Data Centers

There's an art to turning a disaster into an opportunity

Bad things do sometimes happen to good trainers, but there are ways to turn a server crash into a learning opportunity.


There’s nothing worse than when the highlight of a class is a crash, whether it’s a server, an individual machine, or maybe even a student.

This is embarrassing and negates all your prep work, even if you spent hours checking each computer and carefully planning the agenda. You don’t want to feel stupid and unprepared when you’re standing in front of a roomful of people who are waiting to learn.

Hey, get used to it
Everyone knows that crashes, downtime, and frustrations are all part of working with computers and networks. It can be a good thing to work this into your classes so that users won’t be as upset and angry when they have problems with their machines.
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This list highlights the most common problems that come up during class and suggests ways to turn a nosedive into a perfect landing.

A vital server crashes: A lesson in navigation
You’re trying to connect a machine to a server or to copy a file from a server to your local machine, and it’s just not working. Use this annoying problem to introduce the user to the network, explain naming conventions, and discuss file transfers. If you’re really lucky, this problem also will include the next one…

An individual machine crashes: A lesson in how to recover
This gives you a chance to go over hard reboots or forced quits. Some students are actually happy to see this happen in a training session, because then it’s not “their” fault. It happens to everyone all the time; it’s not a unique problem.

In addition to providing a refreshing dose of reality, this problem offers a particularly good example of the merits of saving early and often. Sometimes if I think a student isn’t listening or paying attention to the important details, I will avoid saving a document on purpose. Then, if the machine goes down and the person loses all her work, presto! A real-life lesson in the value of hitting [Apple][S] or [Ctrl][S] at the end of every paragraph.

A machine isn’t set up right: A lesson about the desktop or shortcuts
With most users, you won’t want to get into too many details about how to install software. But, if the problem is something simple such as folder organization or desktop shortcuts, this can be a good lesson. You can cover the various ways to view files and set up folders. You also can encourage the user to be on the lookout for ways to save time and keystrokes by creating shortcuts. You also should explain how to tell the difference between a shortcut and an actual folder or application: “See that little arrow there?”

Software is missing: A lesson in downloads
You need a handy little utility that can save time and keystrokes, but the install people forgot to install it. It’s just waiting for you up there on the Web, whispering, “Download me, download me” in your ear.

Some students are afraid to download anything from the Web, for fear of introducing a virus to the system. Or if they can get through the download process, they have no idea where the file is on their machine. Once you’ve given the required speech about not altering the machine too much or installing too many “extras,” you can show the student how to download. Hit the highlights of the process, and show them how to set a default folder for downloaded files and how to unstuff files.

Nothing works: A lesson in how to improvise
This is a good time to talk about workarounds or about finding another machine to work on. This will happen to a user at some point. The panic level will be much lower if the person has a back-up workstation in mind and knows how to get critical files to this other station. Again, this is reassurance for the student that it’s not the end of the world when this happens.

What is your best quick-thinking save?
How do you save face and salvage the lesson when something goes wrong? Do you have a particularly good example of fast footwork? Have your students ever bailed you out? Write to me and share your experiences.

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