Thursday, January 20, 2011

Adrenalin Rush

We're having a wet snow today. Driving is quite bad. I like my Civic hybrid a lot, but it is not intended for this kind of weather. I hydroplaned several times in driving my son to school. I remember way back when we used to rotate tires, snow tires for the the winter, the regular tires the rest of the year. Since radial tires have become the vogue we don't do that anymore. I wonder if we should go back to the old way.

I'm actually somewhat frightened when driving in this. I don't trust myself at the wheel so I drive very slowly. I also don't trust the other drivers, who to me seem to possess excessive confidence that their breaks will work fine. Getting close to home on the return I noticed I was gripping the steering wheel very tightly. The last several weeks I've had multiple experiences where my hands cramp up. There is some pain but the real issue is that I can't straighten out my fingers. I don't know if this is an inevitable consequence of aging and arthritis or if I'm keyboarding too much for my own well being. In any event it started to happen as I turned into our neighborhood. It further contributed to my anxiety. But I made it home without incident.

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Yesterday I was back teaching largish classes, about 65 students in each class. I hadn't done that for 10 years. My teaching since had been in seminar format. The students and I would sit where we could all face one another. We had good conversations but the feeling was not nearly as intense as I felt yesterday. I taught in David Kinley Hall in two classrooms on the first floor, with auditorium seating where the students sat in rows making me feel a bit like I was on stage. There is something about being on stage that can't be imitated. I told the the story above about driving in the snow because while there was fright, it was a different kind of feeling. Fear of an accident is different than the fear of looking stupid in front of an audience. And the response is different; with the driving I became overly cautious while with the teaching I delivered a manic, not quite stream of consciousness monologue. I want to have a lot of Q&A in the classroom but that first day I had to cover the syllabus, so it was just me for a good chunk of the time. I got very keyed up. It took me quite a while to come down afterward.

I used to teach much larger classes quite regularly so I had the sense of how I should be prepared. There is a razor's edge between over preparation the kills any sense of spontaneity and under preparation where things appear out of control. I used to teach entirely without notes relying on my memory to get the balance right. Yesterday I did that too, but based on what happened I've had far too many senior moments since my last large class teaching. In the first class yesterday I forgot to do a brief technology demonstration to show students how to set up their blogs. Today I have to make a brief demo movie to make up for that. I will produce outlines for myself for the next class sessions to make sure I stay more or less on track.

You worry about things beforehand, not knowing whether they are mountains or molehills. For me this was the shape of the room with the auditorium seating and whether I could get any Q&A going. Each classroom must be two and a half to three times as long as it is wide. I actually commented in class that in current design you want to situate the presenter about midway near one of the long walls, because that way the distance between the presenter and the student who is farthest away is minimized. The sense of closeness should help promote discussion. Each of these classrooms were set up the opposite way. The seats faced one of the short walls. Further, the technology cabinets were near to these short walls and if you wanted to used the computer to navigate to a Web page and display some of what was on the paged, you had to stand behind the cabinet, further increasing the distance from the students. So I worried I'd lose them while I was covering the syllabus. As it turned out, I did get some good back and forth in each class with students way in the pack participating. We'll see if we can keep that up.

The big concern during that came up during the session, one I was aware of having done a walk through earlier as I got training on the technology cabinets, was the excessive heat in the classrooms. The building was supposed to have had an HVAC upgrade last summer, part of the ongoing catchup with deferred maintenance that the Campus is going through. They are not finished however. And I learned yesterday that the heating system is the old one. They've upgraded the ventilation and put in central air, but none of that is operational yet. In the second class some students asked whether I'd open a window. The one at the front was open a crack when I entered the room. I left it that way. The university is in budget deficit and desperately wants to be frugal on its energy consumption. So I was loath to open a window. But it was hotter than blazes in the classroom and in the second class I could see students nodding off after a while. There was a substantial temperature gradient between the hallway, which was cool, and the classrooms. Perhaps when the new system is fully operational, it will all work better. In the meantime, I will open the windows if necessary because of excessive heat. After all, if students are unable to pay attention because of the environmentals, what's the point of holding class?

I've had high hopes for these classes coming in, but also trepidation that my optimism could be unfounded. One session is not enough to determine which way it will play out. So I expect to become pumped up again for the next class. I wonder if that feeling will persist through the entire semester or if I'll calm down a bit. I also wonder which feeling is better for the students, hyper or collected? The species seems disposed toward stage fright, even among very accomplished performers. So I assume it is a trait that natural selection encouraged. But if it is too strong you can get an aversion to the activity that cuts the other way, like the driving in the snow. We'll see.

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