Do as I say, not as I do.

When I was younger, I often thought my father was a model of hypocrisy.  Moments after telling me not to do something, my brothers and I would catch him doing the exact activity he had prohibited me from doing.  In his defense, he would say “Do as I say, not as I do.”  While I now realize he was setting high expectations for my brothers and me, his words resonated in my head this weekend as I realized I was not taking the advice I give to others.  It’s like I was saying to the multitude of students and colleagues that I’ve worked with, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I don’t think I was necessarily being hypocritical. “Unwarranted confidence” would be a better way to describe the factors that lead me down a path of technological chaos.

The students in my Instructional Technology course are working on a Flipped Classroom project with a local school district.  My students are acting as instructional designers and creating short videos that teach different literacy concepts to elementary students.  The district teachers use the videos in place of in-class instruction and then develop higher order lessons that apply the concepts.  We’ve been piloting the program for the last two semesters and it has been a real success.  My students learn a lot from the process and from interacting with a cadre of really gifted teachers.  Because of the success, I decided to scale up the project this semester and double the number of classes working on the project.  Since we’ve seen real instructional benefits from the model with the district students, we also expanded to include some new grade levels.  What could go wrong?

The project is a lengthy, mastery level assignment for my students.  They go through several drafts, revising the project until they eventually develop an exceptional product.  Each draft is shared with district teachers and the teachers provide feedback on the students’ designs.  Last Friday, one of the last major drafts was due.  To expedite sharing, I invite all of the students to DropBox.com and have them upload their projects to a shared folder.  I was heading out of town for a conference, but was confident that the system would work.  I had used DropBox before with the project and felt assured it would work again.  And that’s where things went wrong.

I facilitate a lot of workshops with educators who want to use technology either in support of online and blended instruction or as tools to support face-to-face instruction.  One of the big pieces of advice I share with attendees is to always assign low risk activities before assigning high risk ones.  Let the students learn how to use the technology before assigning some major assignment.  Scaffold their learning by assigning some minor assignment first.  For instance, say you want your students to submit their research papers through your learning management system.  At the start of the semester, I would recommend assigning a low risk assignment that they submit through the same system.  Students learn how to use the technology first in a low risk manner and then can apply that knowledge when it’s really important.   It’s really great advice that can help instructors navigate a slew of technical problems.  And I should have heeded it myself.

While DropBox is a simple site to use, not every student had experience using the system.  A few students struggled with the process and others didn’t really understand conceptually how the system worked.  Add in DropBox’s policies for large shared folders and there was quite a bit of chaos.  We eventually solved the problems and were able to deliver the videos to the teachers.  But a lot of the problems could have been avoided, if only I would “do as I say” myself.

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