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UT Austin professor uses music to calm finals-season nerves

Clint Tuttle ends classes on lighter note

AUSTIN, Texas – May is not a happy time on college campuses.

Sure, school is over and commencement ceremonies are being held, but to get there, students have to make it through finals.

It's prime season for all-nighters at the library, packed with frazzled students working to earn that last A, with stacks of reviews and notes in front of them.

Classes are often turned into study sessions in lieu of lectures. 

But not in Clint Tuttle's classroom. 

The University of Texas at Austin professor opts to end his class on a lighter note. 

 "The last day that I meet with them, I want it to be joyful, I want it to be enjoyable and I want students to know that I care about them," Tuttle said, via a Skype interview.

Over the last five years, Tuttle has written parody songs and performed them in his Intro to IT Management class, or MIS302F as UT students would know it.

He takes a top 40 hit from the semester and rewrites it to reflect lessons learned in class.

The course is described on UT's website as exploring "how information technology helps to achieve competitive advantage and improve decision making, business processes, operations, and organizational design.

"He uses a cross-functional perspective to recognize the role of technology across business activities of management, finance, marketing, human resources, and operations."

Microsoft Excel is a cornerstone of the curriculum.

"We always talk about pivot tables and VLOOKUPS and all these things that are valuable to have," said Tuttle. "I use the most powerful features or the things that students will know, and then we crank it [the song] out."

One could argue that Tuttle's on-campus fame started when he performed the "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" song on the guitar in the fall of 2011, his first semester. 

 

It was the fall of 2012 when Tuttle started the parodies. First up:  a play on Carly Rae Jepson's "Call Me Maybe."

 

Later came The Lumineers, "Ho! Hey!", and in fall 2015 he said "Hello From the Other Side" from an old Microsoft tool -- Clippy. 

 

For the spring semester that just wrapped up, he chose Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You," with help from UT's a capella group Texas Songhorns. The song focused on a real-life scenario in which Excel skills come in handy on the job.

"A class isn't the best place to learn Excel and believe me I would know,
but there was my boss, at the table feeling lost, his Excel skills a little slow.
He called me over and asked me for help with a spreadsheet and I said I'll give it a chance,
with a right click, I had it working really quick and then he claps his hands, started screaming like
'Boy you know I want your skills, this spreadsheet was handmade for somebody like me,
come on now follow my lead,
it may sound crazy just trust me'

Tuttle said the project was inspired by two people -- a college professor of his own and a classmate he had in college.

"I had a teacher when I was going through my undergrad experience, who on the last day, would give this amazing lecture and get his guitar out and play a couple songs. I always thought that was really cool," he said.

"And I have a friend who is a teacher up in Round Rock who I went to UT with, and he does music videos for his math classes. He takes songs and ruins them with math lyrics." 

The songs have not gone unnoticed by Microsoft. He said the company has recently gone through a leadership change and is focusing on how to better take care of its fans, much like Apple and Google do. 

Enter his spring 2016 parody of Justin Bieber's "Love Yourself" -- "Learn Excel.

"One day the chief marketing officer of Microsoft reached out to me and said, 'We are doing a global conference. I want to do a whole talk about fans of our products and how we can advocate for our fans and how we can treat our fans better,'" he recalled. "So he flew me to Florida, where I performed the Justin Bieber parody for 11,000 Microsoft employees, and that was pretty surreal.

"I had to basically get on stage at the Amway Arena, where the Orlando Magic play, completely geared up. They even gave me a bedazzled Excel jacket to wear as a joke, but everybody really loved the jacket. I got to keep it; it's hanging on my wall." 

Songs can take as little as a few hours to write or a few weeks, depending on the production value of the video. 

For Tuttle, the mission behind the songs is to remind students that one test is not the end-all be-all for their college career or their future.

He recognizes the fantasy that college is painted to be before students get there -- the best four or five years of your life.

The reality, Tuttle said, is that college is miserable for a lot of students.

The pressure of making a good grade on a test to help a GPA which turns into getting an internship or not are stresses put on students by people around them and by themselves, and they are not always necessary.

"I spend a lot of my time doing lectures on why it's important to not fear failure, how we don't need perfection to get in the way of 'good enough' sometimes. We can't knock the ball out of the park every day -- it's OK to be human."

He also shares his experiences with his students as proof of the beauty in failure. Tuttle was rejected from UT's Business Honors Program twice before he finally got in. Before working at consulting firm Accenture, he was turned down for an internship and was a backup applicant. 

"I don't do that to coddle them, I do that to let them know the reality is this is college -- you should be having a good time, you should enjoy the time you are here, and we shouldn't be so high strung."

As for the parodies, Tuttle's reputation follows him and he doesn't see them ending anytime soon. 

"It's become pretty standard. If I didn't do it, it would not be well received," he said.

See more of Tuttle's parodies here.

Transparency: the writer of this article is a graduate of UT Austin and a former student of Tuttle's (Spring 2013).

 


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