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.

Virtual School: Day 1

Today was my first day back to school.

My initial thoughts about online learning: it’s going to be a long 9 weeks…

It’ll be manageable, but it’ll be long.

Surprisingly only one of my teachers opted to do live Zoom lectures. The other four classes are all being taught through pre-recorded video lectures, with optional Q&A Zoom calls. Most of my classes also have a “tutorial session” in addition to our lecture time where we meet with smaller groups to go over examples and have discussions; for the classes that have tutorials, those are also being made optional but are done live on Zoom.

Today I had my one Zoom class and two other “classes” (ie I watched the pre-recorded videos for these two classes during what should’ve been my normal class time). For the Zoom class, being online made the lecture feel a lot longer than normal. I know this is partly because we’re still in this weird trial period of everyone figuring out how things work and getting adjusted, but I think I had a false hope that things would be smoother at this point after having the break time where people theoretically could get more acquainted with online learning structures.

In terms of my pre-recorded classes, I really appreciated how my professors broke down the lectures into chunks of videos that are each only 12-20 minutes long as opposed to trying to do a full lecture in one video. Even though the total length of the lectures is the same, the psychology facts really seem to hold up with the concept that the shorter video chunks make the material feel more digestible and actually makes total time feel shorter. Though I do miss actually being able to see the faces of my lecturers while they present. Plus I feel like now my lecturers really are just reading straight from the slides which is kind of annoying especially when I feel like I’m always being told that’s the number 1 “don’t do” while giving a presentation so it always bothers me when teachers do this.

The whole switch to learning from pre-recorded videos also made me think a lot about Crash Course videos, because some of the videos I had to watch today were really boring… Like my textbook was more interesting and yet the lecture was just re-iterating almost verbatim what the textbook says! Crash Course videos though are super engaging while also being educational; I binge-watched all of the World History Crash Course episodes before the AP World exam way back when, and I definitely think that factored into why this ended up being one of my best AP exams. I actually watched a few of the econ Crash Course episodes today to compare them to the econ videos my professor made for today’s lecture. This made me wonder, wouldn’t it be kind of interesting to have a class based on Crash Course?

Like what if instead of being assigned to read chapters out a textbook we were assigned a Crash Course video to watch and then used class time to just discuss and expand upon ideas. I don’t think this is a super far-fetched idea nor do I think it’s the most learner-centered idea, but maybe that’s why it intrigues me – it kind of feels like a baby step.

The idea makes me think of how people try to do flipped classrooms, but I’d like to imagine this might be better because I’m just suggesting instead of reading a textbook chapter at home, watch a Crash Course video at home. I think flipped classrooms start to fail when kids are asked to do more than just digest information at home – when kids are expected to teach themselves material well enough to then also answer homework problems on the material before ever talking about the info in class, that’s when things get dysfunctional.

(Tangent: I mention this because every experience I’ve had with flipped classrooms has been pretty awful. About half of the class doesn’t understand what’s happening and gets super stressed trying to do the work at home without knowing what’s going on and then they come into class confused and upset and ask a million questions which takes up the entire class period. This then makes all the kids who did figure out the concepts at home feel like they’re being held back because the entire class turns into asking questions about the homework they already finished and understood. I remember being in a class like this and it was so annoying that I ended up just doing the next day’s homework during class, and eventually, it was so bad I asked to go sit in the hallway and do the next day’s work because it felt more disruptive to my learning to actually be in the classroom.)

I’m so intrigued by this idea of using Crash Course instead of a textbook because:

  1.  It seems really simple to implement.
  2. Watching a Crash Course video is way more engaging than reading a textbook chapter and I’d imagine kids would retain the same if not more information afterwords.
  3. The role of the teacher would have to shift.

Currently, in a lot of classes, the teacher gives lectures that are viewed as supplementary material to the textbook or in some cases just a straight-up reiteration of the textbook as a spoken presentation instead of reading the information; either way at the end of the day the textbook is the primary source of information. If a teacher were to use Crash Course instead of a textbook, then class lectures would be expected to be the time for going more in-depth and therefore, become more significant because Crash Courses are designed to be summaries and overviews versus textbooks are designed to be full of details.

Doesn’t it make more sense to look at a summarized amount of information before class and then go into class to learn more details, versus look at a super in-depth version of the information and then go into class and just repeat that information? The information gets repeated because it’s assumed we didn’t learn it the first time, so why are we putting in that extra work anyway if the assumption is most students didn’t do or didn’t understand the work? The reverse of that being, if you were to assume we did read and understand the material, then why go to class to hear the same info? (ie the flipped classroom dilemma: you can’t say “learn on your own at home then have a discussion in class,” because not everyone will successfully learn on their own at home so you will never get to the point of having discussions; the class will just be re-iteration of the “homework.”)

The role of textbooks just really doesn’t make sense to me in this sense and it’s been especially apparent now that learning is online.

To me, I just feel like all of the big things we should know should be what’s talked about during class, and anything we do outside of the classroom should be designed to help us better understand what’s talked about in class. This seems obvious, but I feel like more often what happens is that the textbook is viewed as everything we need to know and then the class is just extra help to understand the textbook. This mindset is why so many college kids don’t go to lectures and instead just read the textbook on their own and take assignments, and I’m sure if they were allowed to, high school kids would do the same – clearly, there is a flaw with the purpose of school if this is the case.

So this brings me back to: the next 9 weeks are going to be long.

But to some extent, I do appreciate being back in classes because it has gotten me thinking more again and I’ve enjoyed the various thoughts of the day that come from working and not just trying to keep from getting bored.

Creative Constraints

I realized today that while being stuck inside I’ve been doing a lot of repurposing: couch cushions become gymnastics mats, bags of rice become weights, tissue boxes become phone tripods.

Even in the kitchen, I’ve been doing a lot of repurposing. I only have a mini-fridge in my university apartment, but there is a little section on the top designed to be colder, so I thought I’d try buying mango sorbet and see if it could stay frozen. It didn’t… It’s a container of mango mush now. So instead, I took liquid sorbet and turned it into a mango chicken curry dish. I’m actually super impressed that it came out decent because I was really just winging it without a recipe and hoping it would maybe work.

There have been lots of challenges during this pandemic, but we have to remember that new constraints can also re-enforce a creative mindset; a lot of great ideas would not exist without having to have figured out a way to work around great challenges.

Brain Training

Today was a busy day. I taught my weekly dance class (with a dance that was way too ambitious…), had a virtual coaches meeting, recorded 5 different videos of choreography stuff, compiled all the pictures I could find of my family in a tree, and finally started editing an essay I’ve been procrastinating working on.

Today was probably one of the most productive days I’ve had since being in lockdown mode. It feels pretty good to have gotten so much done, but now I feel like my mind is totally checked out. I suppose people can only be so productive in one day and then eventually your brain just needs time to not think. I also think like most muscles, with practice the brain can be trained to handle longer periods of strain before needing rest.

These past few weeks I haven’t really been training my brain much and I’m noticing now the evidence of this lack of brainpower practice at least in terms of stamina. I’ve still been doing some brain work over the break, even if it wasn’t school-related, but I definitely feel like I’ve gone a lot of days doing less mentally stimulating work than I normally would be even over the summer.

I’m curious how this will translate into starting classes again next week. I was telling a friend today that it’s kind of nerve-racking the closer we get to school starting again. The break was so long it almost feels like we were in summer vacation, and yet we’re going back with the expectation that we still know everything we learned a month ago and that we are ready to start turning in assignments in the first week. It’s like we’re going from driving 0 -100 mph at the drop of a hat.

I hope it won’t feel that way once we get started, and I know professors are in the same boat of feeling this weirdness of having such a long break then coming back to school. It’s just very uncharted territory and I’m curious how our heads are going to deal with it all. Hopefully, I’ve kept my brain in-shape enough to get by because I’m not exactly imagining a smooth transition.