Friday, January 28, 2005

the pedagogical misadventures of jeremy freese

Last semester, I had various struggles with my graduate methods course. One was a series of AV problems. (I use PowerPoint for all my lectures, including various fetching diagrams and such, so I'm utterly dependent on being able to get my PowerPoint up and running for me to do the class.) Part of the problem was with the room I was in having some quirky equipment that did not get along with my laptop. Another part was that I was teaching in another building, and so when anything would go wrong I didn't have anything immediately at hand to help me improvise to solve the problem.

These AV problems were frustrating not only because of the lost classroom time but because I can't help feeling like I am coming across like a disorganized and incompetent doofus in front of my class. I generally approach my graduate course with the idea that instructor-as-doofus is a strong candidate hypothesis in their minds that I need to refute, and so AV problems both me because they seem instead to be adding to the credibility of my proposed doofus-hood for each minute that an AV battle rages in front of the ever-scrutinous eyes of students.

So, after last semester, I resolved that I was not going to have this happen to me again. I made sure that my room this time was in Social Science. The Social Science rooms also have newer equipment that I've used many times and know work well with my laptop.

Even so, the crucial bottleneck in the process is that I write my lectures on my desktop machine, but I need to move those files on to my laptop to use them in lecture. My planned way to move my files from my desktop to my laptop is to use the keychain drive I have. I recognized that this might not work sometime, but I figured it wouldn't be any problem because, even though my laptop doesn't have any internal drives, there are still of course many other to get a file onto my laptop.

Anyway, yesterday, a half-hour before the start of the third meeting of my class, I started to move my lecture onto my laptop and discovered that, indeed, my keychain drive had decided to stage a wildcat strike and not work for me. I thought:

No problem! I'll use the portable USB drive that I use to move files back and forth from the office and home. Problem: Unlike my desktops, my laptop does not put enough power through the USB port (even when plugged in) in order to power my laptop, so you have to use this adapter that came with it in order to get AC power.

No problem! I'll just use the adapter. Problem: I think the adapter must be at home. At any rate, it's wasn't anywhere in my office that I could find.

No problem! I'll just e-mail the presentation to myself, and then plug my laptop into the network and retrieve the e-mail. Problem: When I plug my laptop into the network, it says I have to register my laptop because of changes that they have made to the security system since the last time I plugged my laptop into the network.

No problem! I'll just register my laptop (and wait while the laptop reboots), but then I should be good to go! Problem: For reasons I suspect are associated with ripping the network cable out of the back of my desktop and plugging it into my laptop, Windows says I have a "Conflicting IP address" error and won't let me onto the Internet.

No problem! I'll just go down to my fancy AV classroom and connect to the network from the hookup there! Problem: The cable connection doesn't seem to work.

No problem! We have wireless here in Social Science! I'll just connect using my wireless card and get my e-mail that way! Problem: You have to log on some special way through the UW computer system to use the wireless connection.

No problem! Someone in my class will know how to do it! Indeed, they do. So, then, the wireless connection seems to work, except it won't actually open up anything in my browser.

No problem! There is a phone number on the lectern to call for AV emergencies. So I'll call the classroom AV support person, who will know just what to do! Problem: The AV person is on vacation this week. (The second week of classes?) No indication on the voicemail for an alternate emergency number to call.

No problem! I'll run down and get the help of one of the computer consultants on the fourth floor. They'll know just what to do! Problem: The computer person first just confirms the problems I had already figured out. She does note that maybe she could fix things if only we had a key to the AV cabinet.

No problem! I do have a key to the AV cabinet! Problem: This actually turns out to help with nothing. The computer person notes that the problem would be solved if only there was one of the new orange network jacks somewhere in the room.

No problem! There is an orange network jack in the room. Problem: We have no cable for plugging my laptop into this jack.

The computer person goes to get a cable. She mentions that the problem with the wireless connection might just be that I'm too far from the hot-spot-epicenter. Sure enough, when I go down the hallway and set my laptop on top of the FedEx box, I'm able to connect to my e-mail and download my lecture. My class begins 20 minutes late, or almost a full hour after a began the process of trying to move my lecture from my desktop to my laptop. I do the entire lecture feeling like the Mark Of Doofus is indelibly neon-inked on my forehead.


islander said...

Doofus is such an aesthetically unpleasant spelling. I much prefer the alternative spelling, dufus.

Anonymous said...

...and this is at a Research I institution; imagine the challenges a university that is more "resource-challenged." ...there, the trick is extracting chalk-dust from one's hands and clothes....

jeremy said...

Oh great, now I can't even spell doofus right.

dorotha said...

no, islander can't spell doofus correctly.

islander said...

Both spellings are correct, so no need to fret, Jeremy. I just think the "oo" spelling is a little ugly so, on those rare occasions when I get the chance, I let people know about the alternate spelling.

Tom Bozzo said...

That this comment thread has opened with a doofus/dufus debate makes me think that what graduate sociology instruction really needs is a lot more math. (Because your Soc 750 page has links, tantalizingly visible to the public, to material actually in the super-secret password protected area, I can't tell exactly what you're doing -- though the mere mention of PowerPoint and "fetching diagrams" suggests sugar-coating of the material.) Anyway, that should shift the balance of terror solidly in the instructor's favor, not to mention give you greater claim to economics-like compensation.

Anonymous said...

In the room in which I am teaching my large (170 students) undergraduate course, the phone number for AV emergencies is located inside the AV cabinet. This is all fine and good unless the AV emergency involves a TA who didn't show up with the AV cabinet key.

Rebekah Ravenscroft-Scott said...


having been a member of last year's class i can attest to the fact that the av problems did little to nothing to change my opinion of you or your class. i enjoyed it, and I learned stuff, even though i thought i wouldn't!

this is meant to be nothing but nice - - don't read anything else into it :)

Corey said...

Hey Jeremy... I had a slightly similar experience last week (not that this will make you feel any better); One key difference: Rather than teaching, I was giving my job talk at an interview. [So I was trying to convince a sociology department that they should let me come teach].

I was prepared... The slides carefully edited; nice visual images and flowcharts to focus the discussion. The powerpoint file was on my thumb-drive; with backups on-line in my gmail account, and sitting on a University of Michigan server, just in case.

However, no one knew how to get the computer cart to project. 10 minutes after the start time, I started my talk without the slides while a kid from the schools IT support team politely plugged in the projector.


jnsys said...

When I have occasion to assist faculty/guest speakers with the projects/av equipment, as long as they have been nice about it, I am careful to at least pretend that the solution was very difficult and highly unusual, therefore the person could not possibly have been expected to know how to fix it on their own.

If they are rude, dictatorial, etc., I made certain to be VERY OBVIOUS as I turn on the power switch, or turn up the volume on the projector. "Whew, that was an easy fix," as I walk away usually takes care of that attitude.

Jeremy - everyone has their off days with technology. Just keep at it! I'm sure you're a great teacher!

Anonymous said...

When I have occasion to assist faculty/guest speakers with the projects/av equipment, as long as they have been nice about it, I am careful to at least pretend that the solution was very difficult and highly unusual, therefore the person could not possibly have been expected to know how to fix it on their own.

If they are rude, dictatorial, etc., I made certain to be VERY OBVIOUS as I turn on the power switch, or turn up the volume on the projector.
Right. Of course, seeing as it usually is a trivial fix, all it'll take is for the hardware to be just a tiny bit better designed and then BOFHs like yourself will be out of a job.

Tom Volscho said...

Ironically enough, at the last ASA section at which I presented, it was Jeremy who solved the technology problems

jnsys said...

Anonymous - I would be delighted if two things happened: 1. Things were designed a little bit better, and 2. People would read button labels. I consider it an honor to be labeled BOFH. There is nothing better than flipping that power switch after someone has just berated you and called you stupid in front of their class because it didn't work immediately (as, you see, I am expected to psychically fix all computer and AV problems before I am aware they exist). Most people are nice, and just need another set of eyes. Other people get so flustered when they can't figure something out, that they immediately try to assign blame onto another. I just happen to be an easy target.

Valerie Hans said...

Jeremy -- that was the most vivid and accurate account of the challenges of using technology in the classroom that I have seen. It captures so well the bright hopes and plans of the eager teacher, the trivial or insurmountable (no problem! problem!) technological snafus that confront him or her at every opportunity, and the dogged exploration of one option after another until at last, at last, even if late, the powerpoint lecture goes on! Like you I am wedded to powerpoint, but many weaker (hmmm, more sensible?) souls give up at the first or second challenge. I always think, there must be a better way.