Empathy Seeking

Online learning has been a wild ride… Personally, I’ve had moments where I’ve been frustrated, bored, and even, occasionally, pleasantly surprised by elements that come with school online. Because of this, I’ve partnered with OpenIDEO as a community coach on their current design challenge around reimagining learning during COVID-19. If you have any ideas (tested or half-baked), are looking for new ideas, or just want to express some problem points around our current learning situation I’d encourage taking a look at/contributing to the OpenIDEO site.
I’m trying to do a little of my own empathy seeking because I noticed an (unsurprising) lack of student voices shared on the platform, and yet student stories are some of the most insightful voices we need right now. So I’ve come up with these three quick questions that I’d love people (young learners especially, though I also welcome teachers, parents, parents on behalf of kids, etc) to respond to in the comment section. I’m hoping to take away some trends to be able to share with the rest of the OpenIDEO community to make sure we’re actually ideating for user needs:
  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…

Furthermore, if you are a student and interested in joining a virtual collaborative discussion/brainstorm session to dive deeper into this topic, I’m hosting a student gathering this Sunday night, May 17th from 7-8pm EST. Use this form to sign up so I can send out the Zoom link.

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.

Over-Planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research Papers

I’ve been working on this same research paper for over a year now. Our Engineers Without Borders team has been interested in the use of design thinking in the global WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) sector so we decided to do a literature review on the subject. Last spring we curated resources to review. Then over the summer, we reviewed those resources sorting by what seemed most relevant. Then in the fall, we got together our first full draft of the analysis work. We had experts give us feedback over the winter break, and now this spring we have been working on revisions. This process has taken a lot longer than we thought, but no one on our team has really done anything like this before so there has been a large learning curve. We are hoping to finally publish in the next few months or so even if it has to be an informal white-page kind of publication at first, (We’ve been working on getting funds to actually publish to an academic journal, but at this point, we believe it’s more important to just get the information out there than to wait to have the fundings for a more formal publish),  though I feel like I’ve been saying this for the past 6 months…

To be honest, I’m very ready to be done with this paper. It’s gotten to the point where I sometimes feel like I’ve re-read the same thing far too many times and just can’t think about it anymore, but I suppose that’s what the writing process is all about: writing and re-writing. Though the other thing that really bothers me every time I go to work on this project is just the general formatting of research papers.

From my perspective, there is a very small part of our population that really reads formal research reports, and it’s mostly just people actively in academia. Yet, most research studies have information that would be interesting and perhaps even beneficial for a much larger audience to be aware of, but these papers just aren’t in a very user-friendly medium. Research papers are long, use technical language to the point that almost feels like overkill, and are typically formatted in a way that’s uninviting to read (small, close together font with multiple columns all in black and white). When I have to look at research papers for school, I know that I never really want to read them – no matter how interesting the title makes the study sound – because they just look so intimidating. So every time I work on our paper I can’t help but wonder, “Is anyone really going to read this…?”

I just wonder if rather than writing a traditional research paper, if our work would be better received if we considered different modes of sharing our results. And I wonder this for all research. While it’s good to have documentation of the technical aspects of research papers, should a greater amount of time be spent on thinking about how to make that research more accessible rather than more “technically sound”?

Brain Training

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

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

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

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

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

Mindset of a Historian

One of the more random projects I’ve found myself involved with while in isolation is finally organizing old gym videos. Jump Start is almost 9 years old now, so we have a significant number of old routines at this point. I’m trying to locate videos of all of these old routines and sort them based on level, song, and choreography (some times we may re-use identical routines or sometimes we just use old music but change choreography). This way in the future we have more options of old routines to recycle and also just more ideas for song selections.

This has been an annoyingly difficult process though, especially when there are videos that I know exist but I just can’t seem to find them anywhere between my computer, my mom’s Google photos, or old flash drives. For example, I somehow have old videos that are on my YouTube channel and yet I can’t find the original versions of these videos in order to save them to the Google folder we’re creating. Then on top of the videos I know exist but can’t find, I also know of at least a dozen routines girls competed, and yet I have no idea if we have videos of them. So I’m searching for something that might not even exist.

And I’m spending hours searching… How do you know when enough is enough? How do you know when you’ve searched every possible option? How do you convince yourself that one more hour of searching won’t make the difference?

I even went as far as manually going through our records of all team kids we’ve ever had and emailing past families to see if they had old videos they’d be willing to share with us. I’m seriously doubting I’ll get any responses on that email, but I had to at least try in order to start to feel like I’ve explored all my options.

This must be what historians feel like – always searching through the past without knowing if anything will actually be found or if there even is anything left to be found. I’m glad I don’t plan on becoming a historian.

We Are One Planet

Today, as part of my work with the Wellington International Leadership Program, I participated in a webinar hosted by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

Planning for this anniversary was clearly intense with hundreds of people around the world organizing to speak out specifically around the need to take action in regards to climate change. And then the pandemic hit…

Guest speaker and founding Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes expressed his devastation and frustration about two years’ worth of work now being illegal to execute in most countries. But what was most inspiring to me, and my biggest take away from the event, was his hope, despite everything, for what this could mean in terms of how we think about global challenges in the future. Hayes’ said it would make up for all the lost work if we come out of this crisis realizing that global threats need global cooperation and collaborative solutions that actually eliminate threats worldwide, because if only some people, some states, or even some countries take action – if it’s only “some” – then there is always a threat of the issue coming back. “We are one planet,” Hayes’ exclaimed, and so we need to work together cross-culturally to make change happen. This goes for all global threats from pandemics to climate change.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t even remember that it was Earth Day this week before I signed up for the event, let alone know that it was the 50th anniversary. I support Earth Day, but it’s never been a holiday I go out of my way to figure out how I can get involved with. But there are other global threats that I more actively work to find solutions to, like access to education and safe water, sanitation, and hygiene options. That’s why this conversation around global cooperation was so powerful to me because it’s relevant beyond the scope of just Earth Day; there are dozens of global threats out there no matter how directly we notice them impacting our lives.

For obvious reasons, the threat of climate change was compared frequently with the threat of Covid19 on today’s webinar. All of the panelists discussed how the virus is impacting their daily operations now and how they expect it to impact the future. A key idea that came up throughout the session was that even with Covid19 until people saw their neighbors rushed to hospitals, they weren’t taking the threat seriously. So the webinar left me thinking: “How might we get people to take threats like climate change and other global sustainability goals seriously when it’s even harder for the average person to visualize the direct impact these threats have on the world and the individual?”

The answer is unclear. However, from experience, we know that when people are actively involved in the process of planning and creating change, they believe in it more and care about pulling society along with them. So really the question is, “How might we get the average person to actively engage in processes to overcome global threats?” This is still a lofty question, and there could be hours spent on unpacking the meaning of “average person” alone, but it’s encouraging to have heard from several social entrepreneurs today who seem to really be thinking about this question daily.

Furthermore, panelist Molly Morse with Mango Materials suggests that there is already a demand for solutions to some of these sustainability threats like climate change. The key for social entrepreneurs to keep in mind is targeting the right market; markets need to be focused and specific that way every user feels that the issue is truly relevant to them as an individual.

So my take away from Earth Day amidst the Covid19 crisis is that no matter your area of passion, global threats exist, demands for solutions exist, and people tackling the big questions to create solutions exist. Now we just need to put it all together by working in collaboration with each other across sectors, political affiliations, and borders in order for change to actually happen. We are one planet – let’s make it one worth living on.

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.

Boring But Good Rest

Two days ago I challenged myself to take a real break – “No meetings, no school work, no gym work, and I’m not even going to blog.”

Well, the break is over and I can honestly say: It was really boring.

Turns out watching TV and reading all day get’s old after a while – maybe it’s because even though the last few weeks haven’t been a full-on break, it’s been enough of a break for me to have watched far more shows and movies than I ever would in the past.

I realized that one of the nice things about working is that it distracts me from the fact that I don’t have daily interactions with people. Perhaps had I been taking my break with other people it would have been more amusing. Day two of break I had a video chat with my fam and my best friend and that definitely made day two more interesting than the TV all-day approach. I even tried pulling an all-nighter because I realize I never had before and this was a no-risk environment, but around 5am I realized there was nothing actually motivating me to stay awake because it wasn’t fun and I didn’t have to be awake so instead I went to bed and slept till noon.

I will say though, the break was good for one thing, because I took a mental break all weekend, I was far more motivated to actually be productive today now post-break. After I woke up and ate breakfast I had two meetings, family game night, updated gymnastics files, drafted the flow of a three-hour workshop, choreographed a gymnastics routine, and found seven new songs that have potential to become routines. Getting bored made me want to do work, even the work I don’t normally enjoy like researching for various papers I’m in the process of writing so I suppose that’s a good thing. (I didn’t get to those papers today because other things were more time concerning after my meetings, but I thought about wanting to during the weekend when I accidentally opened a tab one was on.)

And at least at the beginning of the break it felt nice to just do nothing and try and accept that work could wait. And I definitely feel well-rested physically and mentally, though this isn’t normally a big issue for me.

So overall I’m a bit undecided on the whole “true break” thing. It had nice moments, but I really don’t like being bored, but again I feel like my experiment was potentially compromised by the scenario of quarantine. Alternatively, maybe it would’ve been better just to have one “do-nothing day” rather than two.

I’m kind of sad there weren’t bigger takeaways, but that’s about all I got on the subject of taking a mental break – boring but good rest.

A True Break

Since this weekend is supposed to be Easter “Break,” I’ve decided to try and cut myself some slack and not focus so much on the idea that I have to use all of this extra time we’ve been given to always be super productive.

So, after the interview I conducted for my human development project, a brief call home with a little discussion about gymnastics, I then basically watched Netflix all day. And it was very relaxing.

I’m a busy person by nature. I always have been. Even way back in 4th grade I was playing on two soccer teams, competing in gymnastics, a Girl Scout, and playing the lead in the school theater production while making straight A’s in school. Since I’ve spent my entire life going from one activity to the next, I’ve grown used to the need to always feel like I’ve accomplished something by the end of the day.

But this need to be productive can be overwhelming in a situation like we’re in now where we have so much time that it seems foolish to not use the time to try and get tons of things done. I’ve been trying to get ahead in classes and draft papers; I’ve seemed to have a meeting almost every day for some project or another; even when I just do something like play the flute I never end up stopping until I have completely learned and recorded all of a four-part song. However, I’ve had several professors and seen several articles circulating around about how it can be a good thing to actually rest during this time and not stress about trying to have so many achievements.

So my goal for this weekend (though perhaps it’s paradoxical to call it that) is try and truly take a break. No meetings, no school work, no gym work, and I’m not even going to blog. I’ll post about how it went in two days. I’m a bit doubtful I’ll actually be able to last the weekend without doing anything productive, but I know it can be good for the mind to take a break and just be mindless sometimes so we’ll see how it goes.