The Saboteur of Room 320

The first time it happened, I was in luck. The head of Media Services was walking by, caught me crouched down, trying to adjust the computer system in the classroom podium, and came to my rescue. The second time, a student technician performed a computer “bypass,” hooking up a laptop so that I could give the lecture. The main computer was unplugged and the connection inaccessible. The third time, same thing. By then, Media Services was suspicious. Apparently, mine wasn’t the only classroom in the building that had been tampered with.

There was talk of sabotage. It was devastating in my case, because I don’t use a shred of paper for my courses. Everything is online in the course management system: readings, assignments, syllabus, updates, resources, links, videos, lectures. If I don’t have access to the computer and projector, I’m up a creek. I suppose I could have the class do rounds of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

It’s hard for me to believe that someone in my class would do this. I may be floating on denial here, but it doesn’t make sense. First, it ruins class for everyone, not just me. Secondly, it doesn’t cancel out the weekly quiz. They still have to take it, whether I cover the material or not. Third, my course doesn’t have a midterm, final, or major research paper. It also doesn’t cost a dime. Students don’t have to pay extra for textbooks or supplies. I give them all of the readings in pdf format online. I’m the last faculty member they should play pranks on. In fact, they ought to give me a bottle of single malt scotch. At least take me out for a latte.

Then, suddenly, it stopped. For several classes, I would go in, adjust the settings on the computer and projector from the last class, and things worked smoothly. Media Services must have even talked to the professor before me, since the monitor was no longer twisted around like a vacuum hose, and the podium was free of bread crumbs, lettuce, and greasy napkins. As the song goes, who could ask for anything more?

But, as it turns out, it was just a tease. Last Thursday, I went in and discovered that the main unit had been unplugged again. I had no access. That meant no Power Point presentation. Now, I’ve been complaining about the lack of student engagement for years. So, I engaged them. I had them access the course site on their laptops and conduct the class lecture themselves from the notes and presentation slides posted there. It took a while for them to get used to the idea, but they caught on and enjoyed it. Even the somnambulists along the walls and in the back of the room woke up, much to my surprise. I may do this every class.

I don’t think the saboteur is one of them. Again, in the depths of denial, let me say that they look like angels out there, pretending to be attentive as they send text messages surreptitiously. Still, it’s not one of them. I would swear on it. If I am wrong, then I have to wonder about the next generation of business leaders (and my judgment). After all, this is a business ethics class. We could be in a heap of trouble. Just look at “Pharma Bro” Martin Shrkeli, who was sentenced to seven years in prison for securities fraud. The bad boy cried as they led him away.

All of this got me wondering about the nature of classroom sabotage. Is it straightforward like hacking where the culprit remains in the shadows, or is the person more like a pyromaniac who comes back to watch the flames gobble up everything? In this case, the flames are me fumbling with computer cords and pressing every button on the control panel as a bewildered class looks on. Is he looking on with the rest of them, I wonder? Is he even a he? With three daughters and four granddaughters, it’s hard for me to believe it’s not a guy. Of course, there is that one teenage granddaughter who is a little too smart.

I remain undaunted. I will finish the spring semester despite the saboteur. I still have the whiteboard and a collection of colored markers (see Bobby Bronco). I also have Media Services in my iPhone contacts. It’s a very simple procedure, really.

“What’s the nature of your emergency?” they ask.

“Brancatelli, Room 320,” I reply.

“Understood. We’ll send someone right over.”

You want a piece of me? See Robert Brancatelli. For feature image, see Samuel Zeller. Note to self: Find out how many years you can keep peas in the freezer. Anyone with an answer is encouraged to send a comment.

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