If I had a million dollars, I'd build you a school.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Computers Are Very Helpful If You Know How To Use Them

This week I have at least some responsibilities to three different jobs. First, there is my teaching job at my current school, where we are working through final faculty meetings. Then, there is my new school for the fall, who have asked me to come in tomorrow and get my bearings, pick up my books for next year, and start thinking about a curriculum development project for next year. The big one, though, is my role as Assistant Director for the summer program at my current school. Staff orientation is Friday afternoon, and the kids arrive on Monday morning, which gives me about 28 more hours to learn everything about a summer camp I've never worked at before. After that, I'm supposed to be one of the two most knowledgeable people about it. So, what did I spend my day doing yesterday: sorting t-shirts.

Let me explain.

On the first day of camp, every student gets a t-shirt with the camp logo on it. In the past, the t-shirts have always been distributed during the kids' first class. This is straightforward enough, except that, unlike other summer programs where all of the kids show up in the morning and stay all day, we have rolling attendance, depending on what classes each child is taking. They may be enrolled in anywhere from one to four classes per week, and are only required to attend the part of the day when their class is in session. This creates many logistical issues, but at 1:00 this afternoon, the one I was worried about was t-shirts.

About 80% of the campers have a class during the first period. I just had to find who the other 20% were and figure out when to get them their shirts. I decided that there must be an easy way to get our database to give me all of the relevant information, so that all I would have to do was make a quick count and start sorting shirts. Two problems: first, we are running the database on aged laptops with a weak wireless connection, a bad combination for the high powered online database we use; and second, I had never even logged into the database before this morning.

It took me about three hours to get a printout of all the class rosters for the first week with the kids' t-shirt sizes and class meeting times. Most of that time was spent learning to navigate the database and get it to produce whatever reports I wanted (and restarting it when it froze, and restarting it again when it froze again). It was good practice at a skill I needed to develop, and not quite as much of a waste of time as it sounds, but it was still three hours.

I know this has been said many times, but computers really are great time savers, once you know how to use them. That learning curve, though, can be rough. I know that the time I spent today will pay off later when I have other, more critical things to do with the database, but I spent most of the afternoon feeling like I was running on a treadmill. I wonder how long it would have taken me, without the help of the database, to do all the work I tried to get the computer to do. I bet today I could have done it faster. Hopefully, next time the computer will win.

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