November 05, 2007

Murphy's law as it applies to lecturing

When you're a lecturer, your organising skills really have to be good. It only takes one little mistake in what you've arranged for your course, and BAM! it ends up causing a lot of inconvenience to students. 99% ok is not enough, when Murphy's Law sees to it that the other 1% matters a great deal.

Earlier on in the Autumn, I was trying to nail down the last bit of the timetable for this class I'm teaching, but will it get nailed down? No. The administrator who does the timetabling is supposed to sort it out. Didn't happen. The wrong thing got booked. Probably not his fault, he probably just assumed it would be like last year. Anyway I knew what I needed for the class, he didn't, so it fell on me to sort out what he hadn't.

I thought I'd got everything booked. I thought was ok, but then I learnt from colleagues that the lab I'd got booked has computers that take ages (20 mins) to boot up and load the system the students will need to use. No I don't know why it takes 20 minutes either, but I know better than to go round to our local tech support staff and tell them how to do their job; I value the use of my eardrums.

Anyway most of the computer labs don't have that problem, so it should have been a simple matter of changing a room booking. Another of the administrators offered to sort me out a room booking. Very nice of her, but unfortunately none of the suitable labs are available at that time. Again, she didn't know what I needed, so it fell back to me again. Sigh.

So I had a poke around in the room timetabling system, searching for inspiration for what to do to fix the problem. I then found something worse, namely that some of the students taking my class can't, because it clashes with one of their other classes! One of the other administrators (a super-efficient new one) had booked loads of sessions for the students without checking that it clashed with my class. She didn't check because she didn't have the details of my class; although the second administrator had the details, the third administrator couldn't have realised that there was even the potential for a clash because the second administrator hadn't let her have a copy of what timetabling had been arranged for the classes! Argh! So I went and left the second and third administrators to communicate with each other and find me a new class time.

Did it work?

Not exactly.

On the plus side, I did manage to dodge the slow booting computers. However, I still had to sort all the timetabling out myself.

And then, in the third week of classes, I found out that the second administrator had never entered the booking onto the system, despite me asking her to do so explicitly, and I'd been double-booked! Fortunately the other seminar-leader was most gracious and offered on the spot to relocate his smaller group elsewhere.

Nothing ruins your credibility faster than someone else making that kind of administrative error on your behalf. Having to run around like a headless chicken to sort it out on the day just makes you look an unprofessional ill-prepared chump who doesn't know a posterior from an ulna.


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