I had a surprising experience thrust upon me this week at my place of work, leading me to see the possibilities for the future of teaching. It happens that this week I have been also looking for a partner with whom I can study advanced topics in Jewish study — better to study that sort of thing with someone than to be left to ones own devices and just interpret things however one wants. Since I know that there is no such thing as coincidence, I was pleasantly amused when I found myself in the role of the teacher this week.
I work for a small software company in midtown Manhattan. Every week, the company has three hour long training seminars for teaching how to use the software. For the entire time that I have been working there, it has always been the same person giving the training. He developed a pretty solid routine and there was never a need for anyone else to give it.
The training is all done through the marvelous online meeting software GoToMeeting. Every week, about five to ten people from around the country take the training and get a better understanding on how the software works.
The way that the software works is that there is a presenter who has control of the pointer and everyone connects through the software and sees what is on the presenter’s computer. Everyone then dials into a phone number and dials in a meeting code so that they can hear the presenter as well. Thankfully, there is an option to mute everyone who is not the presenter — I found this out this week.
What happened this week was that as the training coordinator was giving the first of the three meetings, he started coughing a bit sporadically and apologizing. The following day he came in a couple of hours late and apologized.
About two hours before he was to give the seminar, he approached me. His facial expression told me everything he was about to say out loud. “Can you do the training today, man?” I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I knew that he had to go home and get some rest.
I installed the necessary software on my computer and nervously awaited the time of the seminar. Even though I spend many hours speaking with clients and explaining in detail how the software works, it felt as though this was going to be significantly different — I felt as I have felt in the past prior to giving presentations in front of groups of people. This is because it is exactly what I was going to do — only by computer instead of in person.
The time finally came and I dialed into the number and loaded up the meeting on the computer. I watched as people started to enter, so to speak — I greeted each one individually as they said their names (prompted by the software) and made a little small talk about how we were going to wait a couple of minutes for everyone to show up.
Soon everyone was there and I asked everyone to mute their phones and I started in on it. As I started the presentation, I calmed down and soon was imagining standing in front of a group of people who were eagerly listening to me and watching me carefully.
When I wrapped up the lecture, I asked everyone to unmute their phones and ask any questions they had. They asked questions and I answered by showing them — not just telling them.
I smiled and thought — if I can teach people all over the country about using this software, what can’t be taught like this? People in London can learn about literature from professors in Mumbai.
Students in China can study English under the tutelage of professors in Oklahoma, in theory.
I could even study advanced Jewish topics with a learning partner anywhere in the world — so long as we synchronize our watches properly, of course.