The Internet is Down: How to Succeed in an Unexpectedly Low Tech Classroom

Guest Blogger: Hanna Primeau, Instructional Designer

Welcome to your worst teaching nightmare. You walk into a course or workshop, you have the usual amount of time to set-up before everyone has settled in and you can begin. And then it happens. The internet is down. Your presentation for the day depended on being able to demonstrate how to access a database, how to filter searches, and to get your students actively working with you as you work through these steps.

Photo Credit: Edvard Munch, The Scream (1893)

The long and short of it is, I’ve been there, and there isn’t much you can do in the moment, although all hope isn’t lost, which I will get to in good time. The good news is, this is just a nightmare, and you can wake up and take some precautions to keep in your back pocket, just in case this becomes a reality.  If you have been asked by an instructor to come to a class or workshop it is nearly a guarantee that you will be heading into the web at some point, but the good news here is you can pre-record your actions! No need for fancy devices, high tech programs, or even the know how of how to make videos in order to make a recording of your already planned demonstration. As a matter of fact, the “hard work” is more than likely already done, and done by you!

The first step to this process is to know what you want to show, and presumably, because you’ve spent time prepping for this course, you know exactly when and where you will depart from your presentation to the web and what you intend on showing there. Some find that storyboarding helps this portion, storyboarding is a process of visually or verbally putting down what each screen looks like and describing the actions taken on that screen, including pauses. You can see below what a quick scribbled out version of a storyboard may look like, but there is no right or wrong way to approach this. You can go as complicated as taking screenshots for each one and typing out your plans, or scribble on a scrap of paper each step. All this is is a visual map to have before you move on to the next step, recording!

There are endless technologies that can facilitate the recording of your screen, better known as a screen-capture, but I am just going to focus on a basic one. Screencast-o-matic is a free, up to 15 minute screen recorder, that has the option to add captions to all video, and will automatically upload it to either the screencast-o-matic webpage or to YouTube, with little action on your behalf.  It’s finally time to record, once open Screencast-o-matic allows you to simply select the browser screen you would like to record, and begin recording with a click, stopping with another. This is the point that if you created one, to utilize your storyboard as you slowly navigate through the web that you intend on demonstrating to students. You may find that it helps to speak as if you were in front of a class as you record, allowing you to time how long to pause between clicks. The goal here is not to have a fully polished video, and certainly not one with audio, but a video that once embedded into a presentation can play behind you as you narrate live.  This gives you the opportunity to not just speak knowledgeably about your demonstration, but most importantly, allowing you to no longer be held captive by a mouse and screen, and go to stand before a class, gesturing to the parts they should know physically pointing to things rather than using a mouse which is poor for these purposes.

Having a selection of these videos in your back pocket may seem like an intimidating task, but the amount of tension and stress they can save you in a pinch is worth it. These demonstration videos don’t have to be made all in one go, but one at a time as you prep for new classes. Keep them short so you are able to combine multiples, rather than repeating many of the steps anew just to demonstrate a slightly different process. Once you have started this process, it’s easy to make this part of your teaching, making short snippets for every use to be used in every case, or just in case.

But what of getting students to practice the skills you are attempting to teach? Active learning thankfully can happen with the simple aide of a pen and paper or a whiteboard with markers. Looking to other instructors via the ACRL Sandbox, we can find in examples of in-class activities that are easy to adapt to the most basic of situations. Having one activity in your back-pocket ( or on your flash drive in your back-pocket) for each of the Frameworks you tend to teach should help you when your worst nightmare becomes reality. Let’s look to a worksheet uploaded by UCONN library, the Research Question Generator. It is focused on asking questions to make students think deeper about their topic in such a way that leads students to formulating a more structured research question. This process can easily be adapted to make students think deeper about keyword searching, having them do the hard work of playing with Boolean, and even limiters, before even touching a database.

Needless to say, with a bit of forethought, your worst nightmare can just be another day in the class!



Best Practices:

  • 5 minutes or less
  • Make sure to put in pauses for you to speak!
  • Don’t share access with students or instructors if you have no subtitles or audio, accessibility standards are important.
  • Use incognito mode in order to ensure a similar experience to a student repeating
  • Have your videos saved in the cloud, box works well for this, and a flash drive as back up. You never know when the web will be working fine but it’s a moment that EBSCOhost is down.
  • Students tend to be very patient, don’t fret about set up time, pauses longer than you would like, or other weird quirks that can happen. They have probably experienced a similar situation and tend to have compassion.

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