Efficiency is overrated: the importance of resilience in classroom tech

As excited as I get about the possibilities of new technologies and cloud services, one lesson I’ve never allowed myself to forget is the importance of contingency planning. All the efficiency in the world is worth nothing if you don’t also have resilience.

For example, videorecording is incredibly efficient and effective. In principle, on days during which my students give speeches, I could just set up a videorecorder on a tripod, hit the “Record” button, and walk out for the day. However, if the recorder failed, I would be completely unable to assess my students’ performance! There’s no resilience in that setup. So when I do videorecord important student speeches, I use two video recording devices while simultaneously taking fastidious notes. (I also used to have an audio recorder going at the same time, but even I had to admit that that was overkill!)

Current case in point: an ELI student has to give an important presentation later today, but his USB drive containing his PowerPoint file failed. A teacher sent him to me to see what help I could give him. Upon plugging in the USB drive, I saw that the file allocation table had likely been damaged, because the system was unable to mount the drive despite being able to detect it.

I reformatted the drive and began running Recuva on it. As I type this, the process is 54% complete, with an estimated time left of 10 minutes. Here’s the screenshot I took a bit earlier:

There are no guarantees, but Recuva is pretty darn good at rooting out lost files.
There are no guarantees, but Recuva is pretty darn good at rooting out lost files.

Hopefully we’ll be able to get this student up and running! All of his files will be jumbled up and possibly unnamed, but with a bit of luck, we’ll at least be able to find the PowerPoint file.

So to go back to my original point: using a single USB drive is pretty darn efficient, but it’s not so resilient. If I were in that student’s shoes, I would have copied the presentation onto two USB flash drives; I would have made it available online, preferably accessible via a bit.ly URL; and as a last resort, I would have paper handouts of the slides ready to go as well. Tap-dancing due to technical issues is never pleasant, but if you make sure to plan resiliently, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that if Plan A doesn’t work, you still have Plans B and C to fall back on.

(Incidentally, this topic reminds me of one of the most embarrassing moments of my grad student career: I made a mistake while photocopying my handout for a presentation. The original printed copy was two-sided, but I absent-mindedly set the photocopier to “one-sided to two-sided” mode, effectively deleting half of my handout’s pages! And the first I knew of it was when someone in my audience raised their hand and said there was a problem with the handout. I learned a big lesson that day: always, always double-check your handouts!)


Postscript: The ending to this story wasn’t as happy as I’d hoped it would be. I was able to recover tons of files, but they were all images, videos, and sound files. Recuva did not detect any PowerPoints or other documents. Oh well.

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