Technical Difficulties: Some Steps for Remote Class Meetings

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We are experiencing technical difficulties. Please stand by…. 

One day I was delivering a remote workshop of the day when, suddenly, participants informed me that they couldn’t hear me: the sound was choppy and delayed. I still had half of a session–with information and activities–to deliver to 20 people. What to do? 

This tip provides suggested steps to take when faculty experience unexpected technical challenges during lesson delivery in a remote synchronous class. These steps may be used to support students who are presenting in a synchronous session as well. 

What to do if you experience limited connectivity?

Step 1: Stay Calm 

Take a deep breath and pause to collect your thoughts. Getting anxious or upset will only make the situation worse. Reassure your students calmly that you recognize there is a problem, and that you will deal it immediately to the best of your ability. 

Step 2: Check-In 

Check in with your students about what they are experiencing. Is it a visual problem? A sound problem? A hyperlink problem? Invite students to describe in the chat exactly what is happening for them and how long it has been happening. If the extent of the problem is not clear, use an audience feedback button (hand raise or yes/no) to determine how many students are experiencing the issue in the class session. Asking for input will help you to determine the severity of the issue. 

Step 3: Take a Break and Set a Timeline 

Occasional “blips” are normal, but if students repeatedly report audio or visual problems, do not proceed with the class session. It may seem inconvenient to disrupt the flow of the class, but from the students’ perspective they already feeling disrupted by the technical issue. 

Instead, indicate that you will be taking a short break to troubleshoot the problem. Give students a timeline (5 or 10 minutes), then check in again no later than the time you indicate. This will allow you to sort the issue without the added pressure of folks watching and waiting for you. 

Step 4: Give Students Something to Do 

Ask students to complete a task while you are troubleshooting. Perhaps it is to find certain information on the web, or put them in breakout rooms to discuss a problem or question. Asking students to complete a task while you are away keeps them engaged and makes the synchronous time useful. Ensure that the task is meaningful and relevant to the lesson. It might be wise to prepare a “back up” activity such as this before the class meeting.  

If it is near break time, give students a longer stretch break. If it near the end of the session, end the meeting early. 

Step 5: Triage the Problem 

In the time you have, try the strategies that you know that may resolve the problem. Note that there are many hardware or software reasons behind the problem (e.g., older computers, weak internet connection, updates), so this list below offers only a few general suggestions:   

  • Remove the virtual background if used 
  • Test audio settings 
  • Log off and back onto the virtual meeting (but be sure not to end the meeting) 
  • Turn off any programs or applications on your device that you are not using 
  • Ensure that cords are plugged in firmly 
  • Restart your computer 

Honour the time frame you have given to your meeting participants. If the problem persists, decide whether the meeting can continue in a modified way (such as no use of video or screen-sharing)–or end the meeting. 

Step 6: Follow Up 

Follow up with students as soon as possible to inform them of what happened, what they may have missed, and how you will make the information and/or resources available to them. If possible, re-schedule the class meeting at another time (but ensure that all students are available). If not all students are available, create and send a recording of the missed lesson content. 

What to do if you are unable to communicate at all? 

It’s probably happened to most of us at least once in a Zoom meeting we were hosting – you suddenly can’t be heard by your participants, you can’t control the share feature, and nothing seems to work to reconnect you.  The best thing to do at that time is to leave the meeting, restart your computer, and come back in again.  Will your students know what is happening? They’ll probably guess, but it is a good idea to provide instructions early in the semester about what to do in case you lose connectivity altogether.  An announcement such as the following, for example, can be shared before the first Zoom meeting. 

What we will do in case of internet problems: 

If you lose your internet connection, please try restarting your device and rejoin us if you are able.  

If I lose my internet connection, I will leave the meeting, restart my computer, and then return. This process may take 5 to 15 minutes, so if you find that I’m not responding or that my icon has disappeared, please wait at least 15 minutes for me to return.  While I am away from the meeting, please continue to work on the task you have been given, or if I am cut off mid-lesson, please take the time to check comprehension with each other or prepare questions to ask me when I return.  If I am disconnected shortly before the end of class, please contact me with any questions you still have, and I will email you a summary of the lesson. 

Technology problems can be disorienting and frustrating, but they happen to everyone once in a while. With some planning and some patience, faculty can minimize the negative impact of “technical difficulties” when they occur unexpectedly in synchronous class meetings. 

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  • Published: June 5, 2020
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  • Reading time: ~ 4 minutes
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Elan Paulson

Elan Paulson, PhD, has been an educator in Ontario's higher education system since 2004. Before joining Conestoga as a Teaching and Learning Consultant, Elan was on the executive team at eCampusOntario. She previously served as Program Director and as an instructor in professional education programs at Western University's Faculty of Education. With a Master's in Educational Technology, Elan specializes in technology-enabled and collaborative learning to support diverse learners. She has also conducted research on faculty participation in communities of practice for professional learning and self-care.

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