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 8: A smooth flight-organization is key.

After failing at improving the work schedule, I decided to keep doing what I was doing and just comply with whatever I was told to do.

Even though a lot of us told the people at the top that professional level courses were the way to go, Mr. Gestures had a meeting with the government and had agreed to finance a junior-high level studies virtual course and forget about professional training. At least for the moment.
So all of the teachers focused on that.

I am trained as an architect so I was somewhat surprised when they gave me the subject of Geography. They said it was the subject that I was best suited for. Might I add that History and Geography were not my favorite subjects in school, but I had to do it, so I did. It came out pretty good, actually. It is still online, to this day- I think.

The interesting part of this anecdote is the moment when we had to record the lessons. Junior high had about a thousand virtual classes. There were around 14 teachers designing lessons. We all had to record them. There were 5 recording sets available.
The high-school recording sessions were a mess. We took around two or three months to record. Maybe a little more. No one knew where you had to record, which set was available or how much time you had to work in there.

Most of us thought that it would take almost the same time to record junior high, if not more. But, in this case, the person in charge was a female teacher by the name of Helen. Yes, Helen, that’s the name I will give her. She was and still is, quite responsible and organized.
I don’t know if gender has anything to do with it, but most of my male-bosses have usually been disorganized. The only female boss I had ever had was a principal and she was very organized as well. This time, Helen was partly in charge of junior-high and she came up with a simple schedule for the recording of the lessons. Some of the teachers helped her a little in elaborating it.

She gave each of the teachers a schedule in a printed sheet, which included the set number, the time and the names of each teacher. This way, I knew exactly at what time I had to record and in exactly which set. It was simple, but very efficient.
At the moment, I designed the Geography subject and I also had to check the work of three other teachers that were designing lessons about computer class (referred to as technology subjects)
There were 5 people in charge of each area: science, math, technology, social studies and spanish. They named us ‘supervisors’. I was one of them. And Helen was in charge of us. And Larry in charge of Helen.

Well, when we were figuring out how to record, Larry suggested that-while the recording sessions were taking place-ALL of the supervisors be here ALL day, to be available if any teacher needed help recording. He wanted us to arrive at 8 a.m., leave at 12 o’clock and come back at 4 p.m. and leave at 8 p.m. There were going to be teachers recording all day, so we needed someone available for technical help and to check that teachers got in on time and in the right set.
But this made no sense to us. Who would be available from 12 pm to 4pm? We even had a meeting to discuss this. A very long meeting- which was the protocol for the meetings: long hours, little or no decisions made. But Larry insisted that it was mandatory for ALL of us to be here.
So, when the meeting ended, the supervisors got together and -in 5 minutes- determined that we should take turns. There were five of us, so each had to come back in the afternoon only ONE day per week. In short, it was more organized and it made more sense. Most teachers had trouble recording on the first day. But after that, they got the hang of it and recorded practically by themselves. So, five people standing outside of the sets, all day, was not necessary. We simply matched our schedule with the teachers that would be recording, so each supervisor would be available for their teachers.

The result: junior-high got recorded in a record time of between three and four weeks. As expected, Larry wasn’t pleased and couldn’t understand why we disobeyed him. And, to this day, he refers to the incident as ‘the day when you ignored my decision’.

Something else that is important to mention is that the teachers recorded relaxed, with a better attitude, looked better in front of the camera and produced a quality product. How was this possible?

We managed to do it with this lesson: organization is very, very important. Analyze the resources that are available. Write down stuff, make diagramas, have productive meetings and determine more than one way to get something done. Then evaluate pros and cons to take the best decision.
In this case, Larry didn’t agree with the way we did the recordings. But he didn’t suggest any other way to do it better. His attitude is and always has been “my way or the highway.”

Oh, as an added bonus, here is what Helen got in exchange for her outstanding work: a swift kick in the groin, so to speak.
Let me explain.
Several days later, after junior high was finished, Mr.Gestures came over. He wasn’t here everyday. But he came over and asked about who was responsible for junior high, because they needed to attend a meeting at the government offices where the school’s permit was being processed.
Larry, obviously didn’t give any credit to Helen. He only stated that ‘we managed to get junior high recorded in record time’. Mr. Gestures didn’t ask any more questions.

I_dont
When they were leaving for the meeting, we found out that Helen was never really in charge of junior high. It was just for ‘production’ purposes. Because the ‘real’ principal, was Mathew. Apparently, Mr. Gestures didn’t want any women in his meetings because ‘he wouldn’t be able to speak with his fowl language’ i,e. swearing.
For your information, Mr. Gestures was not offensive, but he did swear. A LOT. He didn’t exactly use the vocabulary of a professional engineer, which is his professional training.

Anyway, Helen was very upset about this. However, she simply said quietly and modestly to herself ‘oh well, I know that I am in part responsible for this success, no matter what they say'”. And everybody else knew that without her guidance, we couldn’t have done it so effectively.

Next: Lesson 9-Headaches make people cry.

 

 

Lesson 4: Make me

February 17, 2014

Obligation is something that I have never liked. I despise having to do something just because I ‘have to’ or for no apparent reason.

And being obliged to do something as a result of someone else’s lack of organization or negligence is something that bothers me even more. Let me tell you about this with further detail.
One way or another, we managed to get all the needed teachers to complete the high-school level lessons. The moment to record ALL of the lessons had arrived. And I am about to tell you how it happened.

I was told to get my lessons ready and start recording a certain day. I don’t remember exactly when, but they gave me a day’s notice, which was fine. Now, I was still working there as freelance, so they assigned me an afternoon recording schedule.
The first day I arrived at about 4 o’clock. They had 6 sets. But only 5 working (to this day, 3 years later, only 5 of them work).
All of the sets had one of those circular windows, like in the kitchen doors that restaurants have. Nobody knew where I would record my lessons.
This is what Larry did:
When I arrived and went to his office, he said something like ‘hey, you came’-which was strange because HE was the one who told me to record that specific day and at that specific time.
Anyway, we went to the sets and he stood outside of set number 1. He looked inside and said ‘somebody is in here’, so we moved to the next set. He looked at the window and, again, said ‘someone is in here, too’. We finally found a set that was available and told me ‘here, use this one’.
So, I went in. Alone. Again. I started to record, had some problems with the software and at about 7 pm I finished the recording session. I needed more days, so I went back the next day at about the same time. Larry said that it was OK and I could go back the next day to continue recording. He told me at what time and everything.
So I did. But when I arrived, there was no set available. Apparently, someone else arrived first and now all the sets were occupied.
I went back home.
This went on for about three weeks. I didn’t go everyday, just the days that they told me there would be a set available. But there were some days when I got there and someone beat me to it. Other days, they would take me out of the set to record a demo or to let someone else record.

During that period of time, when I was almost done recording-I think I had like three lessons left to record- I got a call on Saturday night, at about 8 pm.
Guess who it was?
It was Larry. For your information, I had specifically told Larry that I could move my schedule around what the school needed, except for Sunday. That is my sacred day. I never work on Sundays. It’s the only day that I have to rest, so I made it clear for him that I wouldn’t be available on Sundays.
Well, he called me that night asking if I could go record the next day. At about 8 pm. I told him ‘look, I can’t tomorrow. Besides, I have been there several days and I just waste my time, because you guys have no control over who records what or where.’
He just insisted that I go, but I said no. I told him I would record the remaining lessons on Monday and that it would be finished.

ron-burgundy-phone
Please, please, please pay for my incompetence

If I had gone there on Sunday, I would have probably wasted my time, because there were A LOT of teachers recording. And this guy had no order whatsoever about the recording sessions.
Believe me that, it was much, much worse than what I am describing here. I just don’t want to steer off from the main topic.

So, lesson 4 is this:
Order and organization are indispensable in any project and in any task.

With something as simple as a recording schedule, they could have known who records in which set and at what time. They had 5 sets working from 8 am to 8pm. That was A LOT of time available for recording. But they simply didn’t want to do it that way.
From the beginning of this project, Mr. Gestures gave complete control over how things were done to this guy. So he could have easily done this schedule and saved a lot of time and a lot of extra work. Some poor teachers were here recording until 12 midnight.  AND they had to come back on Monday morning to finish. There was a lot of stress to finish, a lot of people that had problems with the software. Some were cursing and hitting the walls while others even cried due to the frustration of not being able to record due to technical difficulties.

All because organization did not come in through the door. The process could have been much simpler and much more calm. You can imagine the quality of the recorded lesson and the physical appearance of a teacher that had been recording at 11 pm. I think it was not the best.
That is why I refused to record that day. I had to go and record at night, because they couldn’t organize a schedule. I had to pay for his lack of order. I was not OK with this, therefore I didn’t go.
Anyway, Monday arrived and I finished recording the lessons. Nothing bad happened because I didn’t go the previous day.

Others did record at night, on Saturdays, Sundays- you name it, because they were told that they wold receive a bonus if they finished on a specific date. They are still waiting to receive that bonus. Some of those teachers already quit and have other jobs. And they never got to see that bonus.
In short, don’t lie, don’t deceive and work in order and organized.

Next: Lesson 5-Staring at the sun.