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Learning from a goof

April 14, 2010

Last Saturday we debuted a revised workshop, “Teaching Well Using Technology.” It went well — not perfectly, but we were pleased. During the afternoon something happened that gave us all a good laugh.

At the podium we had a PC that let us see what participants were seeing and a Mac for showing material we had developed on that platform. While working at the PC, I selected some text and copied it to the clipboard. Then I moved to the Mac and tried to paste it. … Huh?

For three or four seconds I couldn’t understand why my text didn’t appear, and then I started laughing uncontrollably. I explained my goof to the participants and they were able to share in the moment of jocularity. You might think I would worry about losing credibility. But I believe it is healthy for students to see you make a mistake — as long as you correct it in a reasonable amount of time.
[Flickr photo “Laughter” by puck90 / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

I want students to understand that I realize I don’t know everything. I am always learning. One of the aspects of my job which I love the most is this: to be effective I have to constantly learn new skills and update old ones. This semester, among other goals, I am trying to bring my Flash ActionScript skills up to version 3.

Faculty should regularly challenge themselves to learn new skills. One of the goals of Saturday’s workshop was for participants to formulate a plan for approaching a new technological tool. The process can help you remember what it was like NOT to understand something. It may even reacquaint you with the awkwardness and inadequacy many students experience in an introductory class. As a teacher, I hope I never stop empathizing with that feeling.

By the way, for those who were wondering: yes, the title of this article is deliberately ambiguous.

Call for stories: please use the comment box to share a story about a time when you were able to turn a mistake into a teachable moment.

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