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What's Your Backup Plan? by Bob Sprankle

What's Your Backup Plan? by Bob Sprankle

This past week, our Internet went down in the school. The reasons it crashed are complicated, mysterious, and most likely beyond my scope of understanding (not being an IT person).

Since I teach in the computer lab, I'm hit pretty hard when the Internet goes because most of my lessons are online. However, I always have a backup plan (though I work really hard on using mostly Internet-based resources, I do have some software for just such events... namely, the National Virtual Manipulatives software that, while accessible for free online, is also available for purchase in disc form). Luckily, my 3rd and 4th grade lessons were happening in Garageband and Scratch this week, so those classes were able to continue our work without the Internet.

Besides my own lessons, though, the shutdown definitely had a huge effect on all of us in the school. For instance, this week is REPORT CARD week, which like most schools, is done online. Not being able to complete grades definitely increases stress levels for people. Additionally, lack of email access breaks down our normal channels of communication. Also, all of our attendance and lunch count is done online. These are hurdles suddenly throwing monkey wrenches into an already busy day, but perhaps the hardest thing for people is not knowing when the Internet is going to come back online.

On the bright side, I try to remind people that the loss of Internet used to happen on average several times a month in years past. Unfortunately, that doesn't really help quell the panic because people didn't rely on it years ago as much as they do now. The more time that's gone by, the more we've become web-based, in lessons and in daily operations.

That's a good thing. It's what we've been trying to get people to do for years: to integrate technology seamlessly into instruction, and get people comfortable in using the new tools available for data management, communication, publishing, and accessing information.

All it takes is one day with the Internet down for people to get frustrated, though, and pull back ---even if just a little--- into not trusting these new tools to be manageable or able to be ubiquitous. I'm proud to report that, for the most part, my colleagues took this "black out" with a sense of calm and humor, and luckily, the connection came back within a day.

But... let's imagine that it was "broken" for a longer period. What's our backup plan?

If we were to lose electricity (and trust me: living in Maine with snowstorms and ice storms, this happens more often than you'd think), our school has a back up in place: a generator. Not all schools have this, but we're lucky to be an "Emergency Shelter" site in town. Things keep on humming here at school even when our town has lost power for days due to a nasty ice storm. School isn't closed. There isn't any "waiting it out." We're confident that the days will run with relative regularity.

But what about the Internet? The more we become a digital school (lesson-wise, data collection, daily routines like attendance, email, lunch counts, etc.), the harder it is (and perhaps the more frustrating it becomes) when we are suddenly "cut off."

Sure, we could go back to the "old routines" of paper, and handwritten attendance and lunch counts, and Report Cards could always be delayed (for a couple of days at least), but the farther we get away from the "old routines" of analog practice, will it become harder to revert back?

We had a "blip" the other day. No big deal. But I'm sure many communities have taken harder hits with "digital infrastructure." You can just look at the current news to see weather or disaster or political related interruptions to all types of services, not just Internet.

Our school planned ahead when it purchased a generator to keep power going in the event of outage. To my knowledge, I don't know if we have a plan for an extended Network/Internet outage. Much of our infrastructure is outside of the district's control, managed by third party vendors or state run systems.

What alternatives are out there? How is your school prepared for an extended Network outage? Do you have a backup plan? Is there such a tool like a generator to insure that things can keep running smoothly? Is this something we should be thinking/planning/worrying about?

Thanks for your comments!