When I was teaching composition, I had a set speech for the research paper. I gave out a weekly plan to help them get it done. They could follow this plan or not as long as the paper was turned in on time. But I always gave them this warning: “Assume that whatever can go wrong will. Assume your printer will run out of toner. Assume that the website will go down in the midst of your research. Assume that other students got to the library before you and checked out the two books you need. Make room for things going wrong.”
I was reminded of that speech today, the last week of the summer term. It was a hot afternoon, the air conditioner not really working when the first student mentioned she was having trouble getting in her course shell. Then another student came up to the desk with the same problem. Then another. And another.
We called the Help Desk to discover that there was indeed a problem. In Canada where the our CMS company is located, a massive electrical outage occurred, shutting down the building where our courses are stored. There was nothing anyone at our end could do.
“But,” students said to us, “my paper/essay/book report/test/ is due tonight. What will happen to us?”
All we could do was shrug our shoulders and send out an email to all faculty informing them of the situation.
Only one person wasn’t frantic. She sighed and said, “Well, the paper’s not really due until tomorrow night. I came today just to get everything finished up early.”
Others were much more upset. One sadly said, “My instructor always says you have an entire week to get things turned in. If something happens on the very last day, then that’s the chance you take.”
But I’m willing to bet that for many of them, next semester, the last week of classes, they will be in the same situation, betting that the system can’t go down on finals week twice in a row.
There are two lessons to be learned here:
- Things will go wrong and should be accounted for in any plan.
- Most people will ignore lesson number 1.