Actionable Advice on Changing Majors

Why are there not more facilitated opportunities to learn about different majors? In high school we have advisors that help with deciding on a college and in college we have advisors within majors to help select classes and career options, but there doesn’t ever seem to be advising on selecting a major. And sometimes our high school experiences easily lend towards an obvious major, but more often then not this doesn’t happen so obviously. I’ve met so many adults that say “Oh if I would’ve known x degree existed back when I was an undergrad, I totally would’ve done that instead.”

I personally entered as an undecided engineering major and found myself just thrown in with all of the mechanical engineers for advising purposes I guess because it is assumed that’s the major most undecided engineers will eventually switch into. However, this advisor was not really able to help me learn about the other potential majors – she specialized in mechanical engineering so that’s what she knew and could advise on…

I had an old friend post this week about realizing she wasn’t enjoying her classes and thought maybe she should change her major, so she wanted advice on how to decide on her new major. The majority of the comments on this post say something along the lines of “Don’t worry, it’s okay to not have it figured out! I changed my career path x times!” etc…

This seems to be a fairly common response anytime someone asks about selecting a major and I’ve realized recently that it really bothers me because this response doesn’t given actionable advice.

I feel like everyone kind of knows that it’s okay to change paths and have periods of time in your life when you don’t have things figured out – our society has long since moved on from the idea of people just having one career their entire life, and now the norm is for change. So while perhaps it provides a smidge of reassurance to be told “It’s okay to not know,” it can also just be irrelevant entirely; just because someone asks for help about selecting a new path doesn’t necessarily imply that they are particularly concerned about their current status paused on a path. By the time you ask for advice you’ve already accepted that you don’t know what’s next, and often times have made piece with that knowing it’s a normal position to find yourself in, what you are asking for is advice on how to decide which direction to move next.

This seems like a totally reasonable thing to ask and yet so often no one really has a helpful answer…

So here was my answer which I wanted to blog about because it seems like such a commonly asked question that gets unsatisfactory responses:

When you are unsure about the future, look to the past. What experiences have you had that you really enjoyed and what did you really not enjoy? Consider an experience anything that might fit into a category on a resume: paid work, volunteer work, projects, learning a new technical or communication skill, unique study opportunities (such as abroad or participation in a special program), and/or leadership. At first don’t analyze the experiences too hard, just on gut reaction if you enjoyed it, title it and put it in the enjoyed list or visa versa for disliked. (Knowing what you don’t like is super helpful so don’t disregard that list because it will help narrow options often faster than the like list.)

After you’ve listed out experiences you liked and dislike (or just didn’t particularly enjoy), then start thinking through what you did in those experiences. Use verb phrases to keep it short and focused. For example maybe you enjoyed volunteering at a animal shelter, so some verb phrases might be: played with dogs, organized pantries, emailed partners and customers.

Look for patterns in terms of skills needed for the experiences, content, styles of work (individual/collaborative/virtual, etc), roles played, any sort of pattern, then try to line up these patterns with a few majors that might lead towards similar experiences. Then go talk to as many people as you can related to those different majors, both students and advisors to get a feel for the differences between majors and look at courses you’d take to see what sounds interesting.

I had entered as engineering because I knew I liked problem solving and project based work and I was good at math and science so everyone suggested engineering. However, once I started to think more about past projects I enjoyed and the roles I played on those teams, I realized that I never particularly cared for the CAD or 3D printing work, and another peer was the one the go to person for engineering type work. Meanwhile, I more often ended up in a management esk role and would lead tasks involving planning, communicating, and presenting, thus I switched to major in business because the courses seemed to be in line with those roles and skills – the actual topics/content material of those projects wasn’t the most important part in decision making even though it seems that’s the part people usually think about when deciding majors.

So maybe this advice will be helpful to someone, or maybe not, but the bigger reason this conversation is interesting to me is because I feel there is gap and a need here. Choosing a major is a big part of college, and while it’s totally okay to switch majors, wouldn’t it be nicer for everyone if less people needed to switch? Just because something has been normalized doesn’t make it not an issue…

It can sometimes be really expensive to switch majors if this then means you have to take more classes and maybe stay in school longer. Plus, some colleges are better suited for different majors, so if you had a better sense of your potential major in high school, then you would be able to look at schools with better resources for your interests.

I hypothesis that so many students switch majors because of two primary reasons 1) they don’t have the best understanding of their options and/or 2) they don’t have the best understanding of themselves. Additionally, I believe working to gain this understanding only after coming to college is too late for meaningful impact on the challenge of switching majors. If high school could do a better job helping learners with both of these issues before learners need to choose majors, I think this would lead to less people switching majors which would ultimately save a lot of money and time for hundreds of people.

How might they do this? Well since I always like to include at least a quick brainstorm when I propose challenges, here are some initial thoughts of mine not too fleshed out (and some of which probably already happen just not wide spread):

  • being more intentional about noting connections between class work and their relation to majors/careers
  • do the same activity I propose above which also could be tied in with learning about resume writing
  • hold major fairs where high school students can talk to people about different majors
  • when assigning team projects, don’t just create teams, but create roles on the team as well (whether the students create the roles or they are predesigned, having conversations about roles and responsibilities is important to thinking about future majors and careers)

A Critical Consideration of Project Work

As always, I’m so excited to say we have published yet another issue of Trailblazers!!!! But if I’m being honest, Issue 7 was the probably the most challenging production process yet and I’m mainly writing this post because I just really needed to reflect on it.

I’m a big supporter of transparency, so with that in mind, I’d like to point out that the Trailblazers team actually started this semester intending to take a short hiatus from publishing and spend that time re-examining our business structure in order to be a more sustainable organization in the long run. Having published our magazine for three years, we felt it was time to revisit our organizational foundation, direction, and strategy. With most of our high school team graduating, my co-founder transferring universities, and me being half way around the world, this felt like the right time to take a step back in order to remember why we started this magazine and figure out how we could do our work more efficiently.

I had just finished writing a whole article about this decision, defining “organizational foundation, direction, and strategy,” outlining the questions we would be analyzing, and describing our next steps. (Part of me almost wants to publish it despite it’s out datedness because I was kind of proud of how it turned out “business writing” wise.) My co-founder and I had agreed we would wait until after the high schoolers were back from their school trips and spring break to tell them our decision. Coincidentally though, one of the seniors reached out about needing to take a step back and the other (my sister) had already said as much, so we went ahead and spoke with them during the break and decided we’d make the news public when everyone got back.

And then, by the end of break COVID19 hit… so we didn’t “get back.”

This pandemic has affected every aspects of life, but one of the greatest impacts has been schools moving to distance learning. This rapidly changed the essence of “school” and brought into question foundational principles many have taken for granted like the very idea that school requires coming into a communal building and sitting at a desk and the role of parents in education.

The Trailblazer’s team knew we already weren’t in the best position to publish an issue this semester, and we knew the pandemic would bring it’s own challenges, but we also knew this was a time vitally important for young learner’s voices to be heard and we wanted to do our part to amplify a few of those voices.

So we got started late – not until almost the begining of May – and with no writers in the works and basically a team of only two (myself and my co-founder, though my sister did some feedback work and connected us to one of the young learners so we acknowledged her help as well in this issue), yet somehow, we pulled it off. We might’ve been behind on our intended schedule, and there are things we would’ve liked to have done slightly differently, but honestly I’m just proud that we made it happen and before the end of summer.

I’m grateful to all the learners we worked with that contributed their time while juggling so many other changing parts of life. I’m thankful for my partner in crime who worked with me while we were both taking full course loads this entire summer (also a Trailblazers first) and hosting virtual design thinking workshops, plus she got sick for a week and had her computer break down and still made things happen. And I’m hopeful that these stories give more insight into how young learners can tackle big challenges with resilience and grace.

I honestly don’t know what the future has in store for Trailblazers. After I graduated, the intent was for the founders to slowly become less involved in the process and just serve as mentors; however, we have struggled to make this a reality. I don’t think we will be able to do another publication with just our team of two and as a business student, I frequently question if our work is creating a great enough impact to counter the time and stress costs to keep this organization running- thus, how the original conversation of taking a hiatus to revisit our purpose and goals came about. We considered finding a teacher to partner with that wanted to make Trailblazers a part of their classwork, this way we could keep the magazine alive but also have a more consistent source of new production team members, but that plan kind of fell through. And since publishing Issue 7 we’ve not yet revisited these big questions.

Personally I don’t want Trailblazers to die, but I also know things can’t go on the way they’ve been operating, and I’m also aware that sometimes projects need to come to an end for a new one to start and I’ve never been good at making that call, so I’m at a cross roads. I wonder if my desire to keep Trailblazers alive is selfishly motivated and if maybe my efforts could better be spent elsewhere. But I also would like to believe there are at least some readers out there who appreciate our work and that the Trailblazers production team and spotlight learners have made a positive contribution to the conversations around the role young learners should play in the movement to transform education. The questions remain, if we stopped publishing would anyone care, would there be a loss of value, and even if so does that really imply we should continue, or have we made our point and is it time to say “good job, what’s next?”

I guess that’s all I can say about Trailblazers future for now until further conversations with the team. This was a crazy production process that involved a heavy and quick work load on top of a lot of other external and internal obstacles, but I’m glad we decided to move forward with the creation of Issue 7 and am open minded about whatever comes next on this journey.

 

Pilot Success: Virtual DT Workshop

Today was a big day! We hosted our first-ever virtual design thinking workshop with Wish for WASH, and it was great!!!

It was by no means a perfect event – I have lots of notes for improvements… – but as a pilot workshop, I was super satisfied with the outcome of this 3-hour design sprint around supporting the homeless during COVID-19. We had a low turn out despite a solid registration which caused the need for a lot of on the fly pivots to our flow for the day, but we got through it and the feedback we got was enormously helpful!

Overall, our participants really enjoyed the workshop and were also very supportive and impressed with our quick pivoting and ability to adapt to be both participants and facilitators in an attempt to make for fuller teams. They even said that they would’ve been willing to do a whole day hackathon with us/would love to in the future. This really surprised me because we thought a 3-hour online event might potentially feel too long to participants. We also got good feedback around how to better word our pre-workshop email around what to expect/prepare with, and as expected everyone wished there would’ve been a bit more time for more elaborate brainstorming/prototyping/pitching – which was somewhat expected after we had a bit of a late start and a slow warm-up with getting people to participate, so we knew the whole time that we were running behind, but also good to know in the future we should better anticipate this potentially slow start. 

The biggest changes I’d like to consider for the future (in case anyone else is interested in leading a virtual workshop and wants insight into what I learned):

  1. Try to get higher levels of registration in anticipation of some no shows / more intense and maybe more targeted marketing. Potentially even create the date/time of the workshop after gauging interest and feedback on times that would work well for those interested.
  2. Re-structure our planned amount of time per activity to account for a slower start as everyone tries to get to know each other without the little side conversations that would normally take place in person. (This way we have the full time for a good experiment and produce phase.)
  3. Have one person designated for watching the time and updating the facilitators about where we are in the flow relative to where we planned on being. I found it really hard to pay attention to timing (didn’t help that I also had to convert the time zone) while also leading the facilitation because I could only have so many things going on in my head at once. Furthermore, since I had to also be a participant (which was not originally the plan) I didn’t have downtime while teams were working to be able to think through the big picture stuff like we had planned on, but should not have counted on. While I knew from the beginning we were behind schedule, I think we could’ve better made up time earlier in the workshop/ better allocated time to activities throughout the entire flow if I had been more aware of just how far off we were.

(Also on a personal note, I think I might’ve done too much of the facilitating/coaching and wish I would’ve done better at finding ways for other W4W members to play a greater role in the leadership side of the workshop. The original plan was for me to co-facilitate, and therefore, lead 3 parts of our flow, and I was not supposed to be a participant at all – just float between breakout rooms supporting as needed – but then one person on our team last minute couldn’t make it and a coach was feeling concerned about leading a team on her own, so I was going to assist her but wanted her to take lead. Then with all of the last-minute changes that happened once we started and realized we had less than half of the people signed up, I ended up doing almost all of the facilitation in the full room with the way things got cut, and I ended up leading in the small team despite what I originally wanted… So I need to do better there.)

The most valuable part of the day though was just knowing that this kind of event is possible. We successfully ran a 3 hour full DT workshop online! THINK OF THE IMPLICATIONS?!?!?!?

  1. The success of this workshop means the potential for future opportunities has increased exponentially! We can have digital workshops with people from all over the world; that’s pretty spectacular to think about the ability to expand the scope of people aware of design thinking and WASH-related issues.
  2. Building off of implication 1, with successful online integration, imagine the diversity of people that can be brought together for future collaborations?!?!? The success of today’s workshop was greatly supported by our ability to get professionals in the WASH sector as well as experienced design thinkers together in a “room” with a bunch of college students with open minds and crazy ideas. Even when we can meet in person again, I think in some ways online workshops might still be a great way to facilitate DT challenges, because it makes it a lot easier to bring together people with so many different knowledge points. It also makes me wonder if when we get back to school in person if this experience with online learning will make people more open to things like virtual guest speakers. The mix between experts and students is truly amazing to be a part of and I think if we capitalize on this experience with online education it could lead to some great collaborations with schools in the future.
  3. To me this proves any class online can still be interactive. The idea that an online class needs to just be lecture-based or for quick check-ins and – the idea that drives me craziest –  that teamwork can’t happen online is a myth! It’s all about intentional design. We used the tool “Annotate” on Zoom to allow participates to write directly on our slide deck as if they had a printed version of the activities in front of them. We also encouraged a “use whatcha have” norm – so even though we might not all have access to the most high-quality prototyping tools, we enforced the idea that anything can be prototyping material if you are creative enough. So even though we were all in our own homes, we were all able to build physical prototypes and share them with each other. Furthermore, we used a combo of full room sessions and breakout rooms (to stimulate table teams) to allow for streamlined facilitation in addition to small group discussions. With this feature, we were also very intentional in our flow by limiting the number of times we had to switch back and forth between rooms. We found in our testing/experience with Zoom classes, that when you constantly go into breakout rooms for short periods of time it becomes too disruptive and time-consuming, so instead we made our flow work so there would be longer chunks all together and longer chunks in small groups this way both types of conversations felt meaningful. We even made a “cue-to-cue” document like you would in theater, which a document just outlining all of the times we have to change a technical component of the “performance” so that we could practice all of the tech changes and see if anything felt weird being too close together in timing.

 

Some final takeaways: 

I loved how inspired and happy everyone was after the workshop. One participant commented that she spends all day at work focusing on the issues caused by COVID-19 and she really appreciated having the ability today to note real human struggles and then brainstorm ideas rather than focus on all of the negatives.

I appreciated hearing our participants talk about wanting other co-workers of theirs to participate in future workshops with us, and they also wanted to work with us again.

And finally, I was really proud of our team’s work both leading up to and during the event. This couldn’t have happened without the hard work of lots of individuals each doing their part and be willing to totally change plans on the fly as necessary.

It was a great pilot! We learned lots and have great potential for the future!

(Just a few of our prototypes by our awesome facilitators and MoVe talk speakers! I wish I had more pics but haven’t been sent them yet/we want to make sure our participants approve of the pics before we post, so for now it’s just us.)

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If you’re interested this was our slide deck (without the MoVe talk slides because we found it easier for the presenters to have their own deck for screen share maneuver purposes). We used the DEEP process with tools designed primarily by MV Ventures (formerly known as MVIFI).

Getting Students to the Table

One of my primary goals for the future of education has always been to include more students, as well as other not as represented stakeholder groups, in the school decision making process. And I’ve found that a lot of educators share this sentament, and furthermore, there are a lot of educators who actively try to engage students in these conversations. And yet, we still don’t notice all that much student voice in education, and if it is present, it’s often the same few voices. Why is that?

Well this isn’t the full answer to this question, but something I’ve observed is that most students don’t respond to mass open invitations. Doesn’t matter if you blast it in a school email or try to “be with the times” and use social media platforms students frequent on, if it’s a general invitation, most students don’t respond. This isn’t something I can explicitly point at research to support (maybe it exists but I’ve not looked for it or seen it accidentally), but it’s something I’ve noticed from experience when trying to create opportunities for student voice.

I’ve experienced this when trying to get writers for Trailblazers, when hosting events, and when just trying to get people together for a causal but focused discussion. Every time I try a mass marketing method to try and get students involved with education initiatives, I end up with little to no responses. And yet, as a student myself, when I’m just going through life I will frequently hear other students say, “Oh ya, I have a lot to say about XYZ.”

So how do we capture those thoughts? How do we get students to show up to the table? Because it’s not a question of if they have opinions to share, it’s a question of how we hear them.

I didn’t realize that this was a unique insight until working on this project with OpenIDEO where I was involved in a conversation around trying to brainstorm social media marketing geared towards getting students to contribute to the design challenge. The brainstorming was discussing things like word choice, length, what slogans are cool now, what platforms to use, what if we could get students to respond on the platform then challenge their friends to do it and like all of those other challenges happening in quarantine, etc.

But I realized the conversation was likely pointless… I told them how I don’t consider myself to be gifted with social media or marketing but in my experience most students don’t respond to those kinds of campaigns for education stuff. And the other student on the team (who I had no relation to before joining this project), confirmed my opinions with a bit more socially minded perspective suggesting that kids use social media mostly for fun and entertainment and those challenges that get passed along are because they’re easy and goofy; an education challenge would require actual thought work and time, so student’s probably won’t engage with it.

I actually don’t know what kind of marketing they ended up going with because I didn’t really look out for it. Though considering I find myself more frequently viewing education social media than the normal student and I didn’t see it, I’m guessing not many other students did either if there was a specific marketing campaign geared towards students.

Yet, for some silly reason, even after this conversation, I still choose the same strategy for trying to get people to join my discussion/brainstorm session held earlier today about learning during COVID-19…

I posted on every social media platform I have including some group chats with students who have previously demonstrated interest in education transformation focused events, and even got some likes and retweets, yet, as I expected only 1 person actually showed up to the Zoom call today. And that was my best friend who I explicitly asked before setting up anything, “Hey does this time work for you, because then at least worst case scenario, no one else shows up and I can at least pivot the discussion to an interview with you.” My little sister did also show up about half way through, and the three of us did have a good conversation from a variety of perspectives about the challenges and opportunities with online learning. So I don’t think the event was a total bust, though it was pretty much exactly as I had cautioned the rest of the IDEO team.

So what to do about this?

Well, what I have noticed is that students are very likely to respond if they’re specifically reached out to. For example with Trailblazers, which I consider a long term individual comittment since the writing/editing process takes place over a number of weeks mostly independently, this means we try to contact teachers we know from different schools and get them to identify specific students we can ask to write. While in school, it looks like seeing students in person and 1:1 asking them to join a meeting then following up with the calendar invite. Even when trying to get teacher participation to join a student-teacher card game tournament, we were much more successful when we individually delievered each teacher a typed and stamped invite in person. And for short term projects, such as this design challenge it means I try texting individually all the other students I have info for.

Now I knew this information before sending out my mass media open invitation, so you may wonder, why did I still choose the mass media route anyway? Well, it’s a lot easier to send mass invitations, esspcially in regards to time which is something I have not had much of this past week with midterms being upon me. So trust me, I know it doesn’t seem like the most efficient method to individually send out requests/invites for students to share their thoughts/opinions/stories, but in my experience it has always proven to have a greater response rate.

It was the exact same message I shared on social media, yet when texted individually I got 12 responses with-in 30 minutes even when sent at 10:30pm/later at night and had at least 3 others specifically say they’d get back to me tomorrow. Versus my media posts had been out for a week and I had 0 people respond to my questions in the comments and 0 people show up due to those posts. (My best friend and sister only showed up to the Zoom because I specifically asked/bugged them about it and they confirmed as much.) That’s an over 1200% better response rate with the same message… And for some responses I was given paragraph long answers per question. That means students had a lot to say and were willing to take the time to say it, they just had to be prompted to thinking their opinions in particular mattered.

There’s a lot that can be claimed about what this says about my generation that we don’t respond to mass messages but will give lengthy responses to personalized messages. (Really not even personalized, just individually sent because I sent pretty much identical messages to everyone, just sometimes slightly changing the initial greeting sentence if I was texting a parent to get their child’s response vs a peer.) And again, perhaps I’m making this sound too generalized, but I feel like I’ve had this happen on a lot of occasions at this point (I can think of at least 5 examples off the top of my head). However, I don’t share this information to make claims about my generation, I’m just sharing an observation/theory that has proven to be true on numerous occasions:

If you want a greater variety of student voices involved in the conversation, try asking indidviduals directly rather than just, “Hey anyone who’s interested I would love your response to…”

Global Leadership

The other night I wrote a pre-flection for a seminar on global leadership, so, now that I’ve attended the seminar, I thought I should write my reflection.

Upon the start of the seminar, it was clear to me that our pre-flection assignment was intentionally focused on leadership as a whole so that the point could be made during the seminar about what makes “global leadership” distinguished from other forms of leadership. However, personally I found myself leaving the event thinking “Is there actually a difference between ‘global leadership’ and just ‘leadership’?”

We discussed the significance of global leaders needing to have cultural intelligence – the understanding that different cultures have different values, norms, beliefs, and often priorities, and the ability to adapt and respond to these differences in an appropriate manner. And apart from the nature of interacting with people from different cultures, we said some other key challenges to global leadership include communication barriers (which is somewhat included with cultural differences but emphasised since not everyone from a different culture also has a different primary language), the potential for false assumptions and their implications, and in many cases global leadership also includes a global team and then there can be additional difficulties with managing travel, timezones, and high amounts of virtual communication.

While I can see how these challenges may play a larger role in a global context, the reason I left the seminar feeling like there isn’t a difference is because I believe a lot of these challenges can also be found with domestic leadership, and cultural intelligence is important for everyone in my mind. It’s very possible to live next door to someone that identifies with a totally different culture from you, but if you work on a team with them I wouldn’t consider that a “global team”, yet the need for cultural intelligence and the challenges presented above would still apply. Furthermore, the skills/actions/behaviors we discussed to combat these challenges are also very important to domestic leadership: don’t be afraid to ask questions, approach decisions diplomatically, know your teammates, acknowledge leadership in others, be a life-long learner willing to unlearn, relearn, and learn new things every day.

It feels cliche to say, but the world is a lot more globalized then it use to be, and perhaps in this globalized world we can no longer distinguish between “global leadership” and just “leadership” anymore. Even when thinking about the degree of awareness needed in regards to global events, often times trends in one country affect another soon after, so even if your work isn’t directly related to global events, it’s important to be aware of what’s happening globally.

So perhaps needless to say, but I wasn’t blown away or particularly inspired by this seminar. I think I expected my thoughts to be a bit more challenged or reframed, but instead everyone in the seminar just kind of agreed with each other about everything discussed. I am also currently taking an entire class on international business, so maybe these kinds of conversations have just become somewhat of a daily habit and thus I’ve decensatized myself from the novelty of the conversation. It was interesting for me though to consider how perhaps the term “global leadership” has lost some meaning as everything becomes naturally more globally minded, so I’m glad I had that to take away.

A Star in the Sky

For the past few weeks, I have been working on the brainstorming and planning behind what it would look like to host a virtual design jam (a design thinking workshop/challenge). We hope to start officially marketing the event next week, and I was originally going to wait until then to post about how much I’ve been enjoying working on this project, but I decided I couldn’t wait. It’s been so much fun to plan because I have to rethink everything I would normally do and figure out how to adapt it for an online environment and that’s been a weirdly amusing thought puzzle for me.

Today we had a group meeting with all of our table coaches for the workshop and even then I found myself still catching more little details that could be adjusted to make for a more interactive and engaging experience. It seems that every time I revisit the plans I realize there is something else I could do to make the process more efficient, and I think it’s finally starting to take on a really cool shape.

What excites me the most about this idea is that if we can pull it off, then a virtual design jam will be another tool in our pocket that we can continue to build on in the future. Being able to host a workshop virtually would give us the option to connect with such a wider range of people in the future and that’s a really exciting thought. To not be bound by the limits of physical location is truly game-changing, and I’m not sure we would have had the push to try out this concept had it not been for this pandemic; it’s forcing us to think differently and try new things that have the potential for great capacity building.

This pandemic has been awful, but it’s nice to remember that even on the darkest night, a few stars can still be found.

Over-Planning

Last night, for the first time probably in the last year, I found myself up working past 11pm. And ever since I finished my original 100 days of blogging challenge, I have always given myself the rule that if I’m working past 11pm then I’m not going to try blogging at that point.

I easily could’ve had time last night, but I think the hardest thing for me with going into lockdown and then transitioning back to school has been trying to get used to all the changes to my daily routine.

When we went into lockdown, at first there was basically nothing productive that needed to be done. As long as it could be done in my apartment, I could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I could decide to stay in bed all day. I could decide in the middle of the afternoon to play flute for several hours. I could transition between random activities without worrying about not completing the previous project.

Now with school back in session, my environment is the same and, therefore, my external circumstances feel the same, so I have the desire to stay in bed, spend multiple hours on a hobby, and transition between activities whenever I’m urged to. However, I can’t really do any of these things now because I have actual deadlines again. Certain things have to be done at certain times and they have to be completed before I move on. So when I decide to spend two hours in the middle of the day playing the flute, it has the consequence of me then having to work past 11pm…

This has been a hard adjustment, especially since so little of the rest of my circumstances have changed. (As in I’m basically still in lockdown with everything being closed and me staying inside, it’s just that school started and there are conversations about things re-opening.) From the beginning, I decided to try to keep to what would’ve been my school schedule even though most of my classes are now pre-recorded so I could technically have any schedule I’d like. I thought this might help give me some consistency which would help make sure I actually watch the videos.

But then I have days like yesterday where my schedule gets all sorts of messed up because I was invited to a different virtual meeting that overlapped with a class, so I re-arranged my schedule because it was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to. While I believe I made the right decision, and honestly it made me appreciate the flexibility of online-learning where I could prioritize a work opportunity over attending class live (this class was actually one of my 2 classes hosted on Zoom, but the video is posted later in the day so I was able to still watch the entire lecture), the decision definitely contributed to me getting all out of wack with getting work done yesterday. 

So today I decided to bring back an old habit of mine to help with prioritizing tasks; I’ve taken a homemade whiteboard (printer paper in a sheet protector) and listed out all of the things I need to get done in the next two weeks in the order I think I should do them and what day I should work on what. Perhaps this is over planning, but I think that maybe a little over-planning will help me re-adjust to the fact that I do now need to get back in the mindset of planning ahead.

If you’re also struggling with prioritizing work during quarantine, perhaps over planning and scheduling could help you too.

Too Much Choice

Today I realized a trend in my learning habits: I don’t do well with projects that give me too much choice.

You know, the projects that are super open-ended and students can pick “any topic” or, in my case with business classes, “any organization” to do their assignment on. I’m the kind of person that likes to weigh out all of my options before I make a decision. So when an assignment has hundreds of possible options to focus on, I just end up getting stressed and overwhelmed and usually end up procrastinating the decision until I inevitably have to make a last-minute decision I’m not happy with.

Clearly, this is a trend because when I think back to all of the assignments where I’ve had ample choice, every single one of them has caused me this stress and overwhelming feeling – the “Big History” project freshman year of high school, the civil rights project junior year of high school, my organizational behavior project last year, and right now my marketing assignment.

Now I’ll admit, I know not every student stresses these choices to the same extent I do. Some people are perfectly happy with just going along with the first thing they think of, but I also know I’m not alone in my frustration with these situations. And when I connected these dots, I also realized that my feelings actually correspond with what psychology tells us about choice: people tend to panic when given too many options. This is why any time you’re tasked with making a survey you’re told to not make too many questions or give too many answer choices. There’s a reason multiple-choice tests typically have 3-4 potential answers… The science says too many options and people won’t choose at all.

This makes me wonder, how might we find the balance between giving students choices in their learning without giving an overwhelming amount of choices to choose from?

Student choice is great, but it’s only great in moderation. We don’t want to paralyze students in effort to give them more choices in their learning.

For example with my marketing assignment that I’m currently working on, I would have loved if our professor said, “You are consulting for company X. You can choose any challenge/threat, target market, user need, etc. to focus on in your marketing strategy suggestions, but this is the company you are consulting for.” There is still plenty of room for choice and creativity in an assignment like this, but the slightly more focused prompt, just by giving the name of a company, would make this assignment feel so much less grand. Plus let’s face it, in the “real world” you get hired by a specific company, you don’t go around making up ideas for just any company you want – unless you have a very unique business model in your organization… I love this kind of project of identifying user needs and brainstorming ways to meet them, it’s essential design thinking just being called “marketing”, but I don’t get the purpose of working without first starting with a specific user. And we would still have to do plenty of research and problem identification work in order to respond to this assignment, but we wouldn’t have to waste time figuring out what company (user) we’re working for.

I urge teachers to consider the issue of giving too much choice when creating assignments because it’s such an unnecessary cause of school stress.

Word Count

Most people would agree, the hardest part about writing an essay is often the word count. It’s harder to write something short because, in order to write something that’s short, you have to know exactly what it is that you are trying to say and figure out the most direct way to say it. I often don’t know exactly what it is that I’m trying to say. Thus I have a hard time keeping things short; I think a lot, talk a lot, and write a lot. It’s something I want to work on. So this post is only 100 words.

Don’t Stand Still

I wrote most of an entire post today then decided I really didn’t like it and deleted all of it. Then I was scrolling through some saved photos on my desktop and found this quote that I guess I posted at some point in the past.

I don’t know why I originally posted this quote, but I feel like it’s very fitting for right now, so I thought it could be worth sharing again.

It’s a hard time to make decisions for ourselves let alone those that impact others, but trying to avoid problems by making no decision is often the worst decision you can make. And making a decision purely out of peer pressure is the second-worst decision you can make. (I sometimes wonder if adults actually experience peer pressure far more than high schoolers despite what media may suggest.) So go forwards, backwards, sideways, or even diagonally, just don’t stand still and try to go the direction best for you, not just the direction everyone else is moving.