Lesson 9: Headaches make people cry.

Inside the world of ”lesson recording’, there was a little character widely referred to as pure evil.

I will, obviously change the name of this software so I don’t give away the company and people that are involved in this little writing exercise. Let’s name it ‘the grape’, because it kind of sounds like that in my native language.

I am going to get a bit technical to make my point, so bear with me.
All the lessons were designed in one of the most widely used software for presentations. Yes, you got it, that’s the one.  We designed one file with picture slides, information slides, examples and so on. And we would design another slide show where we would write everything we would say while recording. A.k.a. our script. They believed that we should not improvise when recording, because we weren’t actors. And I think they were right. So we simply wrote everything down and we just read in front of the camera. Kind of like a tele-prompter.

So we had two presentations. When we got to the recording set, we had to work with a recording program. And we had another little program called ‘the grape’ to link both presentations and the video recording program. With these four programs, we would use a remote control to tell the computer when we wanted to show ourselves on screen, then switch to the slide, then combine teacher and slide at the same time, then back to the slide, then just the teacher and so on.

With the remote, we wouldn’t need a camera man. Just the teacher, controlling the slide show, camera and everything.
But there was a catch: the grape program was extremely complicated to learn and even more complicated to make changes if you made a mistake while recording. This program was designed and written by the main engineer of this whole operation, the right hand man of Mr.Gestures, Todd, or Mr.T.

This guy was the author of the software that linked everything inside the set and he was quite selfish about it. The only computers that had the software installed were those inside each set.

When we had to record a lesson, what teachers had to do was take all their files to the set. Then, we had to painstakingly build a sequence in which we told the computer which slide would go first, then just show what the camera sees, then show the teacher and the slide at the same time, then go back to just the slide, then advance my script, then advance the slide…you get the idea.

This program simply recorded steps. Each step would tell the computer to switch from program to program. The concept was simple, but the average slideshows had around 80 slides, not counting animation effects. Yes, each clic was considered an additional step.

So we would have to make 150 or 200 steps per sequence, one by one. Maybe even more. And we did this for each lesson.
Not only that, when we were done with the sequence, we used to run it BEFORE recording, to check for mistakes. If a mistake was made or something was not working properly, we had to look for the mistake manually. This meant that we would have to check every single little step of the process, to find out where the mistake was.
When it finally worked, we would record the lesson, save it on the computer and continue with the next one.

When high-school was being recorded, some teachers cried because of the frustration of not being able to make the program do what they needed. Others banged on the walls to show their anger. It was definitely not pretty.

When junior-high was recorded, we didn’t have as much trouble because we had some experience. But the new teachers had to experience the same frustration that we did.

Luckily for them, the five supervisors in charge of each area had already recorded some lessons and were able to give some tips and suggestions for the newcomers. This aliviated the frustration, although not entirely.

Imagine analyzing each clic, step by step, around 12o of them per lesson. And each subject had around 40-something lessons. You do the math, it was very tedious work. Also, we had to do it in a tight schedule because editing was waiting for us and they wanted to send out the product in order to get students enrolled by the government.

Tough_Job
Not exactly, but yes. I guess it kind of felt like this.

The process improved somewhat, but not enough. What could we have done differently?

Well, we could have gotten rid of that damn ‘grape’ program. Nobody actually thought about the efficiency of using it or if there was an easier, quicker way of designing that sequence. It was Todd’s masterpiece so, why would we dare try to change it or use something else to record?
But the point is that if something seems too complicated or it’s taking too much time to do., if you are constantly getting frustrated about how you are doing something, then you are probably not doing it right. Too many frustrated teachers should have been a sign to come up with a better way of recording.
Eventually, some teachers who specialized in computer science and programming came up with an idea to make the program work more efficiently. But they did this in their own time, out of compassion for their fellow co-workers.

So here is the lesson:
If you are the boss at a startup or any work environment, make a habit of talking with your employees. Find out what their needs are, search for ways to make their work more efficient, less tedious, easier and faster. How can you improve something if you don’t even know what you produce or how you go about making it a reality?

The guy that designed this little gem never actually recorded any lessons. So it was doubtful that he could really understand how things developed inside a recording set. The general rule for new teachers was just “you’ll get the hang of it eventually, don’t despair”
The owner, obviously didn’t know that this was happening, either. He rarely stopped by to see what was going on.

And when he did, he just went into Larry’s office and asked him how things were going. And it was kind of interesting to know how the owner, the guy providing the payroll, only bothered to ask Larry. The only guy who didn’t design lessons, didn’t record and didn’t really know how the production process worked.
So, get involved with your company. Get your hands dirty, investigate, ask around, evaluate how work gets done. Then come up with ways to improve that. Your employees will appreciate it quite a lot. And everyone knows that happy employees are employees that work efficiently and tend to stay with the company.

Next: Winner take all

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Lesson 3: No man’s land.

Feb 13-2014

There is a perfectly good explanation for the title of this lesson. And I will attempt to write it now.

When the project of this new on-line school was starting out, they were working in an old building that was adapted with stationary desks and other equipment that you can find in any office. One space that was not common in a conventional school was a recording set. They were these small rooms (about 2 meters wide by 3 meters deep) equipped with a computer, a camera and three monitors.

This is where we would record the virtual lessons. They had even designed a software that linked the slide show to the camera and to another slideshow that displayed the text that the teacher would read during the recording. All of the lessons were designed by a teacher, and every teacher was responsible for writing their own ‘script’. So we would just read this script while recording, but everything we said came from our own minds, not from a trained writer.

Anyway, this software was complicated and it took a lot of practice to learn. And every candidate that wanted to work in this new school, had to record a demo lesson, so that they could be evaluated. The evaluation consisted in checking the content, the visual aid that the teacher had used, the class objective and the overall performance in front of the camera. Pronunciation and body posture was also checked. In short, there was a lot of pressure when recording the demo lesson because it was something completely new. And any evaluation -on its own-always brings a certain amount of stress.

Oh, and, you also had to record it by yourself. You, alone, inside the set. Nobody else, just you.

rock_in_the_desert-wallpaper-800x600
Don’t know where to go? Here is some water and a map. Bye!

So you go to this interview, you are expected to do something that no one else has done and you are expected to do it alone. Does this make sense? Of course not.
Larry and Matthew both knew how to do it. Kind of. And there were two other teachers that were leading the project: Sam and Frank.
Sam was much older, around 40 something years old. And Frank was about 28, which was a few years younger than me. Sam had studied philosophy and Frank was a computer whiz that studied computer science in college.
The four of them knew how to record a demo lesson (or so we believed at the time). And they sort of explained the process to candidates, but not enough to let them record by themselves. To this day I still don’t understand why they didn’t just assit while recording this demo class. It was just about a 5 minute recording. And they didn’t have THAT many candidates.
But anyway.

Every person that recorded that demo lesson, went through the same frustration with the new software. And everybody recorded it the best way that they could and to their best understanding.

So here is the lesson to be learned: When looking for people to help you out on a project or in a business, don’t leave them to their own faith. Even if they are close to you, like friends or acquaintances. You need to assist them, make sure they know what they have to do. Explain what is expected of them and be available for any questions that they might (and probably will) have.

Something important that I always try to practice in interviews is kindness. Be nice and be helpful. Make them feel comfortable. Take the stress out of the table, tell a joke. How would you like your interviewer to behave with you if you were looking for a job? Keep that in mind while searching for people to work with you.
Not having a job is stressful enough, so try to relieve some of that while you talk to candidates.
Also, give them feedback in case they don’t get the job. Send an e-mail or call them to give thanks for their time and let them know that you can’t hire them right now, but there may be a position available in the future. Or, simply tell them that their abilities are very impressive, but sadly they are not the person that you need at that time.
I can tell you that the gesture will be well appreciated.

And besides, this world has its ups and downs, so you can’t be sure if, in the future, YOU might be the one looking for a job and THEY might be the ones looking for employees.

Next: Lesson 4- Make me