Resilience in teaching and learning with technology

As we begin a return to more traditional educational approaches, in person, in the classroom, I’ve had a number of conversations with faculty who have been feeling nervous about smoothly using their technology in the classroom. Pivoting again. Totally reasonable, when you haven’t practiced something in a year!

I suggest that we take the lesson from our pandemic response (and the Hitchhiker’s Guide1); Don’t Panic! Take a breath, take a minute and think through what’s working and what’s not. Trust me, your students will appreciate those extra few moments to catch up with what you’ve been presenting. Call us, or put a support request in, to let us know what’s not working (x6201 for Classroom and Conferencing Technologies, x4357 for the Help Desk, or go through our Online Help System), and we’ll help you fix things.

If you can, beforehand, talk to us about your fears and frustrations! Let us help you work through things. And please let us know when things worked better than you expected! We (and the audience) always appreciate it when the presenter handles a situation with aplomb, doesn’t get overly flustered, takes a minute and moves forward, even if they’re just making do with technology that’s not how they had originally planned to use it. I would call that technological resilience, or perhaps presentation resilience.

This past year, pivoting how we do things at Swarthmore has been an exercise in flexibility in teaching and in learning. And it’s clear that the efforts of our faculty, staff and students were largely successful, if not ideal for our broader concept of the Swarthmore education. There were lots of opportunities for instruction to go very wrong, but by and large, it didn’t. Our faculty, students, and staff persevered.

Largely that success is due to the persistence, flexibility and resilience of our community. Some of that success was because my colleagues in ITS were prepared. We had been working with remote teaching technologies, which offer the ability to do many things one can’t do easily with in-person instruction, despite having no formal online educational components to a Swarthmore education, nor any online program.

The resources were in place and largely just needed to be scaled up to meet the need. We had also invested a great deal in making information available through our online help system, so our community could get answers (Swarthmore KnowledgeBase) when they needed them. And we also had just implemented a new web-based call tracking system ( that enabled us to take in calls, assign and prioritize them quickly, and efficiently at all hours, while working remotely, so we could respond to them effectively. We were also able to create new teaching studios, learning from our colleagues at Johns Hopkins through the awareness and insights of some of our senior faculty. These investments paid off and made things work more effectively during our ongoing pandemic response.

We all just went through a great example of how we can face an immensely challenging situation and work through the best solution available. Keep that resilient approach as you return to the classroom. It’s a skill we’ve all just been practicing for the past year! We will always endeavor to have our tools ready for what you need, but we also have to recognize that technology does sometimes fail (or at least a part of it fails, which can be the same thing to the presenter).

While we in ITS continue to explore new technologies and newer ways of using existing tools in order to help you teach and learn more effectively, we’re also checking and updating our existing systems. Trying to build in redundency. Remember, there is always another way to do something in the classroom or online in order to accomplish your educational goals. Working together, we iterate towards both the best solutions within our constraints as well as identifying the alternatives that can also work when one part of the ideal solution fails.

1 – Adams, Douglas (1979). The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Pan Books.