October 8 Day 214: Oops…I Winged It Again

If I were looking for a silver lining to our pandemic year, it would be the new found facility with remote technology allowing for virtual visitors from beyond our in-person reach. I was excited to be a visitor at Roanoke College in Virginia, a mere 2700 miles away, without ever leaving the comfort of my home.

I pride myself on presenting engaging, interactive mathematics seminars. Even though I have been teaching remotely for 214 days, the seminar weighed heavy on my mind. Having a limited amount of time, the activities needed to add value without requiring too much transition time. I prepared some Google slides, an interactive whiteboard, and I was ready to share a mathematical adventure. In truth, I overprepared but I wanted it to be foolproof just in case something went wrong.

First problem of the day, I went wrong. I entered the event in my calendar at 10 am Pacific time when it should have been 9 am. It was 9:03 am, I was finishing up notes from an early morning oral assessment, and I got a text:

I thought, this is almost an hour early but what the heck, I can get into the right headspace for the presentation and make sure things run smoothly. I joined the meeting to see many faces on my screen and realized I am late for my own talk. Not very professional.

Maggie graciously stalled as I loaded my slides and shared links in the chat. We found that the Google slide were set to require an authenticated UW user. I changed that. They got access and I could begin, albeit more than 10 minutes late.

There was no time to overthink and I charged forward with abandon. People laughed at my jokes and I thought things were going surprisingly well.

  • The first audience participation question: what size matrix corresponds the pictured directed graph? Discuss with friends in breakout rooms. As we were discussing the set-up of breakout rooms, I got booted from the Zoom call. I logged back in.
  • Second attempt at the first question: what size matrix corresponds the pictured directed graph? Type your answer in the chat box and wait to hit reply. Everyone hit reply at the same time and answers streamed passed. Success! We had something to talk about.
  • Second attempt at participation and I am now afraid to go to breakout rooms. Instead I asked people to work individually, pick an origin and a destination, count the number of paths from their origin to their destination, and type an answer in the appropriate matrix entry of the Google slide. Success—almost!

There were some collisions of responses and a few entries got more than one copy of the answer entered as you see above.

  • Not giving into fear, I was determined to try breakout rooms for the third interactive exploration. Huzzah, I did not get booted off. As a co-host I was assigned to a room; it contained only students and was very quite. So I tried to draw them out by asking gentle questions. No response. I asked people to turn on their microphones and share their thinking. No response. Then a kindly young man says, “Professor Quinn are you saying something? I can’t hear you.” My mic wasn’t working. Argh. After several minutes trying different configurations sounding like Verizon’s “can-you-hear-me-now?” spokesman, I pulled out earphones and restored sound as time expired.
  • Other rooms came back with either clever or smartass solutions. Just the way I like it.
  • With not much time remaining, I threw caution to the wind and abandoned the planned activities. No interactive whiteboard. No more breakout rooms. I gave a grand gallery tour of results with absolutely no further interaction what so ever. It was not even close to what I had imagined. I presented thirty minutes of material in twelve and still went over time.

My hosts were gracious. They praised my flexibility and humor. It was OK—all things considered. I enjoyed the opportunity and I will leverage this experience to improve remote presentations in the future.

As I relaxed into my chair, just a little impressed that I managed to pull it off, I checked notifications on my phone. My calendar was still insisting the presentation time was now.

Published by Jenny Quinn

Mathematician. Mother. Wife. Leader. I am a professor of mathematics at the University of Washington Tacoma. Mother of Anson and Zachary. Wife to Mark. President of the Mathematical Association of America.

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