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.)

Screen Shot 2020-06-01 at 8.50.07 PM

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).

A Stormy Day

I only took one semester off from classes, and yet somehow I managed to forget just how awful midterms are. There is a reason GT students call it “hell week.”

Eating dinner at 11pm because you lost track of time working on a report all day. Getting way less sleep than you should because you wake up early in order to start working and then can’t go to bed with all the thought of what you still have to prepare for tomorrow. Making one-page study versions of your notes with writing so small that your hand cramps for hours. Watching Crash Course while making dinner and cleaning dishes because you realize how little your professor actually taught you. And the stress! The overhanging cloud of darkness containing all lists to be completed, deadlines to meet, and tests with timers in the corner of your screen counting down the seconds till mass destruction. And knowing that due to the pandemic and the syllabus changes, pretty much every midterm, be it a test or essay, is worth between 35-50% of my overall grade so that’s a bit daunting in it of itself.

It’s a rough time, to say the least… In high school, we would refer to these kinds of moments as “the dark night of the soul.”

Then to make things harder, there was an earthquake this morning that caused the power to go out on different parts of campus, and thus the wifi shut down for almost 4 hours in the middle of the day. But school is all online…

Literally, if it wasn’t for Google Drive having an “offline” function, there would have been nothing I could get done this afternoon. I missed my lecture on Zoom, my textbooks are all e-books, my assignments are all either test on our school website or typed assignments that require research which most of us get from the web.

I was honestly baffled by the lack I could get done. I had accepted school being online, but somehow I don’t think I realized how dependent this made me to the internet. Especially since I don’t have cell reception in New Zealand either (I could get a sim card, but I’ve been surviving this long with just wifi that it seems silly to complicate things with figuring out that whole situation) so I also couldn’t communicate with anyone or even see the announcement about why the internet went down which also included the estimated time it would be back. I debated leaving the building to try and find a cafe with wifi, but it was also raining today and I had no way to search what was open or where has wifi and the other times the wifi has gone down it usually came back pretty quickly so I didn’t want to leave in the rain if it was just going to be for a little. Especially since I was able to be a little productive at least with Google Docs offline.

And I did end up most completing the draft of my giant report for marketing since I had already done the majority of my research and outlined on paper/whiteboards, but I had to leave holes throughout the draft of research, citations, and visuals I couldn’t add without the internet. Also this made my weekly plans all sorts of turned around.

Then I made pasta for dinner and accidentally poured boiling water all over my hand while trying to drain the noodles. Now my hand is burnt and I’ve had an ice bag nearby, stopping throughout writing this post to rest my hand. A weirdly appropriate end to this stormy day.

And that’s what it’s like to be a student during midterms. I remember now.

 

The Little Bugs

Throughout k-12 we learn about 5-paragraph essays. I understand why this format is used: it’s a simple way to be introduced to academic writing and when frequently writing timed essays throughout high school, there isn’t really enough time to adequately develop ideas past 5-paragraphs.

However, then you get to college and all of a sudden essays go from 600 words to 1500 words to 3500 words, and the 5-paragraph essay format just really doesn’t make sense to use at that point. But when are we expected to learn how to transition away from the 5-paragraph format? As a student it feels like this transition is just kind of thrown on you without much official guidance. It’s not even that you’re told not to use a 5-paragraph format, it’s just that it’s obvious that it doesn’t feel right when using that many words in an essay. So then everything you’ve learned about essay structure becomes warped. With a 5-paragraph essays we’re taught to introduce three main ideas in our introduction and those three ideas become the focus of each paragraph. Well, just because you’re writing more doesn’t it mean it makes sense to all of a sudden have 6 or 7 main points – then it becomes unclear what you’re saying. So how do you transition to writing multiple paragraphs about one key idea? It’s not really discussed, we’re just expected to start doing it based on gut feeling I guess…

Not to mention there is a whole other kind of academic writing that honestly hardly gets touched on at all in high school: reports. We talk about research reports and maybe look at one or two, we maybe even try to write one, but I remember even with the one time I was assigned to write a report in high school for AP Chem, the teacher’s instruction was, “look up examples online and base it on that.” So my peers and I kind of just winged it and I don’t remember getting much feedback on the matter. Yet we when we then were in college chemistry our first semester of freshman year, we’re all of a sudden assigned a research report every week after lab.

To be honest this isn’t a huge issue in the grand scheme of things that need to change with our education system, but sometimes it’s the little things that just really bother me. The little things show just how disconnected our k-12 and high ed programs are from each other. There are things like long essay and report writing that seem to never really get taught, and yet there are things like general US history that seem to be required every two years starting in 2nd grade and all the way into college… (I legitemently have a “US Consistitution requirement” in my online degree portal, and I took this course online and it was one of the easiest classes I’ve ever taken because I learned nothing new.) The little things on their own may seem insignificant, but they can be really bothersome for students especially when those little things start to add up.

Kylie’s Graduating?!?!

It’s honestly so hard for me to fathom that my sister, Kylie, is done with high school and heading off to college at the University of Pennsylvania so soon!!! Sometimes it feels like only yesterday that I graduated. Especially on days like today where soon after I wake up I find myself talking for an hour with friends from high school.

I feel so sorry for Kylie and all the graduating seniors this year that have to miss out on so many special moments associated with ending k-12. It’s hard to imagine high school without those last moments, but I know they have created their own very memorable moments during this time. I’ve loved seeing online all the carpool parades, surprise house visits thanking college counselors, and the artwork done by lower schoolers in celebration of the seniors and their college choices. It shows how strong and powerful a true community is when distance isn’t a barrier for sharing moments together. And that community lasts long after graduation day.

So to Kylie and all the other graduates of the class of 2020, congrats!!! You’ve worked hard and faced some crazy odds these past few months, and now it’s time to celebrate just how far you’ve come and how exciting your journey will be next!

The Next Moment

Today was my little brother’s 14th birthday. It’s insane to think that he starts high school next year! I’m starting to actually be able to have adult level conversations with him and that’s a very odd thing, especially since he’s the “baby” of the family. (And I mean my entire extended family as well.)

Sometimes I feel like him getting older is what makes me most realize how old I am. Being a junior in college is a crazy time because, with potentially only one year left of school, it’s when you have to start thinking about what you want to do next and where you want to go for that matter. It seems like there are a lot more options at this point in life than there really ever has been before. There are also so many questions to ponder, like whether to go to grad school or look for a job, and then, of course, there is the question of what grad school or what job, and where in the country or even world might that school or job be, and how long in advance do you need to start prepping your application.

I wrote the other night about the struggle of having too many choices, and the idea of thinking about what comes next in life is definitely one of those paralyzing choices. People say to try and “live in the moment,” and not worry so much about the future, but when you think about it, nowadays if we aren’t constantly planning a year and a half ahead then it seems that it can easily become too late for some opportunities.

As early as middle school we’re taught to start thinking about the future. One of the first big choices I remember is choosing what language to study, and if you choose the “wrong” language class in middle school and want to switch your choice in high school then you have to start the new language a year behind. Middle school was also the first time we could skip a level of math, but if you weren’t selected to move ahead based on your 6th grade performance then it was significantly harder to ever reach AP Calculus BC if that was something you later were interested in doing. In high school, we start choosing some of our classes, and in 9th grade, we are told to think about our entire 4 years in order to make sure we’re able to schedule the classes we want. Then junior year is when the college process hits full swing with SATs and research so that by the summer you can start touring in order to then apply the following fall. Then in college, if you want to do an internship or study abroad, especially if you want to do more than one experience, you really have to come into school already thinking about what semester you will do these experiences otherwise you could end up in a situation where you want to study abroad but none of the classes you have left to take are offered overseas.

So you see, it’s really hard to think about “living in the moment” when the past 10 years have always been focused on thinking about the next moment. At this point, I imagine that there will always be a little voice in my head asking “what’s next?” Granted, this voice often pushes me into some truly amazing opportunities, so I’m not convinced I would actually want it to disappear, though it can also be a cause of anxiety when knowing the potential options are so vast.

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.

The Lead-Up

We have one week left of our four weeks of lockdown, which also means one week left until my classes start again but now online. Since lockdown has begun time has moved in a weird way. Every day seems particularly long but every week seems to go by weirdly quickly since I have trouble keeping track of what day it is, so it seems like the break before re-starting school has kind of snuck up on me in a quick way.

It honestly seems crazy to think about going back to classes at this point. I was only in school for three weeks before everything shut down, and by the time I go back, it will have been four weeks off school, making for a longer break than school time thus far. This much time off from school and stuck inside has made for a very odd sense of reality and it’s hard to imagine school now restarting but isolation not ending. It’s been fine so far staying amused and relatively decent mentally during isolation, but I’m concerned adding school into this mix is going to make things much more difficult.

I think it’s going to be very challenging to find motivation to do school assignments for 9 more weeks while still in some variation of social-distancing. I’m basically going to be doing an entire semester of online classes which is something I’ve always intentionally tried to avoid so this is slightly terrifying to think it’s just about actually here. Plus this time of year is when all of my friends in the US are just finishing up the end of their classes, but I’m basically just starting the semester still. It’s going to be extremely hard to stay focused while all of my friends are done with classes, and I wasn’t really around people here long enough to make any close friends still in New Zealand who will also be in classes at this time of year. 

I’ve also really not taken advantage of this time off in terms of trying to get ahead on school work. I did some work, but mainly just for the assignments I know are due relatively soon after we get back since they were originally due for the week everything shut down. Most of our professors encouraged taking time to relax and assured us we’d have enough time to complete our assignments even if we waited until classes re-started to begin working on them, but at the same time they clearly were encouraging the people who did choose to get started early so very mixed signals were being sent… I wanted to be okay with not working on much school work during the break, but now that it’s almost time to start again the “over-achiever” in me is getting anxious about the fact that maybe I should’ve done more to take advantage of this “extra time.”

I’m worried now it’s going to be a decent bit of a reality shock going back to classes in terms of going from doing so little that I get bored and tired of watching TV even to now having to do daily work but still being at home. At least on a typical break, you’re still getting out of the house and doing stuff so when you go back to school it’s not literally going from 0-100 in average daily energy level. Plus the change of environment with actually going to school usually helps with the mind-shift, but that’s a luxury we don’t have right now.

I don’t have any sort of formal plan at this point for how I’m going to try and adjust to going “back to school” but still from home after four weeks of nothing. I wish this post could be about my fears and how I plan to overcome them, but that’s just not the case at this point. The best I’ve got is the hope that hearing from my professors again with our video lectures will help get me in a working mood, but I’m not exactly convinced this will be the case.

At first, when the announcement was made about everything moving online, it made me think that this would make the semester easier since all of the online courses I’ve ever taken have been the easiest classes I’ve been in, but now with every class being online, I’m actually thinking it’s going to be harder than a traditional semester. It’s pretty much all the same amount of work, but without the usual fun aspects of school – no random conversations with new classmates you’re meeting, no clubs, no group projects, no late hour study sessions, (for the lectures that are entirely pre-recorded) no wacky tangents based on a slighly off-topic question, and I’m sure there are more things that will be missed out on that I’m not thinking of at the moment.

Don’t get me wrong, I like most of my classes (I wouldn’t be in Econ if I didn’t have to be…), it’s just the thought of the assignments that are daunting considering I have an average of two big research papers in each of my 5 classes and I’m really just not a fan of research papers even though I know that’s a big part of college. I think this is because I prefer thinking through ideas in collaborative environments opposed to independent research. And now with classes being taught digitally, I know there are going to be even fewer ways to make new connections with peers in my classes and group projects were pretty much all canceled so even more is now riding on the research papers – my not preferred method of communication – which is just very stressful to think about.

But I’ve got one more week to figure out how to get motivated I suppose, because like it or not and believe it or not it’s almost time to start the semester again.

 

 

(Just to clarify, I probably wouldn’t write about anything I really thought I couldn’t manage, but part of that management process for me is being able to list out concerns honestly, thus the more pessimistic tone to this particular post.)

Range Finder

For the last 10 minutes of our Wish For WASH meeting today, I encouraged our entire team to do a mini design thinking activity with one of the tools we used called “The Range Finder.” The purpose was for each of us to think about the timeline of different goals on our subteams; goals right in front of us, beyond the trees, and over the mountain. I thought with so much uncertainty and restructuring happening right now with the shift to virtual teaming, this tool would be a good way for us to check-in that everyone is on the same page with how we view our short term and long term goals.

The tool was so successful that I thought it would be good for me to do a personal Range Finder as well to consider what my goals are for while we’re on break from school (the three weeks still), once classes start again, and once we finish the semester.

Right in Front of Me:

  • Finish sorting through all previously uncategorized blog posts of mine.
  • Make final edits on our Wish For WASH design thinking in the sanitation sector research paper.
  • Edit 5 new gymnastics songs.
  • Have working drafts of the 3 assignments I’m able to get started on already.
  • Choreograph a new dance every week until our gymnast can get back into the gym.

Beyond the Trees:

  • Publish Issue 7 of Trailblazers.
  • Video edit Jump Start Gym’s first-ever virtual gymnastics group routine.
  • Host the virtual Design Jam Wish For WASH has tentatively started to plan.
  • Obviously, complete my school work…

Over the Mountains:

  • Explore whatever more of New Zealand I’m able to – Hobbit Town and the glow worm caves are specifically two things I’ve not gotten to do yet I really want to see.
  • Reconsider Trailblazers business model in order to be more sustainable as an organization.
  • Do more in-depth research into options for post-graduation (ie grad school or work first – and where)

Student Gov’t: Beyond Dance Committees

Having only been in the New Zealand education system for barely a month, I must say the most impressive thing I’ve noticed is just how much student feedback is valued.

Granted I can’t assume my experience at this one particular university is true for all of New Zealand, just as I can’t assume my singular experience in the American university system is consistent throughout the country. However, in my experience, the student voice at my host university, Victoria University of Wellington, is incredible!

Since the beginning, I have been receiving emails from the student government asking for our feedback before we even started classes, we heard from almost every representative during orientation, and once classes did start I learned about an entire system they’ve established for class representatives. Every class on campus has 1-3 student reps that serve as the liaison between the students in the class, the lecturer, and the student government by helping to provide feedback on the course. I volunteered to be class rep for my international management course because I was curious about what the experience would be like (since we don’t have this role at GT) and also because I saw it as a good way to get to know my professor better (especially now that I”m a junior and am very aware of how soon I will need people to write me rec letters).

As a class rep, I have played a significant role in any changes that happen in this course both by my professor and the student government team. Just today I was asked by the student government team to help review change approval request from mine and other professors in regards to everything that is having to be adjusted for an online learning environment.

It was crazy to realize that every proposal gets reviewed by the student government and also to know how transparent they are about the role of students in the process. I know my home university has a student government and sometimes I hear about their involvement with big decisions, but I don’t get the sense it is nearly as known about or as integral to operations as it’s been here. Nor do I think it’s as simple to join student government at home, versus here it was as easy as just volunteering in class one day to agree to make a class Facebook page, have my contact info shared, and be willing to provide feedback on the course.

Furthermore, it was really crazy to think I personally actually get a say in if I think changes affecting assignments, due dates, and weight towards final grades were reasonable. I’ve never gotten this kind of voice in a class before.

And even before the virus became a global pandemic, my professor had been discussing with me to establish a time mid-trimester to meet up and discuss the course progress and any feedback from the students and also had consulted me when debating on pushing back an assignment due date.

Ever since the pandemic has become an issue in Wellington, the student government has been doing even more very evident work. Everything from calling to check on students still living on campus to writing petitions to local government on behalf of students about grievances in regards to certain policies that were being put in place by the university administration in efforts to mitigate the effects of the virus.

Like I mentioned before, I’ve only been here for a month, and yet I’ve seen the student government so involved in every aspect of university life here. Again, I’m sure the current global situation is somewhat impacting how I’m observing student government here. Considering there is so much affecting students right now, it makes sense the student government is particularly involved at this time. However, even just the fact that the role of “class reps” exists leads me to believe the student government is always highly involved here and student voice is particularly valued more than I’ve noticed at other schools.

I think this role of class rep is a great concept and I’d love to see more universities and even k-12 schools implement similar systems of capturing more direct student voice in regards to the actual academics that happen in learning environments. So often I find that student governments just play a role in things like planning committees for dances, giving tours, and maybe helps with the process of giving feedback on potential new hires. Or even worse, sometimes student governments are merely a status symbol and the representatives don’t do anything beyond giving a platform speech, then it’s a popularity contest for who gets to put “student representative” on their college activity list – because why care about who you’re voting for when you know they won’t do anything? That’s how most students at my high school viewed the student council. Even in schools with more involved student governments, rarely do I find that students have a role in decisions around the actual academics part of schooling such as reviewing course syllabi, giving input on courses for future years, or being consulted about changing class structures mid-semester.

I like the role of a class rep also because it creates an easy way to provide teachers with verbal feedback. End of the year surveys are great for capturing large amounts of data, but they hardly capture the specific little pieces of feedback that are just hard to describe with multiple-choice options. And it makes a huge difference when a supervisor says “here’s what feedback we think is important based on student answers to this survey,” versus actually hearing the feedback from a student directly. Good or bad, I know feedback is more impactful when coming directly from the user.

Being here in NZ this past month has really made me reconsider what I imagine as adequate student voice representation in schools. How might we expand the role students play in decisions being made on campus?

Short Term Communication

If there is one thing that has become blatantly obvious with our current situation, it is the importance of good communication. Good communication meaning frequent and clear communication.

Sometimes it’s more important to just say something than to try and wait until you have everything figured out. People just want to know that they’re being thought about and that their needs are being considered in the discussion of big decisions.

When there isn’t communication, that’s when people panic, get fearful, and then rumors start. And that’s how things only get worse.

At the same time though, if you are going to communicate, make sure the message is clear. If a decision is made, be clear that the decision will stand or be clear that there is even a chance the decision may have to change, and note what could happen that might create the need for the decision to change. The worst thing is to be told a decision and then a week later get new communication that entirely conflicts with the original message and the message doesn’t even acknowledge the discrepancy. This just makes people mad and causes immediate backlash.

While I am aware of the importance of frequent and clear communication, I’ve realized these past few weeks that not everyone is. I understand that everyone is stressed and working hard to make quick decisions right now, but sometimes it seems as if people just don’t understand how important communication is in order to keep communities together. And I’ve noticed this both with people I depend on for communication and people I work with to communicate to others.

This made me wonder, in school, we spend a lot of time on long term communication methods – mostly with writing papers though also with presentations. We work a lot on adequate preparation, research, and formatting in order to create compelling arguments. How often though do we spend time on short term communication best practices, like communication via email, text, or even social media messages?

In a world where technology is becoming increasingly used in team dynamics, it seems to me like having practice and proficiency in these short term communication tools may be just as important as knowing how to write a well-researched essay. We use these communication tools every day and using them properly is an essential part of successful teams, successful community support, and successful organizations.

When I went to college, one of the most frequent compliments I got from professors was, “Wow, you really know how to write a professional email. Thank you.” And what I realized is, the reason professors were so impressed with this skill is because many students don’t have it. The thing is, they still don’t learn it in college… Sure professors may comment in their syllabus about wanting well-written emails and there is probably an “academic success” workshop or two on the subject, but with something as important as communication, isn’t that worth being taught in the classroom to ensure everyone learns the skill? Furthermore, I personally think this skill should be intentionally taught in high school to maximize time for growth and development with this competency.

If we want to receive frequent and clear communication, then we need to remember to teach it.