Workshop Foibles

What can go wrong at a week-long workshop?

I’m going to share these in hopes that you can plan for some of these possible (and unanticipated) problems.  These are all the things that went wrong last week.  To read what went right, go to 2009 MCC Math & Technology Workshop.

We started out the week with a freak thunderstorm that took out the power in the conference hotel for two days.  No way to plan for this one.  Luckily, all of our participants made it to town safely (with a few delays and scary drives).   On the second day all the participants were relocated to a second “sister” hotel for the same rate ($60 a night). On the third day we prayed that power would come back on in the original hotel because all the participants had to move back.  Thankfully, it did.  The good thing to know here, is that if some freak weather event should happen to your conference hotel, they may have a sister hotel that they can move the guests to.

Both my designated logistics person and the back-up to the logistics person had last-minute issues that kept them from being able to help out.  That means nobody to double check catering orders, to make phone calls about hotel issues, or to handle last-minute copies or supply runs.  I’ll admit, this one was the toughest to adapt to, especially with a freak storm to deal with on Day 1.  However, workshop participants and other staff on campus filled in where they could and we got through okay.  I’m sure participants felt that things could’ve run more smoothly, because I certainly did.  However, I’m not sure how I could’ve planned around this one.  What do you do when Plan A and Plan B fail?

The third blow was when we discovered (on day two) that there is a restriction on the number of Second Life accounts that can be created from one IP address (and our campus is considered one IP address).  There we were with only four logins for 12 people.  However, by activating our off-site social networks, we were able to scrounge up another 8 accounts (borrowed or new creations).  Consider yourself warned.  Participants should create their Second Life accounts before coming to your presentation.  On a side note, this meant that my officemate, Karen, got to walk, fly, and dance around Second Life in my avatar for the afternoon and she had me doing some pretty strange things.

secondlife

We also had problems with projecting the sound to the room every time we tried to use a remote presenter (one in Second Life and one in Centra).  Luckily we had a back-up conference call speakerphone which saved the day both times.   In both cases, someone text-chatted the presenter and asked for a phone number to present from.

The last unexpected event was when we discovered that the jack that looked like a microphone jack on the campus computers was, in fact, not a microphone jack.  This was a surprise to both me and our IT department.   This was a particular surprise because we used the exact same lab as we did last year (the computers had been upgraded).  With the new computers, the only headsets with working microphones were those that connect through USB.  Luckily, with so many participants bringing their own laptops and a loaner of a few USB headsets from the CTL, I think we managed to get enough for all to participate in the Camtasia training. The lesson here?  Plan on USB-only headsets from now on.

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3-D Chemistry Models in Second Life

Anything that illicits me saying, out loud, “NO WAY!!!” is, in my opinion, worth posting here. And today is that day for chemistry. You may recall that I do occasionally deviate into cool chem and cool bio posts.

Without further adieu… here is a chemistry video from second life that can build a 3-D molecular model from the InChIKey code.

The video is by Hiro Sheridan. His site, containing flickr photos are worth a look as they show the Chemistry SN island in 2nd Life … complete with a presentation stage including deck chairs, wouldn’t this be a nice way to attend math talks… hmm… maybe if I am granted a sabbatical I’ll get to work on a Math island – on second thought, maybe MAA, AMS, or AMATYC will do it for us. Any takers?


I particularly liked the photos of the chemist with goggles (goggles up or goggles down?)

I hope Hiro doesn’t mind my reposting of gifs of a few of these images, as I am sending you to his flickr site too to view the whole set (there is more than one page).

This week I just desperately feel like I NEED MORE TIME!!! I will never catch up with technology … does anyone else feel this way? Are we even remotely training/encouraging faculty in higher ed to “deal” with this new online/Web 2.0 environment? Do the majority of faculty (and students) even realize this stuff is out there? It’s like we’re in a science fiction world but the majority of the population doesn’t know it yet.

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