When Tech Fails, What's Your Plan B?
I teach a business computing class for Seaver College, and a mantra for this traditionally face-to-face class for many, many years has been: "Technology Fails; Have Backups." As an online professor today, this mantra remains true, now more than ever.
Whether you lose power due to a California rolling blackout, your personal internet connection dies, or a pivotal tool experiences an outage, it's a matter of when, not if, an issue will happen. All is not lost, of course, if you are prepared.
Developing Your Plan B
Address Your Connectivity
A reliable internet connection is key to conducting classes, but even the best networks fail or experience disruptions. If your home internet goes down, consider the following:
- All About the Router: Is your home connectivity working but you are dropping out of meetings frequently? Move as close to your home wireless router as possible or connect directly with an Ethernet cable. If your router is more than five years old, it may be time for a newer one with a minimum of WiFi-5 (802.11ac) or better.
- Beware Bandwidth Bandits: Your computer may be silently downloading updates. Be proactive, check/install updates regularly, and restart your computer the day before your classes. Close those extra tabs! All of those websites in your browser are eating up your computer's memory; close unnecessary browser tabs or windows to give your computer more breathing room. Also, don't forget to factor in any of the other household members, devices, or apps that may be gobbling up precious bandwidth. Check out these other tips on Internet Performance and Reliability.
- Mobile Phone Readiness: Is your cellular device charged and ready? Do you have the appropriate apps, like Zoom and SecureConnect/DUO, installed and configured? At the very least, you can connect with your scheduled class via dial-in to Zoom or Google Meet to update your students on your status and share the game plan for the rest of the meeting.
- Nearest Campus: Have you identified the closest Pepperdine campus to your home? Have you confirmed access to that campus if you need to drive there at the last minute to continue your class? Be sure to contact the campus ahead of time to assure that, if you need to relocate to Calabasas, Encino, Irvine, Malibu, or West LA, you are ready to go.
- Alternate Location: If a Pepperdine campus is not feasible or available, is there another nearby location that has internet access? Although a coffee shop may not be advisable due to noise, places like this could prove helpful in a pinch.
Alternate Tools When Services Are Down
Pepperdine IT works hard to maintain its services and systems with routine, preventative maintenance, but in this connected world, we can experience unexpected domino effects. In 2017, a typo by an Amazon employee took down a giant portion of the internet for over four hours. This incident hobbled major websites and online services, disrupting businesses and universities alike. Although this type of issue is very rare, it can happen and is beyond our control.
- Meeting Tool Alternatives: Zoom is Pepperdine's primary live, online teaching platform. In the event that Zoom is down and a live meeting is necessary, consider spinning up a Google Meet session. It's fast and easy to create a Meet session via Google Calendar or Google Chat, and it offers the basic tools for audio, video, and screen sharing.
- Record the Lecture: If there is a significant disruption, you can always record your lecture afterward through Zoom or Panopto and then share the recording with your class.
- Asynchronous Activities: If a live meeting isn't possible, you can ask students to read an article, watch a video, or reflect on a textbook chapter and then post to a discussion forum, contribute to a shared Google Doc, chat live in a Google Chat or Courses Chat room, or write and submit a short paper.
For additional suggestions, please refer to our Academic Continuity resources.
Consider whether a brief statement in your syllabus may help your students know what you plan to do and what they are expected to do in case of a class disruption. For example, how long do you expect them to attempt to connect at the start of a class (15-20 minutes)? In the event of class cancelation, is there a default activity they should be prepared to work on in lieu of the live class period (a reading, assignment, or discussion forum)? By proactively addressing expectations you can reduce student concerns or confusion in case of a major disruption.
I hope something here helps you as you plot your Plan B (or C or D). I wish everyone a great fall term!
Alan Regan | Pepperdine University
Director, Client Services, Information Technology
Adjunct Professor, Business Administration Division, Seaver College