Day 17: Pay for Play??

30 09 2009

Okay, being a business professor I decided to solve my attendance-checking problem by appealing to the most fundamental of human instincts: greed. I offered any student in my class $100 if they could come up with a plan. Their solution had to allow me to check roll for 70 students in less than two minutes. It could use technology, but did not have to. And it had to input the data automatically. In short, I decided to outsource my problem. Plus, I like seeing their eyes light up when I say the words “$100 cash.”. I give this 1 chance in 4 of working, but why not try it? Immediately afterward several showed up to suggest things like sign-in sheets (too easy to cheat) or having students check each other (too easy to cheat) or an honor system (too easy to cheat).

One suggested using “Bump” to let them all log in as they walked into class; in theory this is great, but Bump only promises that data is exchanged in 10 seconds or less, which makes roll-check a 12 minute exercise in my large section. One suggested magnetic card swipes, but didn’t know about the expense involved or how to integrate it with my system. He said he’d get back to me.

Today we went back to Google forms; roughly 80% of the students have to submit the form exactly twice to make it work, and all but one got it to work. Probably. I never know until a few days later whether it got them all. My sense is that the Safari browser is not entirely cozy with Google docs, but I have no data to support this. I’m making up a seating chart and will try it manually for a while. I also priced bar-code readers, so that’s an option.

I also demonstrated two free apps, Google Voice (which lets you avoid hunt-and-peck on the tiny keyboard and is very accurate), and the bundled map app, which will give you step-by-step driving directions. I have found these to be among the apps I use most often.

By the way, there is actually a small easter egg hidden in the Google Voice search. If you hold the phone to your ear while it’s searching, you will hear, very faintly, the sound of the ocean. No, just kidding. You will hear what sounds like a tiny little gnome muttering to himself as he thumbs through the entire Internet looking for some words which match what you said. Each time I listen to this now I visualize some engineer at Google heading into his 48th hour of coding and he gets so simpled-out that he starts maniacally laughing just before slipping this little piece of code into the finished product and lapsing into a caffeine withdrawal coma. Or maybe I’m just dreaming all that up.

Today’s class was a dud. If you teach, you understand what I’m saying. It was dull, lifeless, unengaging. What did I do differently? Today was the only day so far I have done anything close to lecturing in this course, and it just didn’t work. I thought the material was good, but it was clear that today I was just the talking head, and most of them were somewhere else entirely. Oops. Looks like I’ve set expectations pretty high in this class.

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