THE BLOG
09/08/2014 03:50 pm ET Updated Nov 08, 2014

Chalk Dust

Barry Rosenthal via Getty Images

In a post last spring, I wrote about returning to the classroom after an absence of 10 years. As August approached, I began to have second thoughts. My schedule at the start of a new academic year always is packed, including a "state of the university" address to the faculty and staff. This year it also fell to me, as university president, to deliver the opening convocation address. Somehow I had to fit in preparing for the first day of an upper-college class, intermediate microeconomics.

It didn't help that I couldn't find my notes and materials from last time. No surprise; that was three moves ago. No doubt they'll turn up in December when I am rummaging through the attic for Christmas decorations. They would need updating, of course, but it would have been nice not to start from scratch. I did locate a syllabus, some handouts and quizzes. Unfortunately, they were saved on a 3.5 inch floppy disc (remember those?), and it took an extensive search just to find a computer that would read it. At least the textbook, Price Theory by Steven Landsburg, was still in print, although five editions later! Still, nice to have a familiar friend.

Preparing the syllabus was more involved. A decade ago, a syllabus could be pretty basic: textbook, course outline, grading scheme, office hours and e-mail address. Expectations now include specific course outcomes, how the course fits into to the core curriculum, academic honor code, and Americans with Disability accommodations.

I am also learning to use the electronic course software. When I last taught, Blackboard was new to that campus, and I did things the old-fashioned way, everything in happening in class using hard copy handouts. My first task was to post the syllabus electronically, and that meant before the first class met. In class, I just signed into my account on the classroom computer and projected the syllabus onto the screen. It was also easy to post links to a couple of introductory articles, rather than make hard copies. I've gone green -- so far I haven't made a single paper copy. Another nice feature is the instantly updated class roster along with a picture of each student. It used to take me well into the semester to learn each student's name. Next up is having students post homework and take quizzes online.

I initially felt a bit rusty in front of the class, but I did teach a lot before going into administration and am getting comfortable quickly. A Chronicle of Higher Education piece listed the three most common classroom annoyances: cell phone, students arriving late and laptops. So far, no problems with any of these. I realize that students may be on their best behavior when their professor is the university president, but I like to think that TLU students are just exceptionally courteous and professional. The best news is that my class seems well-prepared and engaged. I have taught this course many times, so I have a pretty good idea of what students generally bring from their intro classes. Usually, a lot of basic remediation is required. So far, this is the best-prepared intermediate class I have seen. That is a very good thing for any college president to be able to directly observe.

The technology is nice, but I like being back at the chalkboard. In any early class, I was really getting into it, throwing up a lot of chalk dust. Halfway through, I noticed students snickering, and that's never a good sign. I was pretty sure my clothes were all appropriately buttoned and zipped, so I didn't know what was causing the stir until a brave student spoke up: "Dr. Dorsey, you have chalk dust all over your face!"

Erasing the chalkboard as students filed out, I was taken back to an earlier, simpler time in my career. As I gathered my things, I noticed that my hands and clothes were, as always, covered with chalk dust. It's good to be back.