A Conversation of Values

Today in my human resources class we were talking about the different ways people view work and the importance of  “good work” and a “good workplace.” The idea of “good work” entails 6 key components:

  • intrinsically interesting
  • varying/challenging tasks
  • opportunities for personal achievement and fulfillment
  • teamwork with autonomy
  • pay and job security
  • investment in human capital

These factors are important because “good work” leads to higher levels of job satisfaction, commitment, and motivation which leads to better job performance and overall a more productive business, so it’s mutually beneficial to employees and employers to make a good workplace.

Naturally, me being me, I saw these 6 components and wondered, is school a good workplace? For all stakeholders (admin, staff, teachers, students, parents)?

I mean if we know incorporating these elements leads to better performance based on this business research, to me it seems like a no brainer that we’d also want these opportunities at school.

I’d argue that I see evidence of these components in school, but I think what’s more important is the question of if they are valued. Ie, do we value students being intrinsically motivated at school? Do we value creating a variety of challenging tasks? Do we value-creating opportunities for personal achievement and fulfillment? Etc.

And when I say value, I don’t just mean we appreciate when these things coincidentally happen, I mean do we have goals and action items put in place to ensure they actually happen?

Some may say yes, some may say no, either way I think this framework is an interesting way to think about the kind of environment we’d like to see in school workplaces.

And I know it’s hard to brainstorm goals and action items around concepts like “intrinsic motivation” – it’s something that’s been personally stumping me for years, to the point where I think I’d actually really enjoy partaking in research study around student motivation one day. But maybe sometimes we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves to try and figure it all out, I think what’s important first is to just know what you value and why and claim those values so others know what you value and why. Then we can start worrying about how to make it happen. But a conversation around values is something I think every school needs to have, and more frequently than just when there’s a change of leadership.

Student’s Thoughts on Online Learning

As I explored ideas posted on the OpenIDEO platform about re-imagining learning during COVID-19, I noticed that there was a lack of student voice in the conversation, and yet students are the primary users of our education system. As a student myself, I’m very aware that at this time of year, when everyone is finishing up final exams and getting ready for relaxing in summer, most students aren’t keen to go on a site like OpenIDEO to continue discussing school right after they finished the year.

So I thought I would lower the entry barrier into this conversation by texting a bunch of my friends (7th graders-college juniors) 3 simple questions to get an idea about their opinions of online learning. I also set up a Zoom chat for those that wanted to go more in-depth on the conversation where we did a more personalized interview and also a brainstorming session in response to OpenIDEO’s three areas of remote learning, equity, and community. Then I analyzed all the responses, found some themes, and now wanted to share on the behalf of those 23 students who contributed.

 

Research Questions

The three questions I asked these learners to respond to are as followed:

1. What’s your biggest frustration/what’s driving you crazy about online learning? 

2. What’s your favorite part?

3. It would be better if…

 

Trends

The three greatest trends were students being:

1. Frustrated by their own lack of work ethic/motivation/focus

2. Enjoying the flexibility in terms of space and time offered by online education.

3 Wishing assignments and syllabi, in general, were more greatly altered to better match an online learning environment.

 

Analysis

As we analyze these trends a bit more carefully, it makes me think of these “How might we” statements for looking towards the future of education:

HMW internally motivate students to show up and participate in school? Teachers currently have less power dominance over students when not physically interacting; typical modes of enforcing attendance and participation such as threats of detention, silent lunch, suspension, etc aren’t feasible in an online environment. Now that these threats don’t exist, students are finding themselves less motivated which leads me to believe that the school work itself and the prospect of learning alone are not intrinsically motivating students. Wouldn’t it be great if students actually wanted to come to school and enjoyed participating in school work? The way to encourage life-long learning is to foster intrinsic motivation to learn – that would be a pretty novel purpose for school if you ask me.

HMW provide flexible learning opportunities post-pandemic? The mid-semester shift to a different learning environment on top of all of the other social-emotional priorities that have arisen due to the pandemic has been predominately challenging; however, the unquestionable best part has been the flexibility it has allowed students with regards to their education. Students have loved being able to wake up late and feel fully rested, knock out classwork while cozy in their beds, and then “get on with the rest of my day doing all the other things I want to do.” The ability to plan personalized schedules and work in a setting of choice has been amazing for so many learners, so now that we’ve seen how much students love this flexibility, how might we continue to provide it upon returning to our schools?

HMW effectively use technology in the classroom? The design for assignments to be better adjusted to an online structure was noted as a frustration, a positive element, and a wishful opportunity. So students loved the teachers that were adaptable and used going online as a way to incorporate new elements to their class in meaningful ways, and they were bored and/or frustrated with those who did not. The difficulties some teachers have had with adjusting to a new technological mode of communication raises an important question about how we can more effectively incorporate technology into our schooling even post-pandemic. What students warn us of though, is that technology can’t just be incorporated just for the sake of saying “I used technology!” It must be incorporated intentionally and meaningfully – there must be a true purpose for why the technology is further enhancing the learning experience.

Beyond the Main Trends

In addition to the primary trends, I found three key sub-trends that emerge when looking at how some of the trends interact with each other.

1. Re-thinking assessment (Responses on test cheating, not wanting tests, wanting more collaboration, and more project work.)

2. Maintain a sense of community (Want more socialization, interaction, and meaningful conversations with peers and teachers.)

3. Use a whole-child approach to education (Frustration with expectations not changing, eyes hurting from so much screen time, new challenges such as moving and schooling with family.)

 

Read More

If you want to read student’s full responses as well as my more in-depth analysis of the sub-trends, I have added two additional documents as attachments on my OpenIDEO post.

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…”

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.

The Evolution of an Idea

As a follow up to last night, where I choose to read old blog posts instead of writing a long new post, it seemed only right to reflect today on what I read.

One of the posts I revisited I call “The Gymnastics Theory.” I wrote this post back in 2014 but the concept of how the future of education could be influenced by the world of competitive gymnastics is something I frequently come back to. It was interesting to read this post that outlined some of my original thoughts on the topic, and because it’s a topic that comes up often for me I thought it would be good to reflect on what’s changed since my 2014 version of this theory.

Since 2014 I’ve definitely built on the theory quite a bit. In particular, a big difference is simply in my terminology. In this post from 2014, I talk about learning being “skill-based” and I’ve now realized this was my simplified way of saying that gymnastics is an example of an already existing, successful model of systemic competency-based learning. In fact, the main reason The Gymnastics Theory continues to come up for me is because I’ve found that it’s a helpful example when trying to explain what competency-based learning could look like. At a few conferences now, I’ve been given feedback that even for someone with practically no understanding of gymnastics, (ie. you maybe watch it in the Olympics and that’s about it) this was an easy to understand example for contextualizing competency-based learning for people just learning about this concept.

Furthermore, I’ve done a lot more thought into the division of groups in gymnastics versus traditional schools. In my old post, I simply mention how gymnastics levels are not determined by age and how practice groups may not be the same as competition groups because by practicing with levels above and below you there are more opportunities for peer-peer mentorship and leadership. All of these facts are still very true and relevant, but now I’ve taken this a bit deeper and started to imagine how the entire structure of gymnastics levels and transitioning between levels works and how it’s comparable with education.

I don’t want to go too in-depth into this right now, maybe I’ll finally get around to making a more official written update on my entire theory sometime soon… but for now, I want to focus big picture on what’s changed not all the specifics of my thinking. The summarized idea though is that gymnastics actually has two somewhat parallel tracks that gymnast can take depending on their needs/what they hope to get out of the sport, and between the two tracks there are three different types of levels designed to more efficiently test skill proficiency at different points in a gymnast career. I’ve done a lot of imagining about what it might look like if education followed a similar structure.

Finally, I think the biggest change in my thinking in my commentary on school not being a competition. Now that I’ve had 6 more years being in school and gone through the college process, I totally disagree with 2014 Anya. School is a competition. It might not be advertised that way, and we might even be explicitly told sometimes to not think of it that way, but at the end of the day, we’re always competing. This semester even, my Marketing 101 professor spent the first 10 minutes of class emphasizing how we are always competing for grades, jobs, promotions, etc so we might as well get in that mindset now and be ready to fight for the win. People are always being compared to others because everyone wants the best candidates for their team. School might not have formal competition events for assessment purposes, but it’s definitely a competitive atmosphere. I don’t think that has to be a bad thing, personally, I find competitions to sometimes be a great motivator, but it has to be healthy competition in order to be motivating and that’s something that school isn’t always great about creating the environment for. Again, I’ve done a lot more thinking in the realm of what “healthy school competition” looks like, but my thoughts are not fully formed yet so that’s as much as I’ll say for now.

Overall, I’m very amused by how much has grown and changed with my thinking since this original idea came about in 2014. These two worlds of gymnastics and education are both very close to me and it’s always fun to make connections between the two. Maybe re-reading this old post is the prompt I’ve been waiting for to finally attempt writing out all of my thoughts on the topic – and figure out a more articulate way to write them, because I’m sure this post is kind of funky just due to the fact that I’ve been thinking about this concept for so long that it’s getting all jumbled trying to come out of my head now.

(I drafted about three more paragraphs on my “summarized” version of the levels structure description alone before realizing that was way too much for this post… so trust me when I say there is lot’s more. I mean I didn’t even mention the scoring system.)

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.

Missing Schedules

Today was one of those days where I feel like I did a lot and yet nothing at all.

I have found that sometimes the combo of extra time and being aware of so many things that need to be done just creates disfunction and lots of circling between different projects. Today I worked a bit on a research paper, a bit on school assignments, a bit on choreography, a bit on conditioning, a bit on organizing old videos, a bit on a graduation thing for my sister, and a bit on my global leadership program work, but while I know I dabbled in a lot I didn’t complete anything which makes it feel weirdly not productive of a day even though I did so much.

I’ve always had this issue. I think it’s because I’m a very associative thinker so I make connections between different projects I’m doing and then it makes me want to work on that other project while the new idea is fresh in my head. I struggle to find a balance between working on a lot and working intensely on one thing.

I think there is value in working a little bit on a lot sometimes because it helps keep me stay engaged in working in general when the topic and medium change, versus getting bored with working on something and then feeling too burnt out to work on anything else. However, there can also be value in just sitting down and finishing one thing, because then it’s not constantly looming over you as something that still needs to be done and energy and happiness can come from the achievement of completing a task that needs to be done.

I miss having a bit more of a schedule dictated by someone other than just me because schedules can help manage this balance since more often than not there is a specific time to work on a specific project. This is why I like working in teams and constantly stay busy and involved, because with teams/clubs we have to make specific meeting times for everyone to be together and then I have a designated time to make sure certain work gets done rather than letting my mind wander on its own.

I knew I always liked to stay busy, but I think isolation has helped me realize how a big part of why I like staying busy is because of the structure it provides to my everyday life. I mean I love time every now and then to just go off on mental tangents and work on the weird projects you wouldn’t usually think about, but now 3.5 weeks of mental wandering makes me miss schedules and structure.

Little Questions, Big Changes

I don’t even know the last time I watched TV live. Nowadays, everything is either online or recorded. But my aunt was a supporting character in the Law & Order SVU episode that premiered tonight, so I figured out how to watch it live.

I then discovered that USA channel is currently doing a Psych marathon which is one of my favorite shows! I’ve been addicted all day…

It’s funny how we’ve all gotten so used to choosing exactly what we watch and when we want to have it, and not having to deal with commercials. I had forgotten what it’s like to be surprised by not knowing what’s going to come on next and to get annoyed by cliff hangers right before commercials and not spend 30 minutes debating what to watch.

It’s funny because when you think about it, society was hugely altered by seemingly little changes. One day someone said, “What if there weren’t commercials? What if people could choose what they wanted to watch when they wanted to watch it? What if we offered online viewing options?”

Now it’s hard to remember how recently is was that online streaming services became available, and with the current crisis, these services have played a huge role in keeping people amused. It’s amazing how a few simple questions and some minor adjustments can turn into game-changing ideas.

Team Bonding in the Classroom

Today was team bonding day for our gym Zoom call. I’m glad I was even able to make it, especially since I forgot to turn on the outlet that charges my phone last night so my alarm didn’t go off this morning…

I found it funny how you can be on a team with the same people for years, and yet somehow still not know basic information about them. Things like where people were born, when they started the sport, how many siblings they have, favorite x,y,z, etc.

Today’s team bonding session was all about discussing the answers to questions like this and it was really fun. I liked getting to learn more about the kids I coach from a whole-child perspective. You never know when it could come in handy to know someone’s favorite animal is a narwal and they were born in Texas having started gymnastics as soon as they could walk. The more you know about a person, the more you can empathize with them and the better you can work with them.

During the normal season, we hardly do any team bonding and it’s something we’ve always regretted, so I truly appreciate this time for allowing us to start implementing this new norm of taking time to value who we are as individuals and a team beyond just gymnastics.

It’s also made me wonder, what if classrooms considered themselves a team? I mean when you think about it, a class is a group of people working together for a year to hone their skills in order to overcome various challenges related to their discipline. That’s pretty similar to how I’d define any sports team…

And yet, in a classroom we often don’t act like a team. There isn’t typically an emphasis on group norms, bonding, and support for each other’s learning and progress. Even in gymnastics where we compete against our teammates, we still talk about the importance of working together in practice, cheering each other on during competition, and doing non-judged group activities to help encourage unification and love for the sport.

I guess it’s assumed in a class that kids already know each other because they’ve been in school together for years, but even when you’ve known people vaguely for years, each new arrangement of people creates different team dynamics.

What if classes spent more time during the year intentionally bonding as a class and thinking about how they will support each others’ growth throughout the year? The more you know about our classmates, the more we can empathize with them and the better we can work with them – and this goes for teachers too. Some teachers are great about getting to know there students, but what if this was even more intentional at a cultural level for the entire school vs just the occasional teacher that everyone knows really takes an interest in learning about all the students? For example, what if the first week of class was all about “class bonding” and setting the norms for the year and thinking about how everyone can best support each other – teacher included?

I wonder how learning might improve if we took more time to know our “teammates” as whole people outside of just the subject material.

Staying Mentally Active

My Engineers Without Borders team had our first virtual meeting today. Despite the wasted time spent figuring out technology and the sadness around how many of our projects are now delayed with the new circumstances, I felt like it was a rather productive meeting.

Maybe that’s just because I realized how much I’ve missed having meetings. I miss collaborating with people on new ideas and trying to make stuff happen. Sure it can be fun to have time to do stuff on my own like messing around with my flute or categorizing old blog posts, but to me, nothing beats a good brainstorming session with teammates.

I’m fortunate that my sub-teams work isn’t too affected by the pandemic since we’ve just been working on a research paper about the role of DT in the sanitation sector, so our work has always been online. However, one of the events our team puts on each semester did have to be canceled – our semesterly “Design Jam” where we host a design thinking workshop around WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) issues for the GT community.

Sometimes though, constraints can lead to great creativity, so now we are playing with a new idea: what would it look like to host a virtual design challenge? We think it’s possible, so we are going to run with it a bit and see what we can come up with. Today it was merely a thought, but next week we plan to flesh this thought out a little more to get a better sense of all the pieces involved in doing something like this. I’m really excited to see where this goes, especially since I’ve not heard of many if any virtual design thinking workshops, so it would be cool at a minimum just to see if it’s possible and how that could grow into so many new opportunities.

I’m glad that this week is starting to bring more structure to my time social-distancing, between my EWB meeting and more gymnastics video chats starting to become regular. I think this structure and more consistent interaction with people around new ideas is going to be helpful for keeping me mentally active and engaged because you can only challenge yourself so much – the best challenges for yourself are typically the ones you can’t think of on your own.