Friday, October 3, 2014

It could happen to anyone….REALLY!! The effects of engagement/disengagement from the matrix

Guest Blogger: James Wadley, MHS Program 
So I ventured into the classroom one Saturday afternoon (Yes, we Graduate Center faculty teach on Saturdays!) feeling excited about the wealth of teaching and learning opportunities in store for my class and me.  While walking into my educational sanctuary, my students and I exchanged midafternoon quips about the readings and lecture from the previous week as well as other reactionary conversational ventures about contemporary forms of life, love, and happiness.  I reached above me to turn the Smartboard projector on and then confidently moved over to the lectern which contained the computer monitor and hard drive underneath.  More students continued to walk into the room and began to chime in with their opinions about lunch, the 30th Street Megabus schedule, culinary delights and transgressions from the food trucks behind Drexel University and the like, while I gathered my materials in preparation for class.
Once I reached the “sweet spot” in front of the class behind the podium, I removed my flash drive which was attached to my lanyard necklace and casually inserted it into the hard drive of the computer.   I waited a moment for the system to boot up and nothing happened.  Turned the system off then on again; turned to monitor on, off, then on again; and fiddled with the keyboard--nothing happened.  I played around with the computer for a few more moments and slowly started to duck to an eventual crouch behind the podium looking for answers from the hard drive.  Simultaneously, I found myself ducking from imaginary stones hurled by my students because I thought that their anger was gaining strength as they waited for me to deliver my lecture.
My students continued to talk with one another and I eventually submitted that I was not going to get my computer on to start my transcendent Powerpoint lecture.  I struggled because I assumed and anticipated that this pivotal lecture would have enabled my students to become the change agents that they paid tuition for.  I could feel the temperature of body rising and my anxiety beginning to take over as I failed to have a backup teaching plan for that day besides my lecture (Shame on me!).  After several moments, I stood up and sheepishly offered the class the following, “It appears that I am unable to get the computer to work for me today; give me a few moments while I run to my office to pick up a few 3x5 index cards.” Some of my students said okay and three of them were so excited about the delay that they actually escorted me out the room.  I walked to the left and they walked to the right (towards the vending machines) and I overheard them laughingly mention that there was no need for class since I could not get the monitor to work.
I scurried to my office and found an unopened pack of 3x5 index cards in my desk.  SWEET!!  Because I had a few moments, I sat down at my desk and thought about what the next 2+ hours of teaching and learning could be.  This is what I came up with: 
  1. Pass out a 3x5 index card to all students in the classroom.
  2. Have them write out one thing that may have resonated for them in the previous lecture and/or reading from last week.
  3. Collect the cards and construct a thematic concept map using poster print (I keep always keep a large pad and Crayola markers available in my office for emergencies) about what they learned from the previous week.
  4. Separate the students into smaller groups (4-6 people) and have them take the conceptual themes and apply it to their workplace (The class is exclusively working adult learners). 
  5. Once they hear the similarities/differences of what is offered in their small groups, have them list the theoretical underpinnings that may drive the aforementioned themes. 
  6. In addition to listing the theoretical underpinnings, students list and discuss all limitations, potential consequences, and implications of the generated concepts. 
  7. Have students in their smaller groups create an educational program, workshop, or clinical initiative that may offer conceptual or pragmatic change within their agency or their community.
  8. Have students develop some sort of evaluation or assessment tool based upon the proposed action plan.
  9. Next, have students present their concept and plan of action to the class.
  10. Link what the students offer to the class to what I intended to discuss if I were able to utilize the SmartBoard and computer.
  11. Grading would be based upon completion of the index card, large and small group sharing, and classroom participation. 
The moral of this story is:  ALWAYS HAVE A BACKUP TEACHING/LESSON PLAN!!!  Like all of us, machines are sometimes flawed and they can be unpredictable at the darndest times.  I would imagine that I am not the only one at The Lincoln University who has ever been challenged by the matrix.  Hmmm…  Perhaps the anxiety that I experienced while trying to get my computer to work before and during the first few moments of class was not real at all.  Maybe, just maybe, my anxiety and the inability to get my computer to work was all part of some larger force or higher power that wanted me think and teach outside the box/matrix*.  Maybe, the lesson that I planned on teaching was meant not for my students but as a teaching opportunity for me to learn how to manage my anxiety when unforeseen circumstances emerge in the matrix we call The Lincoln University…
Please share your thoughts to these questions:
  • What are some teaching strategies you use when you are unable to get your computer to work?
  • How do you know that your students are learning what they should be learning in class without waiting until the next test/exam?
  • How do you engage in ongoing assessment in your classroom?
*For your amusement, I include a clip from one of my favorite movies, The Matrix :) ENJOY!!!


  1. 1. Very creative! Good advice: "ALWAYS HAVE A BACKUP TEACHING/LESSON PLAN!" Thanks for sharing!

    2. Did you ever resolve these issues to figure out whether (or not) your anxiety and the inability to get your computer to work was all part of some larger force or higher power that wanted you to think and teach outside the box/matrix, or whether the lesson that you planned on teaching was meant not for your students but a teaching opportunity for you to learn how to manage your anxiety when unforeseen circumstances emerge in the matrix we call The Lincoln University?

    3. Finally, did you ever figure out (from, for example, ATS or IT) why you were not able to get your computer on to start your Powerpoint lecture? Is there a lesson here, too, about how (not) to get your computer on to start your Powerpoint lecture?

    Safro Kwame

  2. What I like especially is your assignment's emphasis on metacognition, having the students first reflect on what they learned and then reinforce and test that reflection by application to practical workplace situation. Great teaching exercise!

  3. I think my anxiety only allowed me to question the truth about who I am as a person and as an educator and my willingness to confront the truth. My truth is that just as I am flawed, so too are machines. To rely on machines in order for to teach feels disempowering. Having taken the red pill moons ago, I know that I must have immediate access to resources that don't require the use of cyber technology to meet course goals. Removing myself from the matrix is liberating, freeing, and empowering. I think Freire is a genius as he was one of the firsts to philosophically offer the red pill to educators. In conclusion, my anxiety as an educator only empowers me to be different and be better:-)