what fresh hell is this?

Sep 01 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

It's that time of year again, when professors around the world discover that their classroom assignments have been changed at the last minute.  To be honest, nothing throws me off my game more than racing across campus to the class location, only to encounter a sign informing us that we're actually supposed to be somewhere else. Insert gnashing of teeth here.

Which leads me to musing about classrooms to which I have been assigned over the years, on various campuses.

Many of them were unremarkable except in their unified desire to thwart technological efforts.  Most often in the form of overhead projector mayhem (ill-timed early shut-off settings, light bulb unreliability, disconnection from audio, and just plain orneriness) or broken classroom components.  Not to mention bizarre and unwanted temperature variations (e.g., heat on in the summer, A/C on in the winter) that cannot be changed since, all over campus, temperature controls have been covered with boxes, and the unlocking mechanisms have been revealed only to those with the highest security clearance. Heaven forbid we teacherly types might need to adjust anything.  Or to show a film on a screen that remains down when pulled down.

One of the more memorable rooms was in the basement of a church, with two enormous columns in the middle of the seating area, preventing us from seeing more than four other people at any given time.   Moreover, that room was en route to an exhibit also housed in the basement, so every few minutes, people would stick their heads in the door and ask if we were "open" for "dinosaur track viewing." Eventually, one of the students put up a sign that said "THERE ARE NO DINOSAUR TRACKS HERE!  Go to room X."  Then one day, we went into the classroom to find that all of the desks and chairs had been, quite inexplicably, removed.  There was nothing to do for those weeks but sit on the floor and pretend that we did not feel ridiculous.

But the worst classroom was in a building that was being renovated during the semester. We learned to counter the construction noise by yelling; however, whatever they were doing to the roof of the building created unusual air current trajectories, so we would suddenly hear an unbearably loud whooshing sound, followed by a blast of air that would blow random tiles right out of the ceiling frame. Although we quickly learned to be alert, we were collectively on the verge of developing ulcers that semester, what with all the screeching and ducking.

And the escaping of bees that flew in after the ceiling tiles fell down.  *shudder*

So...what kinds of classrooms have you "enjoyed" over the years?


8 responses so far

  • studyzone says:

    I taught in the classroom with A/C in winter. My students and I wore our winter coats and hats to class throughout November and December. Hard to do labs when your fingers are blue. Facilities said there was nothing they could do about it - we had to "suck it up" (direct quote). My "favorite" was from my high school teaching days, when I had to teach biology in a room that was formerly the art department's storage room. Only two electrical outlets, and no sinks, so doing hands-on labs was an exercise in improvisation (however, I had a great colleague who let me switch places with his lab-appropriate classroom a couple of times so we could do microscope labs).

  • Dan says:

    My Ph.D office had its heating/cooling vents connected to the server room. Since the server room required A/C all year, my office was therefore A/C'd the entire year. The winter often had me wearing mittens, multiple scarves, jackets, etc. This, plus a space heater directly beneath my chair.

    When teaching a course, one of my students (who was in no way overweight) fell out of his desk at a random moment during lecture because the attached chair broke off.

    Finally, another room had students jumping over several of the stairs that went up the centre of the theatre style room. They had to do this because the stairs had actually crumbled away. Thankfully, that building has since been remodelled, and the stairs repaired.

    • I've been in rooms where the attached chair has broken more than once. The best was during a materials characterization class, when the professor put the chair up on the document camera so we could look at the fatigue fracture surface.

      More recently, the worst room I've been (as a student) in has a projector mounted in the ceiling that wobbles wildly if someone jiggles their foot too vigorously. Students were starting to complain of motion sickness.

  • Christina Pikas says:

    Wow, these take the cake! Some of the rooms were uncomfortable, but we never feared for our safety. We did have 80-90F lecture halls in the winter, though.

  • Last semester, I had an early morning class (as a student) in a room that was permanently too hot. I kept falling asleep. No amount of coffee, simple carbohydrates, or surreptitious stretching seemed to help. It was a graduate-level class, and there were only 5 students total...

  • Ink says:

    Studyzone, what did you do to improvise those labs? Did you use extension cords and pocket lighters? I can't imagine how you pulled that off. Huzzah for ingenuity!

    Dan, your office sounds like cruel and unusual punishment far above the generally cruel and unusual punishment that is grad school. Also, the crumbled stairs? That sounds just plain dangerous!

    Miss MSE, love the lemons-into-lemonade approach of the prof re: fatigue fracture surface. And you know what? We had a projector like that in one room too--forgot about that. It was impossible to watch for too long (yet strangely difficult to look away, for some reason, given that it was somewhat compelling course material). Also, the same projector, during a different semester, would randomly freeze or go from color to black and white, then back again. (Now that I'm typing this all out, I'm wondering if it the projector was, like,*possessed.*)

    Christina and Theshort..., that's awful. Sending you cool vibe wishes for the future!

  • studyzone says:

    @Ink: The local Science Education Partnership program was a great help for ideas on how to labs in suboptimal spaces, and providing a library of kits that could be checked out (such as for gel electrophoresis). For the gel electrophoresis lab, I moved my desk next to the wall with the two outlets (I couldn't fit another table in the room), and bought a surge-protected power strip so I could plug in the power supply and transilluminator. Students lined up to have a go at loading a lane in the gel. Had lots of jugs set up to collect liquid waste. For DNA extraction (from onions, using dishwashing soap and rubbing alcohol), I bought an old blender at Goodwill, and was able to borrow a centrifuge from the SEP program - I was afraid it would blow a fuse, but the surge-protected power strip helped. For microbiology labs, I used a small kitchen torch (the kind used for creme brulee) so students could flame their loops, since alcohol lamps were not allowed (the dept. did have an incubator). A lot of other things could be done with minimal equipment - such as phototropism/gravitropism experiments in plants. I probably spent more out of pocket than I should have, but I really wanted the kids to have hands-on experiences (the school had a large minority population). I have to say - I had 4 sections of biology in that room, and with only one exception, my students were troupers.

  • Ink says:

    Oh my goodness, Studyzone. You should get some kind of MAJOR award for that. I'm serious.