Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Classroom multitasking

The other day, I came into class and had about five things to do at once before class could start: (1) set up the laptop and equipment (screen) so students could give presentations; (2) give out handouts; (3) get books and other materials out of my bag; (4) answer the questions of the nervous, hovering student who was about to do a presentation; (5) put information on the board. As I was doing all this, going from one to the other (writing on the board while the projector warmed up), another student, from his seat, started asking, "When are you going to collect our assignments that are due today?" "I have a plan," I said, and kept on writing, etc., to which another student stage-whispered to the first one, "and you're messing it up." They laughed.

Having that much go on in the minutes before class is a little unusual, but unless you're like a professor I once had who'd walk quietly into a room with his book, no notes, and launch immediately into a discussion of the day's reading without even a "Hello," there's some preliminary set up--staging?--before class can start: you have to get out the book, marker or chalk, notes, papers you intend to give back, and so on, and this takes a little time. Packing up takes a little time, too, because you want to clean the board and get out of there before the next class comes in.

The multitasking I like is the kind that occurs when students want to linger and talk about what we've just been saying in class or walk back to the building to keep the conversation going. The multitasking I'm lousy at, though, goes something like this: I'm frantically stuffing books, papers, computer, and the rest into a bag to get out of the classroom, and a student comes up and says, "I have to be absent on [a day a month away]; what will we be doing?" or "Can I meet with you on X day at X time?" or anything that involves something I have to remember. The same thing happens some times when I'm ready to start class and a student wants to come up and discuss some projected absence or an appointment.

Note to students: The pencil is my memory stick. If you don't see a pencil in my hand so that I can write down what you're telling me, the chances are good that I won't remember it.

10 comments:

Ryan Murphy said...

As a student who likes to talk to his favorite teachers after class, I sympathize with your position and do what I can to NOT be one of the students you dislike dealing with. My father is a teacher and as such when I'm back home I am privileged to hear everything that bothers teachers in your position. With that being said, good luck and infinite patience in your next day.

undine said...

Ryan, I appreciate your sensitivity toward your teachers. I do like to talk to students after class, but I worry that I'll forget what they tell me if I don't have a pen and paper out--or that I'll give them misinformation if I can't check with the syllabus when they ask me a question. I like to give them my full attention, and when I'm rushing to get out of the classroom, I can't always do that, which frustrates me.

Horace said...

Lately, my answer to the kind of student approach that requires a decision, or an action from me beyond an extension of the class discussion, is to punctuate every discussion with, "remind (or ask) me about this by sending me an email, otherwise I will forget it."

Because I often do forget it, I at least have an alibi when I've dropped the ball. But more and more often, I'll get a friendly email reminder, which is usually in the student's best interest anyway. Win-Win.

Mel said...

But at least your students were chatting amongst themselves while you were multitasking -- I have one class that even when I come in 10 minutes early to set up a projector or whatever, they fall silent, watching my every move. Which makes me feel like I have to start making stupid jokes. I'm never very good at the chit chat plus setting up stuff.

Lesboprof said...

I am with Horace. I tell every student that the best way to communicate with me is by email. Need a copy of the syllabus? Write an email. Need to miss a class? Write an email. Want a copy of a citation I mentioned? Write an email.

I have way too many things to remember, and if it isn't written down, it will not remain in my head! I also document discussions with students with confirmatory emails, so I have a record of what I agreed to (e.g., a three day extension and turning in the paper by email).

Lesboprof said...

Also, could you get the students to help? (Pass out papers, set up the computer, etc.) I just make them work too. Pretty soon, when you come in carrying a ton of stuff, people start to move to help without asking! ;-)

Professor Zero said...

It's faculty doing it that bothers me. Grabbing me in the halls when I'm loaded down and all of this, saying, I want to do an initiation to the honor society and you must tell your classes, these are the requirements, no I will not write them down for you or for them, it is your job to identify likely candidates and send them to, first, my door to find out when my office hours are, and then to my office hours, so I can explain the rules and they can take notes ... student by student.

I wish the faculty in my department could read and write but they exist in a purely oral culture.

undine said...

Horace, I do that--ask them to send me an e-mail--when it's something e-mail related, but somehow I forget when it's one of those other things. I'll have to start trying to remember a little better. I'm also going to try those confirmation e-mails, lesboprof. I usually do ask the students to help, but this time I didn't (partly because they were too busy teasing me about killing all the trees with the number of handouts I was giving them).

I've had other classes do the "you're on stage" thing, Mel, especially if it's a strange room and I have NO IDEA how to set everything up.

undine said...

"Purely oral culture"--as if we don't write for a living! Professor Z, I hate it when other profs do that. Sometimes they're talking away, never breaking eye contact to let me put something down & reach for my notebook, and after a minute, all I can think is, "I'm never going to remember this, never never ever."

Cero said...

The colleague I like is a writing addict like me. We sit in our offices, side by side, both with doors open, and *still* do business by e-mail. We practically love each other for this - neither of us has to deal with the other's question until we're done with whatever paragraph in whatever other document we're on.