I spent last week down in Harrisonburg, VA at James Madison University, giving my “entrepreneurship as a career choice” talk to two classes and also working with students from the web venturing class that I’m co-teaching. My original plan was to get down to JMU early in the semester to meet all of the students. I thought it would be good to interact face-to-face to form those personal relationships that are hard over Skype and email.
Unfortunately, that pesky hurricane happened and I was forced to postpone my travel plans. I ended up giving the first lecture, on AdSense, from my parents house during the week when we were displaced and had no clue when we were going to be able to go home. I was using the default webcam and mic on my laptop, as opposed to the awesome HD webcam with mic I purchased just for the class and/or my headset. Basically I was on my #3 audio choice and #2 video choice and it went pretty well, which is a testament to just how ridiculously far we’ve come in just a short time.
The more I think about it, the more it sort of blows my mind that this whole thing is possible. Remote teaching, even 5-10 years ago, was virtually impossible without a sophisticated video set up. With Skype, I’m able to seamlessly switch between showing video of my beautiful bald head and doing a screen share where I walk through a tutorial that relates to whatever I’m talking about. To communicate outside of class, we have a private Facebook Group where the students ask questions that either I answer or their peers answer. It’s actually a great medium for collaboration – it keeps the conversation running between classes. Prof. Wales does this with all of his classes, which I think is kind of brilliant.
Anyway, the class itself is going great. I’m learning so much from the students and from Prof. Wales. This group of students are really good kids – very smart, very inquisitive, very polite and respectful towards me. I’ve really only seen academia from a student’s perspective, so to see it from the other side is really enlightening.
It’s also really interesting to teach this class to business students with no web background. We’re having them build their sites off of WordPress, which in hindsight may have not been the right decision for a single semester class like this. They’re doing a good job picking it up, but the site development is taking longer than we anticipated (100% our mistake) relative to how fast we need to get a business up and running. We need adequate time to teach SEO, marketing, analytics, etc, and of course they need time to generate some revenue. So we’re tweaking things as we go based upon the feedback from the students and based upon what we’re seeing. Prof. Wales is great in that he has a very experimental attitude towards his classes – if something isn’t working, he’s not afraid to make an adjustment during the semester and to then factor that in to the class in future semesters.
Hopefully in a few weeks I’ll have some links to show off some of the student’s sites. While they’re all headed in the right direction, I think in particular there are a few pretty solid ideas that could become very successful websites. More importantly, I think the students are learning skills that will help them when they graduate, whether they decide to start their own venture or go out and get a job.