team sport." - Eric Whitaker

Teachers work in a private world entered only by themselves and their students. Rarely does anyone else visit this world, and rarely does a teacher enter into the private world of another teacher or classroom. This is true both online and in the physical classroom. But when emergencies happen in the physical classroom, the teacher generally relies on an infrastructure of helpers and resources that can be summoned quickly. Where does the instructor turn when an emergency occurs in the virtual classroom?

Grace Esteban describes the "perfect" disaster recovery tool for MPICT's online classes. She and her colleagues - relative newcomers to Web conferencing - have learned to call Client Services whenever they encounter a glitch they can't figure out. (The "Bobo" clip was created using xtranormal and can be viewed here.)

One strategy that Grace and Dr. Pierre Thiry use is to keep a second computer logged in to the Confer classroom. This is especially useful if it happens to be connected from a different Internet Service Provider. If the first service fails, you're able to log in using the second. In my office, I connect to Confer with a campus connection, a DSL connection, and (when necessary) a broadband wireless connection. I'm always sure I'll be able to get online because I have options.

Marc Knobel discovered the value of Grace's disaster recovery plan on his own. In two years of teaching with Confer, he encountered two disasters. The first was a result of a power failure, for which there was no timely solution and resulted in a cancellation of class. The second came at 7:30 AM as he was preparing to teach his 8:00 AM math class. He fired off an email to Client Services, explaining that he could not login to his class, and within 15 minutes got an answer from Donna that solved the problem. Disaster averted, and the class was none the wiser. As Marc relates, having to be embarrassed by the technology in front of his students would be horrible, and would actually have deterred him from experimenting further with Confer. Without a recovery team, there would be no online classroom.

CCC Confer's Client Services team provides this kind of security to online instructors. They're the First Responders who assess the situation and provide immediate care, the Firemen who put out the fire and rescue trapped victims, and the Long Term Care Providers who follow up emergencies with therapy and instruction so that future problems can be avoided.

Michael McKeever is the kind of techie instructor who likes to push the limits of his computers and networks. When he occasionally pushes too hard, he relies on his students to help one another with disaster recovery.

Michael, who teaches classes with both face-to-face students and online students, asks the f2f students to chat with their online peers to let them know that he's rebooting or recovering from a blue screen. It's nice to know that when the instructor crashes, students are not "thrown out" of the online classroom, but can continue to collaborate while the teacher recovers and returns.

Being ready for disaster allows you to act reasonably and responsibly when things go wrong. At a minimum, keep the Client Services numbers and e-mails handy so that you don't have to face problems alone. Have a backup computer and Internet connection ready, if possible. If you have students with different abilities, give emergency instructions both orally and via text chat so everyone understands and can follow your lead. Don't panic. We can get through this together.

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