First Day of Class: Rolling With the Punches

- - posted in favorite, teaching

Last night, as I was putting the finishing touches on my first lecture of the semester, I made what I thought was a pretty good list of general goals for a first class:

  • Lead with something they already care about
  • Tell them what’s coming in terms of substance and structure
  • Demonstrate your teaching style.
  • Show them you care about them
  • Answer questions
  • Make it fun
  • Incorporate an element of surprise
  • Treat them with respect

I thought this list would be a good start for a post about my first day.

Now that my first lecture has come and gone, I must instead write about something completely different: How to roll with the punches when things go wrong. Because a lot went wrong today.

Punch #1:

I walked into my class ten minutes early and couldn’t get the projector to actually project anything. I like to talk, but I still had a stack of 40 lecture slides to support my talking. A friend with calmer nerves than me called the emergency AV person. I took a few deep breaths and started teaching. I told my students this was “Econometrics and Data Analysis I” and then asked them if they knew what their chances of finding a job were after they graduated. This seemed to get their attention. We then had a relatively structured conversation about how we could go about answering this question. I had a lot of notes typed up on my iPad so I didn’t need my slides as a road map. Fifteen minutes in, the AV guy had come and gone and I had my slides back. Phew! (For the record, he had to do something to the actual projector mounted in the back of the room to fix it.)

Lessons Learned:

  • Get to class earlier on the first day.
  • Maybe even try out the projection system the day before.
  • Notes are key.

Punch #2:

At the thirty minute mark, the app I use to show and edit my notes on the iPad (WriteUp) crashed. It proceeded to crash immediately on restart several times. I love WriteUp, but it’s never been the most stable app. Luckily I had reviewed my notes carefully the night before and right before class so I didn’t really need them.

Lessons Learned:

  • Use a more stable app for displaying notes or at least have an alternative just in case.

Punch #3:

This one was entirely self-inflicted. At 3:00 I noticed I had just 15 minutes left in the class, but I was on slide 19 (of 40). I started talking a little faster and did my last interactive exercise. At 3:15 I stopped with six slides left and kicked myself for trying to do too much in one day. I’m used to teaching for about two hours and these classes are an hour and 15 minutes each.

I talked to several students after class and the very last one had a copy of the printed syllabus. He asked if all the classes were going to end at 3:15 because the syllabus said class went until 3:45. I couldn’t believe it. The class started at 2:30. The reason I didn’t fit in everything I wanted was that I stopped class half an hour early completely by accident!

That’s when I really started kicking myself. For a third time I had to take some deep breaths and recover. I had the whole classroom to myself, and I sat down at a desk and started up Echo360 Personal Capture. I proceeded to give the rest of my lecture with the rest of my slides. I published the video, and tonight I sent an announcement to the class apologizing for the mistake and asking them to watch what they missed before our next class.

Lessons Learned:

  • Mistakes are inevitable, but correctable.
  • Technology taketh away, but technology giveth too.
  • I should probably try to get more sleep the nights before I teach.

One lecture down, 25 to go!