Saturday, September 8, 2012

And He Does It Without A Net

I am the only dancing bear in the circus.

The real joy of being an ad-hoc lecturer in modern academia is that you are never really in a position to say no to anything.  Historians are in excess supply in this market.  If you don’t want the class, someone else will take it and then next time they have a class to offer they will remember only that the last time you said no.  So I end up teaching a lot of strange classes. 

On the one hand, this gets me out of my comfort zone and makes me stretch myself and learn new skills and become more well rounded and any number of other such things that one often finds printed at the bottom of framed posters in corporate lobbies.  I’m more marketable, except that there really isn’t much of a market for my skills so what I actually am is simply employed for another sixteen weeks.  But really, someone is paying me to teach history and that’s a good thing.

On the other hand, my comfort zone is rather, uh, comfortable – that is why it is called that in the first place.  I never liked stretching, even when I ran track in high school, and I find that the only thing that truly gets more well rounded these days is my butt from sitting in my chair trying to figure out how to do all these new things.

So my life is sending me mixed messages, is what I’m saying.

As if this makes me any different from anyone else here in the New Gilded Age.

My latest adventure involves teaching my US1 class to students in three different high schools a half-day’s drive away from Our Little Town.  It’s a college-level class offered to students who have pretty much exhausted their options in their high schools, and the logistics are just astonishing.

Each of the three schools (there were four, but one backed out at the last minute claiming that every single one of the students who had enrolled had decided instead to switch to a calculus class offered at the same time, which I found statistically … remarkable) beams itself over to one of Home Campus’ sister institutions, and the combined video feed is then beamed over to us.  And vice verse.  So there’s that aspect of the logistics.  Fortunately there are a great many IT professionals working to make this happen smoothly, and so far it largely has.

Although when they say the class is 50 minutes long, by jimbo they mean 50:00.00 and not a nanosecond more.  I have yet to finish a class without being cut off in mid-word.  I’ll get the hang of this eventually.

Don't even get me started on the process of signing these students up for a university email account so they can access the web page for the class.  There is a reason why I should not be put in charge of IT stuff: I'm not good at IT stuff.  But we're making progress anyway.

These high schools all have different schedules, and none of them match ours.  This means that somewhere down the line it’s all going to get far more interesting than it needs to be.

And there’s all the usual things that happen in high schools.  I’ve already been told to expect disruptions due to Homecoming.  The students have exactly half a minute between classes, so they can’t hang around before or after class to talk (not that they could anyway, see above).  And this week one of them had a fire drill in the middle of class. 

It’s been years since I had to deal with that – Home Campus very carefully schedules their fire drills for times when I am not teaching.  I’m not sure how I rate that kind of service but I’m not about to question it either, in case it is just coincidence and by bringing it to the attention of the universe it will come to a crashing halt and then I’ll have fire drills of my own, one a week for the next two years just to make up for lost time.  Being a former volunteer firefighter, I would feel an obligation to take them seriously and not just roll my eyes and keep talking.  It’s a nuisance being responsible.

The thing about this class, though, is that it is only open to these high school students.  Technically my contract is with our sister institution, and nobody here at Home Campus is allowed to enroll.  Yet here I am, at Home Campus, teaching the class to a split screen mounted on the wall on the other side of the classroom that shows me students several hundred miles away.  They are tiny little blobs, thanks to the aging process of my eyes and the fact that there are three different pictures on that one screen, though gradually they are developing personalities of their own.  But they are my entire audience.  I have no local following.

What this means, in practical terms, is that if you were to walk by the classroom while I was teaching the class, you’d see me up at the front, chattering merrily away to … nobody.  The screens face me, not the hallway.  There’s nobody in the seats.  It’s just me up there, pacing back and forth and waving my hands around the way I do when I teach (Kim once described my teaching style as “duck in a shooting gallery”), voice rising and falling, talking to the empty chairs in front of me like this was a political convention or something.

Distance education?  Or off his meds?  You make the call.


Janiece said...

"Distance education? Or off his meds?"

Speaking as a distance education aficionado, I submit that the two are not mutually exclusive.

David said...

Well, point taken. :)

John the Scientist said...

I've done that before: giving a telecom presentation to a group in Japan or China, and having the custodial staff come in and look at me like I was a Martian. The looks get even stranger if you aren't speaking English. :D