What's Your Backup Plan?

What's Your Backup Plan?

by Jennie Ruby, COTP

Sometimes our horror stories are the ones we learn the most from. In my very first online teaching experience, back about 15 years ago, I was teaching from an office building. I had just one computer, and I was logged in to a training platform that relied on that one computer to keep the classroom open. If that one computer went down, the entire classroom space would close, kicking out all of the students.

But what could go wrong? I was in a big office building. We had a T-1 line. The computer was hardwired via Ethernet to a set of servers downstairs. All I needed to worry about was teaching.

And then the building’s fire alarm went off. Strobe lights, alarms, people exiting the building, and in the distance, the sound of firetrucks coming. 

“Ummm, I’m sorry folks, but I’m going to have to evacuate the building—there seems to be a fire alarm,” I said. “If I’m not back in 30 minutes, we will reschedule for another day.”

I started to get up from the desk and exit the building, when I suddenly thought: What if the power goes off briefly while I’m gone? That will close my online classroom! I went back to the desk, clicked into the online classroom again, and I made one of the students an “Organizer.” They now had the power to control the online classroom, but more importantly, their computer would hold the classroom open, even if my computer went down briefly when the engineers reset the fire alarms—assuming this was just an alarm, and not an actual fire.

Well, it wasn’t an actual fire, and I was back and teaching in 20 minutes. 

Just this week I noticed that the same online training platform I was using that day now has an automatic response: if an organizer logs out while the class is still running, a message pops up: “Do you want to promote an attendee to Organizer.” That same technique, of making an attendee the Organizer to hold the classroom open, is now a built-in part of the software, all these years later.

So what did I learn? Always have a backup plan. I often promote an attendee to an Organizer if thunderclouds threaten, or the wind rises, and I’m worried that my power could go out. But I also have an alternative place I can teach from, and I have a battery-operated computer and a battery-operated backup Internet hot spot, as well. 

Have you had an online teaching fiasco? A horror story? A Close-Call? I would love to hear from you. Maybe we can swap stories, and I can tell you about the potato chip…Actually, that story is mentioned on the ICCOTP website. Bonus points if you find it and ask about it!


Jennie Ruby, CTT, COTP, is a veteran eLearning developer, trainer, and author. Jennie has an M.A. from George Washington University and is a Certified Technical Trainer and Certified Online Training Professional. She teaches both classroom and online courses, and has authored courseware, published training books, and developed content for countless eLearning projects. She is also a publishing professional with more than 30 years of experience in writing, editing, print publishing, and eLearning.

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