Plan B and Plan A

B picThe ideal is Plan A, right? In a perfect world, the plan would be formulated, and the designated parties would expedite flawlessly – every time. Occasionally this happens: “We did it just like we practiced it!” Normal living has more the flavor of Plan A not going according to plan, or at least according to every detail. Not to expect this pattern invites insanity, or at least constant, grinding frustration of why people don’t pay attention and follow the plan. In the case of students, this would mean following the assignment and carrying it out per the prompt.plan_a

This just isn’t going to happen a lot of the time, which is not an exhortation for instructors to abandon publishing a Plan A and hoping for it to happen. However, a realistic approach assumes often being a counselor to students in formulating a Plan B. The good news is that the Plan B is the corrective action – or at least adaptation – to get an assignment into Plan A form. The inconvenience is the process of going off the main road and then finding direction to get back onto it.

starting overPlan B doesn’t mean letting the student say, “Oh, I thought I would do it this way.” No, the student doesn’t pick and choose on essentials, or get to rewrite the lesson prompt: but the student is part of the Plan B that gets back to Plan A. A needed educational outcome in the classroom is still the same, but a host of reasons (sometimes excuses) can create the effect of a broken play in football. The goal is still the same; the players, however, have to regroup and start from where they are in the moment on the field.

Football players don’t go back to their original positions when the play started. That can’t happen, but with assignments, that is possible at times. For a student, Plan B may mean throwing out some good work that was irrelevant to the assignment, or it can mean adding in parts that were left out (“Oh, I didn’t see that part of the assignment”).number-7-Vincent-Campbell-pursues-Pleasant-View-Christian-in-a-broken-play

Education is a lot of broken plays reconstructed in the form of Plan B in order to get back to Plan A. The timing and process are not what the instructor or the student hoped for; each had a different idea about that. However, much of the time, Plan B isn’t too formidable or out of reach, and students learn that when Plan A is going to be enforced, it’s good, in the name of efficiency, to get there with as little Plan B as possible.

Classhack: Available by Appointment

???????????????????????????????This week’s classhack is a gift from Robert Smith, who teaches Office Systems Technology, including a popular class in medical office procedures. Most of us have had the unhappy experience of calling a medical facility to schedule an appointment, only to be “greeted” by a long wait on hold followed by a response that was snippy, disinterested, or unhelpful. However, if the person on the other end of the line had completed Smith’s class, the experience would be very different.medical-office-receptionist-jobs-i8

Smith has successfully “flipped” his classes, allowing students to view his videotaped lectures online before coming to class. Class time is dedicated to projects that allow learners to practice the skills taught in lectures in scenarios featuring simulations of tasks assigned in real medical offices. For example, after viewing information about scheduling, students receive a list of patients needing appointments from a fictional office manager. When students have mastered this portion of the curriculum, they progress to audio simulations of phone conversations with clients calling to schedule services.

medical-receptionistI’d love to visit Smith’s class and listen in. Something tells me that not every “client” is easy to accommodate. Students acquire something of value: the ability to deal with sticky situations politely, efficiently, and with professional confidence. Scheduling becomes an achievable challenge for both the staff and the clients of the offices where these students will work.

Risky Business

karenOf all our pleasures in learning, my personal favorite is the achievable challenge. The greatest joy in teaching is seeing students grow in ability and confidence. Our eight-week terms here at Ft. Campbell often remind me of time-lapse videos that show dramatic changes happening fast. Just today I was marveling at the growth I’ve seen in many of the students in my second-semester anatomy & physiology class. These students have progressed from trying to distinguish proximal from distal only a few weeks ago to their current understanding of complex interactions between multiple body systems. They’re able to analyze and predict the effects of variations in hormones, respiratory status, and circulation. They are indeed meeting achievable challenges, and their pleasure is evident.

As instructors, we sometimes focus on the “achievable” part of the phrase, and rightly so. Figuring out how to make knowledge more accessible keeps us up at night and wakes us up in the morning. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we need to remember that the second part of the phrase is “challenge.” The element of risk is what makes an achievable challenge a pleasure to meet.tight_rope_walker

We often overlook the risks that our students are taking. They risk the cost of tuition. They risk being overwhelmed by our expectations and singed by our criticisms. They risk being annoyed by or ostracized by classmates. They risk being bored for hours by our teaching techniques. They risk wasting their time if we fail to deliver what our syllabi promise them. Above all, they risk failure. Even the most confident student breathes an audible sigh of relief when an exam is returned with a good mark.

Maybe we forget how it feels to risk because we faculty members don’t have to risk very much very often. It’s so easy to settle into our comfort zones, taking the tried-and-true path rather than exploring new opportunities for ourselves and our students. The challenge of teaching well involves risk: the risk of wasted time and energy, the risk of our self-image as experts, the risk of losing our colleagues’ approval, the risk that our students will not like or learn from our techniques. But there can be no real challenge, and certainly no pleasure in achieving a challenge, without the element of risk.

ergonomic risk factors - risks ahead signThis month’s issue of Real Simple offers a number of strategies for achieving goals, including this advice about choosing a goal:

“Make it just hard enough. Interestingly, the more challenging your goal, the more likely you are to progress toward it.”

So whether we’re hoping to make our teaching more effective, working on the three-book challenge as part of our Quality Enhancement Plan, or chipping away at a personal fitness goal, we should be mindful of offering ourselves the pleasure of meeting an achievable challenge.

Film-maker and adventurer James Cameron ended a February, 2010, TED talk with these words:

NASA has this phrase that they like: “Failure is not an option.” But failure has to be an option in art and in exploration, because it’s a leap of faith. And no important endeavor that required innovation was done without risk. You have to be willing to take those risks. So, that’s the thought I would leave you with, is that in whatever you’re doing, failure is an option, but fear is not. Thank you.

As we set goals for our students—and especially for ourselves—let’s embrace risk.





Tech Tuesday: Windows 8.1, Part 7 – Feature Party

Each Tuesday, pleasureinlearning brings you Tech Tuesday.  Come back each week for more ways to become efficient and effective in your use of technology. 


This is the seventh and final part of a series on Windows 8.1.

Today is a chance for you to share.  What is the best innovation you’ve seen in Windows 7 or 8?

I’m loving the integration with touch screens.  I’m excited about the direction it is driving the hardware industry.  Touch is such a natural input method, especially for kids.

Tell us your favorite feature in the comments!

The Academic Bridge from Military to Civilian

B picTroop numbers swell when a war escalates, leading many young people enlist. Not only do they train as soldiers, they often travel widely and become culture savvy. However, upon leaving the military, one adversity is transition to civilian life, simply for the fact that the two worlds often don’t overlap vocationally. Pilots and mechanics transition well, but many specialties do not.

Going to college helps with the transition. An education is the common pool. Of course, most career military personnel can’t advance without moving ahead simultaneously with a college education since military promotion boards at every level look at education. However, lots of young adults exiting the military didn’t do much, if anything, with college because of deployments, family, and just growing up from a teenager into an adult.finals-college-soldiers-military-funny-1357138734

It’s fun to see these veterans, now civilians, dig in with college work and career goals. Many at the Hopkinsville Community College campus at Fort Campbell, KY, are women who enlisted out of high school, met and married a spouse, and begot children. They want to get an education in order to grow and take on a career, which also increases their motivation to urge their children to study hard in school. Others getting out of the military are men with families now ready to do the same.

femalesoldier1Going to college right out of high school may be an ideal, but many teenagers haven’t seen education modeled at home, or they haven’t awakened to the model set before them by parents, teachers, or mentors. The military offers a maturing opportunity, one for which to be thankful.

Another interesting feature is the multiculturalism of a college classroom at the Fort. Many women from other countries enter the classroom by virtue of being married to a soldier. They tend to value education and work very hard, becoming role models for students with no military connection who are still immature. It’s inspiring to see the accomplishments in class by those speaking and writing English as a second language.2003_4_7

It’s funny too that many who are born and brought up right here at home think of English as a second language. Actually, it’s a first language not yet learned, not from lack of ability, but from still being in a haze. Since the classroom at the Fort is a mix of military and some from the area with no military connection, it’s good to see the example of discipline and desire of those on active duty , or those now out but still connected by family. A few of these military or former military students are lethargic, but in the main, it’s clear that education is a good wake up call to some necessary mental PT to get on with life.

Ending on an Up Note: Getting the Job Done

We hear a lot about teamwork, but you won’t see a more impressive demonstration than this time-lapse video of an Amish barn raising. I’ll bet you can’t watch for three-and-a-half minutes and not feel the itch to get up and do something productive.


Some random observations:

  • The mission is clear, so there’s no need to wordsmith a mission statement.
  • The objective did not need discussion. The objective was to build/a/barn. No arguing about how to measure success!
  • All workers have bought in to the build-a-barn plan.
  • Everyone works together until the barn is finished…no changing the barn plan, starting over, or deferring completion for another day.

Did anything else occur to you as you watched? Tell us about it!

Enjoy your weekend. (Maybe you could build a barn.)