Delight 17: New Tech

I still remember the first time I used a digital camera. A Sony Mavica with a floppy disk for storage. The ability to take a photo, insert a disk into your computer and be able to view the image was magic. From the time I began my journey with educational technology in the late 1990s until my first iPhone in 2008, I had so many of these moments of magic. Building my first website, learning the importance of security testing, making and editing video, video conferencing, publishing tools, blogs and early social media were examples of new and shiny tools and software that captured my imagination and opened my eyes to endless possibilities, joy and yes even delight. Visit https://privacera.com/products/centralized-access-control/ to learn how you can easily define and enforce data-sharing policies across cloud databases and analytical platforms.

Then things plateaued. Not that tech was stagnant but I now lived in a world where I expected things to change and improve. As an early adopter to so many tools, I also began to see that for all the new technology we were given, it wasn’t making the difference in our lives I had once hoped it would. Add to that the growth of mobile technologies in particular and its impact on our attention seemed to diminish many of the really powerful things that computers can do and instead had us focused on amusing ourselves to death once more.

But the pandemic had me dive deep into some new software and tools that are reigniting that delight I experienced over a decade ago. Largely an effort for me to up my virtual presenting game I began to consider how I might make my presentations more engaging and fun. Previously I never really had a dedicated office space so I began with setting up 2 monitors and dusting off my old snowball microphone. Then I remembered you could use your DSLR as a webcam so I pulled out my Canon Ti3 Rebel and set it up on a tripod. That already made quite a difference. I purchased a green screen but didn’t really like it much so I set it aside.

Next, as I revisited my interest in Podcasting, I needed to edit videos. While I had learned to make iMovie do as much and more than I needed I wanted to try sticking with Windows. Besides, I find using this Windows password reset tool very convenient whenever I forget my password. I recall the days of using Movie Maker and then graduating to Premiere before jumping over to the Mac where I used Final Cut and iMovie. Once again Michael Wesch pointed me to another free software Da Vinci Resolve. It is way more powerful and complicated than a basic video editor but I was game to learn. I’m still so early and doing things awkwardly but learning and it’s fun.

Finally, I added a stream deck to my repertoire. This is a pretty cool little device that enables me to elegantly move between scenes and sources and do multi actions that might take many clicks with one press of a button.

As I was taking a deep dive into these new programs and tools I was reminded of the delight I used to feel and even though there was lots of frustration and failure it was fun. I hope I can continue to see the potential and possibilities in new tech like I did in the past. I know my friend George Couros is also having some similar experiences.

Delight 16: Coffee

I feel like that title is either going either attract those who are coffee aficionados or be completely ignored if you aren’t a coffee drinker. The truth is I think I’d like to be an aficionado but I’m not. I’m not quite like my Dad who has never had a bad cup of coffee in his life, but certainly not to the extent that many are. If my grandfather were alive today and was told that people buy bottled water when tap water is almost free and people spend over $5 for coffee that you can make for pennies in your home, he would be in shock. And while on the one hand that is somewhat absurd, most of us can appreciate that coffee, like wine and beer and other beverages are now things created and nurtured by artisans. So many of us take great pleasure in experiencing these drinks in a much more intense and intentional way.

Still, for me I’ve never been one to have a strong preference over any particular brand of coffee. My palette is really only able to distinguish strong and weak. Once in a while I’ll have a cup that I really like but am not able to articulate why. And yet, I admire those who have that interest and skill. I just find it fascinating anytime someone has that deep of a passion for anything that specific. I had a colleague who was really into craft beers. I’m not a beer drinker but enjoyed going to various pubs and brewers and learning about what goes into making beer. The pleasure they take in discovering new and interesting brews is delightful. My definition of delight is rooted in being specific.

Coffee began to take on a new role in my life during the pandemic. Being at home everyday I embraced certain rituals. My morning coffee was one. I was happy with my Keurig and would try different pods. My daughter had a French press and one day after having coffee at her house I decided it was time to up my game. I wanted to be more like those aficionados even though I knew I’d never be quite as obsessed but I did like the control and extra effort folks put into their coffee. I quite enjoyed the way many chimed in with their thoughts on this twitter thread.

I started this delight project prior to March 2020 and what’s been surprising is how much delight I find in routine. My life was not routine at all. I travelled over 150 days a year and I was keenly aware of the delights I was able to experience because of that lifestyle but being home every day has revealed new delights. I wake up in the morning excited to start my coffee routine. I don’t know if it’s subconsciously a way to add some excitement to what might otherwise be a pretty routine existence or if indeed I’m getting better at noticing delights. I don’t know if I’ll ever reach the stage of talking about water temperature, bean density or the various nuances of immersion but maybe. Either way, the French Press is working out nicely even if I take a little cream in it which I think drives the true aficionados nuts.

From Despair to Hope

No matter who you are or where you’re from, the past few years have done some damage. It’s by no means the same for all of us and I count myself as one of the fortunate ones in so many respects. Yet even as fortunate as I am, every once in a while I find myself going down the rabbit hole of despair. Whether it’s the implications of the pandemic, political unrest, the rise of conspiracy theories, racial injustices, climate change, and the list goes on. Then there are the stories of friends and connections who have been hit hard by these things and it becomes more personal. Some days any of these issues weigh heavy and depending on who you are listening to, reading, or watching, it can make these seem insurmountable. You can certainly make the case that these issues are unresolvable and over time that mindset and consumption of fear and dread can lead anyone into some level of depression.

It’s partly due to our extra time to linger and wade in murky waters of sadness and negativity and partly due to the endless stream of voices more than willing to feed your fears, it’s at times difficult to see any hope or light. I can’t and won’t ignore these issues but I also can’t and won’t spend my precious and limited time on this earth wallowing in despair. So I think about what small contributions I might make to bring joy, delight, and hope into the lives of others. I believe that’s my thing, some would say calling. My job is a great conduit to do that and no matter who I work for it’s been increasingly my MO. While on the surface my work is couched in academic pursuits around assessment, engagement, technology, leadership, and curriculum, I view those as simple conversation starters to what I’m really offering…hope and joy. At times that seems lofty and maybe even arrogant that I think I can be a vessel that brings hope and joy to folks but while I’m not always sure to what degree I can foster that, it is what I think I need to do. My belief is that community, curiosity, and conversations are the foundations for joyful learning.

When we consider how divided we are as a society in so many ways, I think about how we can double down on the unfair advantage schools have in bringing diverse people together. Spending any time on social media and even mainstream media there are few if any spaces were meaningful, intelligent, and honest discourse takes place. Every approach I see is about how to denigrate and vilify others and bolster arguments. Very few reach a point of at least understanding other points of view. I recognize it’s complicated and some are choosing to remain vigilant in their worldview. Many have given up on those who view the world differently and have bought into a belief that polarization is inevitable. However, I have not and perhaps I’m naive but this is my approach and it’s one I’ll continue to advocate for in the pursuit of joyful learning.

Curiosity: For me, this is lumped into ideas of engagement and it’s in large part at the core of what it means to be human. To ask really good questions and wonder without always seeking solutions or answers. It’s also about acknowledging all the things you don’t know. I want to create spaces where asking questions, even ones with difficult and unknown answers take priority over what is known. See also the Dunning-Krueger effect. In some instances curiosity trumps literacy when it comes to reducing tribalism. Curiosity is fueled when we know enough to know we don’t know very much.

Community: This is the core of why we have schools. Not to instill knowledge or even curiosity, but to learn and live socially. Again, you can disagree but this is my belief. The past few years is making this clear. Celebrating being and learning from each other is a true gift. The best part of my work is learning from others. While I enjoy spending time with others who share my interests, I find it equally delightful to learn from those who come from a different space. This is largely how I’ve been introduced to issues and ideas that aren’t in my daily life. I’m grateful for that kind of community that challenges me.

Conversation: This is perhaps where curiosity and community merge. Once I’ve been able to share my curiosities and spend time in community, I naturally have a space where deeper learning can occur. That sentence represents an extremely complex and challenging thing to build but it is something I believe is what schools can do and should do. In Canada, schools are working hard to try and address the inequities and racism that our Indigenous people have and are experiencing. Admittedly, it’s not easy work but I’m grateful to know so many are making this a priority. And as important as it is, it is not just about a select group of people. It’s about hope for the future where we work towards a community that lives and works together with understanding and appreciation.

As naive as all this might sound, I do recognize it sounds like I’m seeking world peace. I write all of this as a reminder to myself of why I get up in the morning and try to design meaningful experiences for those I serve. I’m well aware of our limitations and my own small contributions won’t make much of a dent in these colossal issues. But I do have hope in pursuing a remarkable life, a life that experiences joyful learning through curiosity, community, and conversation. I think schools can do this as well.

Delight 15: The #Deanie Awards

Starting in 2015, I decided to take time at the end of the year to celebrate my network. The randomness that I’ve always loved about Twitter is the chance encounters I’ve had both in-person and online but often stemming from a conversation on Twitter or just something that made me smile.

I have no real formula or criteria for doling these out. This year I tried to favourite tweets that caught my attention and used many of these in my celebrations. You’ll see some are very thoughtful and serious while others are pure frivolity and that’s kind of the point. I recall one of the reasons I started this was some conversation about the value of awards and how often it left people feeling left out or that it was some type of popularity contest. I’m not sure how much this award tries to be the antithesis of that but for me, it is about the delight I find in small interactions or gestures of others. When I think about these people, some of whom I know very well and others I’ve never met, I smile. They bring me delight.

I know these awards mean absolutely nothing. I still worry I’ve left someone out which I know I have but that also speaks to the inequity of any award system. But it’s nice to reflect on those whose passions, strengths, quirkiness, gestures and personalities make me smile. It’s also delightful in seeing others who just enjoy seeing them whether or not they receive one or not. I hope you’ll scan this list and perhaps connect with someone you don’t know and add them to your network.

Delight 14: Learning to Love Winter

As a kid growing up in Canada, winter was never seen as something negative, many people actually enjoy buying the best snowboarding jackets and ski all season. Probably a little nostalgia I’m sure but winter as a kid was all about snowball fights and hockey. For me mostly hockey. While I played organized hockey since I was 8, some of my greatest memories were skating in my backyard rink and playing pickup games with my friends wearing our custom Greek sorority jackets.

I stopped playing hockey when I was 35. That was about the same time I began to travel in the winter for work. For the past 20 or so years, I’ve been able to go south for a least a week. More recently I probably spend at least 6 weeks escaping winter much of that with my Dad who wintered in Florida. I developed a theory that your tolerance for cold coincided with your age. For example when your 50, you get cold with any temperature under 50 F. My Dad who is now 88, keeps his apartment at that temperature. Once happy to be outside in winter, I now would regularly vocalize my distain for the season.

There are many things I don’t like about this pandemic but we are pretty blessed. I can work from home, I can see my grandkids and this summer I played more golf than I ever had. No complaints except as winter begins I realize this will be the first year I won’t escape it.

So with that, I now need to shift my brain and figure out a way to find some delight in winter. And it’s working. It began last winter after I listened to this podcast about defending winter. I live right beside a beautiful valley with walking trails. I’ve got the right clothes and I found the perfect toque. (My American friends may need to google that). When it’s really cold, (my new low-temperature threshold is -15C or 5F) I’ll walk for 30 minutes. If it’s warmer I’ll walk for an hour. There’s something satisfying about hearing your shoes meet hard-packed snow. It’s not quite a crunch sound but just enough to provide a quiet soundtrack. You also look at your feet a lot more since the surface changes more. I usually walk part of the time in total solitude. No podcast or music, just quiet. I’ll then walk the other half consuming my favourite podcasts.

Walking is certainly one way to embrace winter. But it’s also a slower pace. I’m going to embrace that too. Finding delight in something I use to chastize and dread isn’t easy but it’s necessary. I also have the great privilege of introducing my grandkids to winter.

I do realize it’s only November and we’ve got a long way to go. Maybe bookmark this post and leave a comment in March asking me how it’s working for me.