On Weather Cancellations and Digital Media Experiments

Walking path lined by trees, all covered in snow


Lindsey Gay

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Normally we have very mild minters here in Austin; however, this winter has been colder than usual. As a result, we’ve had a number of days where ice coated the roads, making the region’s many elevated highways and bridges very dangerous. For better or for worse, UT has closed the campus several times and initiated late starts several times more. Normally these delayed starts began between 10am and noon. As my Rhetoric of Death and Dying class runs from 9:30 to 11 am, any weather delays impact the course. In fact, we’ve had two classes cancelled and three others delayed by at least half an hour! For a course that meets only twice a week, every class day is very necessary; therefore, being almost two weeks behind in my curriculum before Spring Break has proven very challenging.

When my class was full-on canceled the first time, I was already on campus. UT officials made the call rather late, to the ire of many, but I decided to make the most of the situation. Since I had a quiet DWRL room, a computer with a webcam, and several hours at my disposal, I decided to record the day’s lecture and part of the lesson. I figured that not only could I reduce the amount of catch-up my students would have to do, but I would hopefully familiarize myself more strongly with the same digital media projects I’ve been asking my students to create.

I created a video in Windows Movie Maker by combining webcam footage of me lecturing with screen captures of the readings and other course material I had planned to discuss that day. Using the screen-capture tool Camtasia, I attempted to navigate through the material as if I were showing it to the students in real-time. There were several drawbacks: the lighting wasn’t optimal (thanks, fluorescent overheads!); I struggled with the audio capture (for some reason, about half of my sound files recorded but were incompatible with Camtasia, resulting in me having to record some portions of audio two or three times); overall the video ended up being VERY amateurish (to my eyes!). Nevertheless, at least my students had something to take away from an otherwise throwaway class day. After emailing them the video link and cautioning them that they’d be responsible for viewing it, doing the activities discussed, and knowing the material for the next class, I hoped they’d watch it.

Polling them the next class day, I found that only about one-third of them had watched the video. I warned them that we didn’t have enough time to go over the material (important stuff about ethical and pathetic appeals) so if they fell behind, it would be their own fault. Needless to say, I also found their scanty participation a poor repayment for my efforts. Cue hurt feelings.

The second time the university decided to cancel morning classes, it at least gave everyone plenty of notice, so I didn’t make an unnecessary trip to campus. This time, I thought I would turn my lecture on definitional arguments into a PowerPoint, and I wanted experiment by adding a voice-over. This would add important discussional elements into the presentation by making me write less and talk more.

Writing the PowerPoint took only half an hour. Then, I tried to use the audio recorder function built in to PowerPoint, because I hoped to avoid having to merge audio and PPT files in some other program. Unfortunately, once again, audio recording was my downfall. Though I made several test runs to ensure the sound was recording AND that I could advance through bullet points and slides in sync with the audio, the recording ultimately failed. I spent 40 minutes talking at my computer, only to find when I played back the whole presentation that the audio cut out about halfway through each slide. I was too frustrated to troubleshoot the problem, and I had afternoon meetings to keep, so I just rewrote the slides to be more text-heavy than I’d usually prefer. I sent it off to my students with instructions to view the PowerPoint and my apologies that I couldn’t get the sound to work. On the plus side, when I polled the class the next day asking how many of them viewed the presentation, about three-quarters of them raised their hands. It seemed they learned a lesson from the first cancelation, and the other shortened classes, AND from my lamentations about these course-shortening problems.

By the time Spring Break rolled around I was still about a week behind in my syllabus. Over the break, I reworked the rest of the term’s schedule slightly. This resulted in the next few weeks emphasizing skill development and leaving less time to luxuriate in discussing the many arguments around death and dying. The main lessons I learned—besides keeping my syllabus somewhat flexible—is that I have a long way to go before I make a really solid foray into the realm of the audiovisual. These experiences gave me a greater respect for my students’ efforts making their final projects (in various multimedia formats). My failures also gave me some ideas on how to better prepare my students for frustrations they may encounter as well.


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All materials posted to this site are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. We invite you to use and remix these materials, but please give credit where credit is due. In addition, we encourage you to comment on your experiments with and adaptations of these plans so that others may benefit from your experiences.


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