September 21, 2005

Bulk view

Headless chicken impression

Lab 1: What If? Scenarios in Microsoft Excel turned out to be an excruciating demonstration of Murphy's Law straight out of a Worst Case Scenarios book. I put the Microsoft Excel file on my website and confirmed that it worked before the class started. I had my spiel all set up and ready to go. I labeled each desk with teams to help people find each other. And then I waited.

Ten minutes. Fifteen. People still weren’t there, so I started the lab with just half the class present.

I told them about my commitment to not just teach, but help people learn. I got their feedback on what works for them and what doesn’t. (Good: provide lots of exercises, ask questions, give help. Bad: computers that don’t work, teaching too fast.) I asked them to help me remember to slow down.

Then I started on the lab.

Or at least, I tried to. Murphy’s Law just steamrolled right over me.

sacha.free.net.ph was unreachable. I had a copy of the lab on my computer, but no USB disk. I couldn't connect my laptop to the lab network. I couldn't even remember my password to the course website in order to upload the file after a resourceful student lent me his USB disk.

I was sweating floods of panic.

Backup plan: I bookmarked a video demo of scenarios accompanied by a text description. I told students to check that out while I frantically looked for ways to get the file online.

When I couldn't figure out a way, I started Excel and tried to show it–but the screen would’ve been nearly unreadable from the back. I quit that in frustration and started telling people instead about why they should learn about Scenario, Goal Seek, Solver, and other cool functions, but hearing someone speak about the coolness of Scenario and other things is really no substitute for actually doing things, actually trying things out.

And when I said all that I needed to say about that, I apologized for wasting their time and being such a terrible TA. I had done very things I hated about ineffective teaching–boring lectures, unprepared chaos, unclear structure. That was my responsibility, and I flubbed it.

The students were amazingly supportive. "It’s the effort that counts." "Don’t worry, there’s next time." "You’re better than some of our other TAs." (Funny how that one comment can be both encouraging and saddening.)

And they _applauded._

They clapped for the girl up there in front going to pieces in front of the crowd, who had nothing going right for her but who still kept going anyway because passion wouldn't let her just give up and not care.

They smiled.

They told me they believed in me.

I'm there to help them learn about decision support systems, but they're going to teach me far more about teaching and learning and life.

I'm going to listen to the recording of the session later. It's going to be absolutely painful, but I'll learn from it anyway. (Must stock up on chocolate before I do that.)

What did I learn?

- Upload copies of lab stuff _everywhere_: CCNet, my website, Gmail, etc. - Add stuff to the S: drive so that people can easily grab it. - Might be better to use lab time for questions; need prelab activities. - When things get really messed up, that personal connection is what’s going to pull me through the painful moments.

Easily my worst-ever speech. Easily my worst-ever class session.

... and the most instructive and inspiring moment in my life so far.