Lesson 11: Army ants

At this time I honestly don’t know exactly what the lesson is, but I figure that as a write, the idea will come to me.

When we had finished recording high school level, it was time to upload the activities that were related to each lesson. They consisted of a Blog entry, some questions about that blog entry, interactive activities, an exam at the end of the lesson and frequently asked questions.
We had to manually upload every single letter of those activities. They hadn’t developed a way to automatically upload this information (they still haven’t). Also, we had a system that didn’t allow right-clic options. So we had to manually select a piece of text, type Ctrl-C, then go to the system window and Ctrl-V the information on to it.

This was very tedious work. Imagine having to copy and paste 25 questions, then their possible answers (3 at least) for 30 something lessons. Then frequently asked questions were about 5 per lesson (times 30 as well). In short, it was quite a lot of information to copy and paste manually.
And, as always, they wanted this done yesterday. So, their idea to get this done quickly? Everyone do it.

We divided the work. Or distributed rather. One person got 5 exams to upload and someone else got 10 exams of that same subject.
In this way, one subject was being managed by two or three people at the same time.

And it was done like that, no questions asked, just upload everything as quickly as you can. Of course, something done in haste has a high chance of resulting with poor quality.
And it did.
Files got lost and there were many mistakes made. If a physics teacher was uploading a History test, it would have been difficult for him to spot a mistake in context or an important date. The same happend with biology teachers that uploaded information for math or calculus.

It got done quickly, yes. But at the cost of quality. To this day I still don’t understand why that had to be done so quickly, since there weren’t any students enrolled. One might think that they wanted to save expenses, but the difference in doing it with more care would have been a couple of days. Maybe a week.

quality

And we ended up re-doing this a few months later, when there wasn’t much to do. Maybe this was their plan all along, to do the exact same thing two times.
So what was the point of doing everything in a hurry? Just the fact of being able to say ‘it’s done’ (even if we don’t know what the hell we uploaded because there were so many people involved in the process). Again, the lack of organization was evident.

Therefore, one more time: organize, organize, organize. That is the lesson. Even if we had to do something quickly, nothing would have happened if we had taken a couple of hours trying to figure out the best way to get the work done.
A two hour salary of three or four people is much cheaper than the salary of 15 people during three weeks. So spend some time planning and figuring out WHAT you need to get done and HOW to do it. Also consider the possible implications or consequences. This alone can save a few headaches. Then go ahead and act.

What came next could be the only outcome of this lack of vision.

Next: Dude, where’s my file?

 

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