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UChicago Splash: Splash itself

A couple months ago was UChicago Splash. I already wrote a post about the logistics of the visit, but I promised to write something about the event itself.

Splash itself was very different from MIT Splash.

I taught the same Copyright class that I taught a couple years ago at MIT Splash. It went much worse than the first one had. I failed to really get the people who'd shown up interested in the material, which was unfortunate. I've heard since that that's a really common at UChicago Splash (and, in partial contrast to that, that it has been getting much less of a problem more recently). I'm inclined to think that a lot of it was lack of preparation, and my general suckiness at teaching, but who knows.

UChicago Splash felt much more... authoritarian... than MIT Splash has to me. One of the things that I frequently hear people (admittedly, mostly admins, since that's who I interact with most) say is cool about Splash is how much freedom the students have. They're left on a college campus for a day, with no real commitments. There are classes, of course, and the photo... but nobody's taking attendance at anything, and nobody will really yell at them if they go wandering around Kendall Square.

UChicago held a snack in the middle of the program, and dispatched volunteers to help guide the students to it. So far, so good --- I figured this was just a "go stand in the hall, and tell people where it is when they ask, and make some occassional announcements for people who didn't realize snack was next". I got the impression, however, that the UChicago folks intended to be more... assertive, however. One of the UChicago admins drew her foot across the hallway and said to one cluster of students something along the lines of "Y'all are guests here. This is my school, and you need to do what I say. You're not to cross this line. You should go to snack, down there." I really can't imagine one of the volunteers doing something at MIT --- much less one of the senior MIT ESP admins.

UChicago Splash had a lot of visitors, too. In addition to Diyang and I from MIT, Dan (LU CEO), mshaw (Stanford ESP and Chair of the LU Board of Directors), J.D. (some sort of Stanford ESP affiliation?), and two more Stanford folks came. At seven people, it would not surprise me at all if the visitor's travel cost more than the rest of UChicago Splash did (the latter being budgeted for about three thousand dollars). I'm not really sure who was funding all the travel. Diyang and I were funded by MIT ESP. I assume the last two Stanford folks were funded by Stanford ESP. I assume that J.D. was self-funded (though Stanford is possible), and Dan was presumably funded by LU (self-funded is conceivable, though seems unlikely). For mshaw, I'm really not sure --- any of LU, Stanford ESP, and self-funded seem reasonably likely.

I can definitely believe that Dan's travel was worthwhile --- I think he spent most of the week before in Chicago helping out, which seems likely to be worthwhile, not to mention getting to know one of the chapters better. For the rest of us, it's a lot less clear to me. I don't really feel like I contributed much in the way of useful insight or needed labor to UChicago, nor did I really feel like I got much in the way of useful insight out of the visit. Admittedly, some of that may have been due to grumpiness about the logistics and my teaching leaving me not particularly predisposed to taking good ideas away, and not having put much of an effort into talking to people. Similarly, it's certainly possible that the other six visits were more useful.

Part of the reason that I felt like I wasn't contributing very much is because I felt like I didn't have much to do. Check-in was pretty hectic, and I felt useful then (or, at least, for the part of it that I wasn't frantically doing last minute class prep for...). After my class (which was during the first period), I rarely felt like I had much to do. Partially, I think UChicago just had plenty of volunteers --- the teacher lounge / volunteer HQ seemed to generally have tons of people. Partially, on the occasions when they needed volunteers and I offered, they just couldn't use me --- I'm not totally sure why. I think there was some component of not knowing may way around campus and thus being less able to do stuff; there was also, I think, so vibe that the visitors were too important to use on simple stuff, I think. I'm not sure why that was. Admittedly, I suppose there's been a similar vibe at MIT Splash sometimes --- that if there's any security volunteers around, admins are "too valuable" to send off on some task, even if the admin seems happy to do it and the security volunteer seems uninterested. It's sort of vaguely bothered me, though I don't know if there's anything to do about it (or if we should --- maybe we really are too valuable to squander...?). (Relatedly, I feel like at MIT Splash there's a tendency for admins to stand around chatting, leaving the useful work to volunteers. It seems sorta rude to the volunteers, but, again, I'm not sure what to do about it. Also, I'm far from blameless...)

Anyway, UChicago Splash. It was... kinda fun?

[ The first half of this post was written months ago; I finally got around to finishing it off tonight. ]


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