Forwarding the Movement as an Outsider

I was asked to write this article/blog post over the summer for a fellow learner-centered practitioner, though I’ll admit I’m not really sure what happened with it; however, I was thinking about it today and figured I could at least post it on my own blog!

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I graduated in 2017 from a recently turned learner-centered environment where I was fortunate to be highly involved in the process of transforming the school, but unfortunately higher ed is not so learner-centered. That was one of the biggest shell shock moments for me about entering college: going from a normal day involving working with clients from the CDC, City of Sandy Springs, and Chick-Fil-A to name a few, to a normal day now becoming sitting in long lectures and taking multiple-choice tests that make up 80% of your grade. As a learner now out of the k-12 system and in a non-learner-centered environment, I sometimes find myself feeling like an outsider in the Education Transformation Movement; however, as time passes I have come to realize that there are ample ways to forward the movement even as an “outsider.”

Despite moving into a less learner-centered environment, I always knew that I wanted to stay involved with this movement to transform education. I didn’t want to go into education as a major though because I believe part of the problem with our current education system is that we’re still teaching new teachers how to teach in a traditional way. Therefore, I’m studying Business Administration with a concentration in Leading and Managing Human Capital. I believe that if we think of schools as an innovative business it will help with the paradigm shift. I hope to learn more about change theory, risk management, social entrepreneurship, 21st-century leadership, and more to then apply that knowledge to help consult with schools trying to transform to a more learner-centered model.

Apart from my studies, I believe any educator wanting to transform the education system has a responsibility to stay connected with the larger national conversations happening on this topic – myself included. Being in college, it is harder to find opportunities to create change in my personal learning environment, but through social media, conferences, and writing articles I can still help effect change in other learning environments around the country.

I continue to stay involved with the national community primarily through Twitter and Slack conversations, attending conferences, blogging almost daily, and being Editor-in-Chief of Trailblazers, a student-driven magazine about the Education Transformation Movement. I believe as a young learner who graduated from a learner-centered environment, I, in particular, have a unique perspective that needs to be shared. A few years ago I stated in a blog post, “When teachers talk about learner-centered education people ask, ‘Where’s the evidence of this working?’ but when students talk about learner-centered education, we are the evidence. It is working.” – The Life of Pinya This quote has kind of served as my north star for the past few years. People want to know about the evidence, so I need to share my stories to prove just how much learner-centered education is bettering the lives of all kinds of students.

Since going to college, I have realized just how much more prepared I am for the world due to my k-12 experiences in a learner-centered environment. I have a deeper sense of self and can articulate my passions and goals in a comprehensive way. I have gotten feedback from professors about how impressed they were with my ability to send professional emails even as just a freshman. I have had the initiative to set up dozens of interviews with advisors to help me figure out my major. I sincerely believe I wouldn’t have had any of these important life skills if it wasn’t for my learner-centered high school; in my experience, traditional schools don’t spend a ton, if any, time on educating students about things like self-awareness, goal setting, professional communication, and taking initiative.

My life has been bettered immensely due to my participation in a learner-centered school and I hope one day that all students get the opportunity to learn under a more innovative model of education. I stay involved in the world of education for the future of those students – the ones who may not even know there are other options of schooling available. I’d love to see higher ed change their ways too, but for now I choose to focus my efforts on k-12 where I have the most background knowledge, even if I’m not in a k-12 environment. I hope other learners, of all ages, can come to realize that your environment doesn’t determine the level of participation you can have in the Education Transformation Movement. It’s always possible to effect change; start by sharing your story.

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My Opinion on Online Classes

Online classes aren’t really a new thing, yet they seem to still get perceived as new which is odd to me. I officially got registered for the online version of a required CS class today and as I was walking with an upperclassman she asked me, “As a student with a passion for learner-centered education, I’m curious about your opinion on online classes.”

I guess this title is a bit of a misnomer because in actuality I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other about online courses.

I use to very strongly be against them, but seeing as today I signed up for my 3rd ever online class, I realized that opinion clearly changed and now is more neutral.

I was against online classes because the depth of learning isn’t as powerful in an online class. I mean if you ask most students they’ll flat out say online courses are easier- that was at least a factor to my reasoning to register. Online classes may be interactive some, but the material is set and rigid and pretty surface level since there are no conversations where deeper questions can be posed and explored. The material is all given to you up front and you can finish as quickly as you would like/are able to; there is no “well the class seemed really interested on this topic so we pivoted the schedule to do a whole project unit where we came up with plans and prototypes and pitched to board members…”

You don’t sign up for an online course because of the content. I signed up for CS online course because the in-person course happened at a time I didn’t particularly like with the rest of my schedule. It meant I would have to rush from CS class across campus to Marta twice a week all semester and then uber to the gym to still be a bit late to coaching the practices I help with.

That’s really the big plus I see about online courses: time and location flexibility. That’s the reason I’ve now signed up for three different online classes since high school. It was always an issue of scheduling where I needed to take a class but didn’t have room in my busy schedule and the online option ended up being the perfect compromise.

So from the perspective of a student trying to get a credit out of the way and get a decent grade while doing other things, online classes are great. However, when I think about the quality of learning happening in most online classes, I find it to be sub-par.

It’s pretty easy to cut corners in online classes, and when you’re already not interested in the topic and just taking the course for credit sake, there’s little motivation to not want to just “get through it” as fast as possible.

Furthermore, I believe that a huge part of learning revolves around the social interactions and relationships built during the learning process. It’s really hard to successfully achieve those relationships in an online environment. Again, partially because there’s no real incentive to strive for that deeper level of learning. I consider myself to be an intrinsically motivated learner and a pretty good student, (yes, I believe those are different thing, but that is a different conversation), and even I don’t find myself caring to make the extra effort in an online course to really make it a remarkable learning experience; I just want the credit on my own time.

Obviously, this is all my own personal opinion, and some kids may, in fact, make that extra effort, though in my experience few do.

As I told the friend who asked me about my opinion, thus inspiring this post tonight, I believe that online courses are still a work in progress. I don’t have a strong opinion yet because I see the potential in them to be a great learning tool, though at this point I think they are just a great tool for the traditional system where learning has a more cut and dry vibe. The flexible time and space component to online courses is learner-centered in nature, though the context, course material, and assessment structure is still very much not.

Long Term Policy

These past few days have been a lot to handle. Gymnastics training in Tennessee, moving into my dorm, having a first assignment before classes started, and then today was our official first day of sophomore year at college.

I couldn’t blog with the horrible wifi at the camp this weekend, but I have lot’s to say on a later date about how much I learned at this training and how I was yet again hooked on gymnastics. However, today I thought I would post my first assignment which I was emailed about last night to be due at noon today. It’s for a public policy course that I’m probably dropping for a number of reasons. I signed up for the course because I thought having a policy course in my toolbox could be useful in the education world; however, the course was not as expected when I attended today and my lack of interest and already full workload lead me to think I should drop it since it’s just a free elective random class.

I realized that there is a reason I’m not a public policy major- I’m not very interested in it and could tell when I started getting distracted and overwhelmed in class. This also made me think about how while it may be nice to have a class like this, all about long-term policy decision making, it’s okay for me to not have everything in my toolkit and to let others bring those skills to the table.

Ironically my favorite part of the course was actually this first assignment which had stressed me out so much the last 24 hours. We were asked to write a creative narrative thinking about what the average day for a future student of Georgia Tech would look like in 2048. Besides being stressed about trying to finish, I enjoyed the process of future thinking about education and what changes might occur or will at least be protested. My vision I think is rather hopeful and positive compared to the more negative approach some of my peers seemed to believe in terms of how technology would affect our lives in the future. In fact, I think the hardest part of this assignment was trying to balance between dreaming about what I want the future to look like ideally and yet being realistic about the potential downfalls that could occur.

Without further ado, my first assignment of the year:

 

In the next thirty years, by 2048, the education system will have to go through an enormous change in order to keep up with the reality of life that kids in the 21st century are experiencing. Unfortunately, higher ed as a whole tends to struggle with change due to bureaucracy issues and traditionalist norms, but the world of k-12 education will have changed so immensely in the next thirty years that universities like Georgia Tech will have no choice but to change the ways they think about technology, culture, and core academics.

For a technical school, the growth of technology in the classroom seems to be a reasonable assumption to predict. From the use of self-driving cars to virtual reality entertainment, students will be accustomed to using technology is all aspects of life – for better or worse. Even in the classroom we will likely see changes in how students interact with technology. An average day will involve tablets synchronized with presentations for interactive lectures. First years already being apt at controlling power tools and CNC machines in makerspaces. Physical textbooks rare as e-books and online quiz and homework tools become more and more prevalent. We have already begun to see all of these changes with how students interact with current technology and there will only be more change as new technology is invented. There may even be virtual reality classes so students can be studying abroad while still taking a lab, and then who knows what’s next, but the role of technology will certainly become more prevalent in education.

As elements like the use of technology in the classroom begin to change, the culture of Georgia Tech is bound to shift. This shift will come in two-fold: the designer mindset and the value of the whole student. Already at Georgia Tech, we are seeing cultural shifts as more programs are established to give students opportunities to take on “wicked problems,” learn design thinking methodology and develop their own startups and businesses. This cultural belief that students can do great things today no matter their “expert level” and therefore, need real-world opportunities in order to grow as learners and leaders will continue to advance in the next thirty years with the growth of learner-centered education in the k-12 system. Already today, high school students are creating design thinking workshops for professionals, designing new prototypes for companies like Chick-fil-a, conducting empathy interviews and feedback for AT&T Foundry, running full businesses, and more. As high schoolers begin to expect more from their education, high ed will have to allow more spaces for this culture to grow beyond primary schooling. An average day at Tech will have college students learning skills like design thinking, no matter their major, which will encourage more mixed-major classes, capstone projects, and work studies for younger years.

While we experience the push for designers in all departments, simultaneously there will be a growing cultural movement to better acknowledge the “whole student.” This movement is even more likely to evolve than the push for designers because of growing rates of student mental health disorders and pushback from families, schools, and individuals alike to consider more than academics when admitting students to colleges/universities. Students will outright demand changes in how Georgia Tech handles mental health if the school doesn’t naturally place a greater emphasis on the well being of health at school. While it’s certain something will change, it is not as clear as to how. The likely scenario is that people will request more therapist on campus and easier access to health help, though seeing as this solution has been tried in some capacity with not a great impact, perhaps more creative solutions will come about. For example, perhaps upon discerning what the primary causes of mental health problems are, the causes could be altered to lessen the problems rather than just trying to pacify the end resulting student with medicine and therapy. Either way, by 2048, student mental health will either be improved or there will be campus-wide protests.

In tandem with cultural shifts, the core academics at Georgia Tech will, in theory, become more flexible if the university truly wants to implement more time for the designer and whole student. Disappointingly though, changes in the academics are arguably the least likely thing to change for a student in 2048 at Georgia Tech. The school has been set in its rather traditional ways for decades and the core of any school is its academics which is why it is often the last thing to change. In a hopeful world, there will become more flexible learning plans for each individual student depending on the specific areas they want to go into. Furthermore, credits will be able to be gained in ways other than sitting in a classroom; perhaps your internship or a private project like writing a book could give a student credit even for core courses. The underlying concept here is that the notion of “core classes” will have a lesser role in the academic experience because there will either be less specifically required classes or more creative ways to gain credit for these classes in place of taking them. This will allow students more time to focus on their specific interests and goals for their future work. If the ways in which credits, and furthermore, degrees are earned changes, likely the assessment process will change as well. There are ample reasons that 0-100 grading systems should change from practical notions of how “real world” assessment looks to the underlying principles of how grades are increasingly destroying the mental health of students. There are multiple prototypes of how the assessment process may change which are already being tested in k-12 schools and programs, thus it is likely high ed will adopt these methods once further testing and research on the outcomes have been conducted. If these changes do occur in places such as Georgia Tech, which the push from k-12 environments makes seem reasonable, they will likely be some of the newest changes of 2048 or perhaps still yet to be adopted; this advancement in education will be the most highly disputed and considered far-fetched to traditionalist which will slow change.

This outlook on the 2048 version of Georgia Tech is rather hopeful. Based primarily on the changes already occurring in k-12 schools and the way families are already speaking up against traditional norms in higher education, changes in the role of technology, culture, and core academics are inevitable. The speed in which these changes occur is what is most debatable due to the nature of how slowly changes come about at the university level, especially in regards to core academics; though in terms of the 21st Century, change happens relatively rapidly nowadays let alone by 2048. In this optimistic view, the average day will have technology being used to enhance classes in more interactive ways, culture inspiring collaboration on solving wicked problems while paying strong attention to the value and mental wellbeing of every student, and more flexible core requirements and learning plans for all learners. However, on the flip side, the lack of congruency in these changes could inspire discontent and outrage amongst the community at large from students, to parents, to faculty and staff which would make an average day much more social protest heavy. The next generation of learners coming out of innovative k-12 environments will have new needs and new expectations of schooling which are on path to the changes listed above in technology, culture, and core academics. If Georgia Tech wishes to continue to be considered an innovative, world-renowned school in 2048, it will need to keep up with the rapid education changes happening already nationwide.

When Stuck in a Costco

I had a very productive day. However,  part of this day involved getting stuck at Costco for a few hours while waiting for our tire to be fixed. I couldn’t go anywhere, because the car was being worked on. I wasn’t with anyone that could consume my time by talking to me. I didn’t have internet access to be pulled into trying to do a bunch of different things online. And there wasn’t anything super amazing going on around me for me to be distracted by watching my surroundings.

I was just stuck.

The weird thing was that it actually felt kind of nice to be stuck.

It was time where there was nothing I really should do because there was so little that I could do. I had my phone, headphones, a notebook, pencils, and some other random things. But I couldn’t go on my computer or clean out my room or anything like that, so instead I just kind of chilled and did what I can. When you feel like there is very little that you can do, it makes the things you do accomplish feel like such a big deal.

I had to call back the GT pharmacy and then call CVS to work out a prescription thing, and I expected this to be a big hassel. I’m not a big fan of talking on the phone, especially in a situation like this where I thought I handled everything online and therefore go into the phone call knowing that something has already gone wrong so it seems bound for more problems to appear. Surprisingly though, the phone calls were very smooth and everything got worked out and I even was able to pick up my prescription right after getting un-stuck from Costco.

After the pharmacy got sorted out, I had some time where I read through and responded to emails on my phone. It’s a great thing I read those emails because it later inspired me to check on registration stuff again when I got home after Costco and CVS, and then I was able to somehow get into the English class I wanted/needed which was stressing me out all summer!

I was at Costco so long that I even had some extra time to just sit and listen to gymnastics routine music on repeat enough to start fine tuning some choreography I’m about to start teaching in the upcoming weeks. I’ve been too distracted once I get into the gym to just listen to the songs, and when I’m home I feel like I have “better things” to be doing, so this time was invaluable.

I’m not sure any of these productive things would’ve happened today if I hadn’t gotten “stuck.” I guess sometimes it can nice to just stay put with ample time and no distractions to get some of those random little things done that always seem to be shoved to the back of priority lists on a normal day.

 

Technological Chaos

Signing up for classes is one of the most stressful things.

It’s chaos online between trying to hunt down what classes you need to take, what classes are open, trying to schedule enough time to run between buildings while still not being totally spaced out.

Personally, I still am yet to get into an English 2 class, a class normally taken by freshman in the spring. I couldn’t get off of a waitlist in the spring, then I signed up during phase 1 registration only to have my class get cancelled over the summer, and now most of the classes are full and the online program is saying I’m too old to sign up for the few free spots. I’ve sent three emails to different people that could potentially help in this situation, but so far haven’t received a response. I’m not super surprised since the emails were sent today, but I guess I’m weirdly used to people responding fairly timely to emails; just another way higher ed is different from k-12 I guess…

It makes me crazy how difficult online systems can be sometimes. Technology is supposed to make lives easier, but sometimes it just drives lives more insane.

Only Improbable

“When people say impossible, they usually mean improbable.” – Leigh Bardugo

I love how no matter the book you’re reading, you can typically find a few great quotes that you just really connect with.

This quote just seems so accurate. So often in our history people have said things would be impossible: airplanes, landing on the moon, telephones – all once thought impossible but really they were just improbable at the time.

I like to think that there are few things in life that are truly impossible.

Unplugged

I’m back from Capon and the land without internet or wifi, and therefore, will continue to post some of the blog posts that I wrote during the interim later today. However, I did not successfully write a post for every day, but I’m kind of okay with that. Rather than spending that time off on my own with my computer, it was time I spent taking advantage of all the great moments Capon has to offer without technology.

I feel like every year I blog about how much I appreciate having a week tech-free, but it’s just so true! I love how at Capon we’re forced to unplug and just get to be in the moment chilling with our family and friends.

Living in all of the moments is such a refreshing feeling; from the fast-paced ultimate frisbee games or rowdy badminton matches to the quiet times reading on the porch or taking a nap on a hammock. When you have time to kill between meals you find all sorts of adventures and games to play like “Super Pong” where we play a game of ping-pong meets foursquare across three ping-pong tables.

Then into the late night when you think all of the moments are over for the day, still we might have a serious chat about family drama or a fake talent show that will make you laugh your socks off when friends re-perform acts from their childhood.

Capon is like the camp you never grow too old to attend, every year I can’t wait for another week of amazing food, great company, and intense tournaments of the weirdest kind.

Till next year Capon; can’t wait until another week un-unplugged from technology and plugged into the real moments.

Prepared Beyond

Today I heard a former classmate of mine say that after 12 years of schooling he found himself not having any skills marketable for applying to the workforce as much more than a dishwasher.

I couldn’t help but laugh.

I mean the time old story of school is that it was established during the industrial revolution in order to prepare kids for the workforce. That is supposedly the mission of a traditional school system: “to prepare kids for the workforce.” However, the irony is that apparently, the traditional system isn’t even a good job at that anymore.

Joining the workforce no longer means being prepared to work on an assembly line day in and day out. The world has changed. Jobs are changing. Schools need to change and maybe so should their purpose; life is more than just work.

I want to be prepared beyond the workforce.

Leaving with Action

Today was the last day of the International Seminar on Amplifying Student Voice and Partnership. It was a much more laid back and open space kind of day, which was honestly really great. It allowed everyone to make what they wanted out of the conference and have the conversations most meaningful to them.

During my first session, I ended up in an informal group that gathered together and started talking about the college application process. Two rising seniors were stressed about the process and therefore, myself and a few adults were giving tips about researching and applying to schools. This conversation made me realize I actually have a lot to share on the topic and reminded me that most students don’t have the amazing college councillors that I had who helped me navigate the process. Additionally, most students don’t have practice in talking about and essentially pitching themselves. Due to my blog writing, I had ample experience with talking about myself by the time I had to write those essays, but most students don’t have a blog and never really practice this skill in high school. Talking about yourself is a huge part of life because after college then comes job applications where it’s a similar process all over again. For that very reason, I wish more schools spent time talking about identifying key stories in your own life, and pitching your own story and knowing your strengths and skills that can be brought to the table in various situations.

These two students I was talking to come from learner-centered environments, and even there this process is stressful and these two believed they don’t have a story to tell. Let me tell you, these kids have incredible stories to tell and I only know parts of them, so it’s crazy for me to think that they don’t believe they have a story. It just goes to show that even great schools still have room to grow and that was a humbling experience today. Every student should feel like they have a story worth hearing and get the opportunity to practice telling it.

Later in the day I got to achieve my personal goal for this conference. I came to this conference really wanting to have a take away- an action step I could take in order to start moving beyond just talking and sharing with other communities and head towards working together on project work to advance the movement. Proud to say that I have my next project to start tackling. IMG_0930.JPG

Whenever I go to a conference there are multiple people who ask about how the community will stay connected. Then there end up being group chats and social media accounts created and they’re explosive with reflection for the first few weeks after the conference is over, but they fizzle out over time. Why? My assumption based on observation is that most forms of connection post-conference have been simply for the sake of connection/networking, but in order to sustain connections we must have a unified purpose that brings us back to the conversation wanting more.

I’m not yet sure what this purpose is; however, I’m excited to start working on figuring out how we can build upon the community by finding ways to connect with purpose. Three other young learners and I, started brainstorming potential designs for a website based on what menu items we wanted as possibilities for ways the community to connect. For example a blog to share out work in different environments, a directory to know who’s doing what kind of work, a jargon translator to serve as an explanation guide for all the different terms we like to use, a project space for people interested in partnering on projects, a monthly chat around essential topics, etc.

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Then we broke our work down into four areas: user feedback, research, “playing around”, and mission development. We hope to each spend the next month working in our areas to learn about what the community would want in a connection tool and figure out a game plan for the best tool to make these ideas a reality by playing with existing tools while experimenting with what building your own website would take resource wise.

IMG_7624.jpegThe key wonder I have right now though is: what already exists? There are a lot of groups that keep trying to create something very similar to this and yet don’t seem to be working for this or that reason, but why? I’m not sure entirely. I hope to find out and I have my assumptions based on personal experience. I’m happy to be leaving with a game plan but to help get further in our efforts, if you read this post and believe you know of sites or organization or groups or social media connections, etc that sound similar to this kind of work, I would love to see things in the comments to guide our upcoming research. (Even if I’m technically taking lead on user insight gathering, so I’d be happy to hear that too even before I get more focused questions to ask on the topic.)

Summer Projects

Working on a design/project team over the summer can be very challenging. The hardest part is trying to make sure everyone is adhering to deadlines and being able to communicate well with each other even without having consistent times where the team is face to face and without having everyone on the same schedule and sometimes not even the same time zone.

It can be hard enough working on a non-school specific project during the school year while everyone has various assignments and other activities going on, then it seems summer comes and everyone really just wants to take a break which makes it even harder to keep working on a project.

As we get ready for Trailblazers Issue 3 to come out (later this month!), our team has been struggling a little with communication and getting those last tasks done. We did a much better job communicating with our spotlight learners to make sure we got their drafts and edits done in a timely fashion, now we’re just working on those last design edits which can sometimes feel tedious. It’s amazing how all the little changes together make a big difference in quality, and when your lead designer ends up in Japan it can make for some interesting challenges which our team has been working through.

I’ve been trying to brainstorm ways we can make the process of going from working on article edits to design edits smoother because it seems to be what’s gotten us stuck most this year.

For one matter, hopefully, we can finally keep the same platform to create our magazine on because so far each issue has been on a different platform which wastes a lot of time trying to transfer and learn how to work the new platform.

The reason we keep switching platforms is that most high-quality magazine design platforms cost money, or at least the premium version which has the functions we would like costs money. However, at this point in time Trailblazer’s is a non-profit, and no one on our team has had real experience with trying to turn a project into a for-profit or even just experience with raising money to fund a project. We wanted to make sure we were really committed to this project before trying to worry too much about money, but now it seems we’re at the point where we may need to start spending some brain power designing for that challenge. I’m hoping as we get two new members joining us this summer for the coming school year, the enlargened team will allow us to divide up roles in a way to take more time brainstorming this platform challenge. (We’ve already created the roles, now we’re in a process of accepting applications for the team.)

Another thing I’m hoping will help our design process, is to create a “Trailblazers Brand and Style Guide” this way it is easier for every team member to know what fonts, colors, pictures, page layouts, etc. we use in the process of developing each magazine. This way it will make it easier for our future lead designers to know what the standards are for our brand versus where there can be created with the design and will hopefully make the process more efficient of getting the articles into the magazine format.

We have already started to discuss work on that and the goal is that we will have this document ready for the next school year, and therefore, before issue 4 of Trailblazers begins production in the fall.

Despite the current challenges we’ve been facing internally that have been rather stressful as a team leader, I’m really excited for Issue 3 of Trailblazers to finally be published later this month! I know it’s going to be great and I’ve loved seeing how our team has improved efficiency and quality with each new magazine!