September 21, 2005

Headless chicken impression

September 21, 2005 - Categories: !Uncategorized

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.