My New Work Colleagues

Last month, I took a new position as Director of Learning and Innovation for Area9 - they build personalized learning software and learning simulations (e.g. LearnSmart, SmartBook, and SmartLabs). In this new position I am something of a learning software ninja. I propose, improve, design, spec, manage, test, and document new software features. I get to follow features and improvements from conception to completion and it is super fun!  I even write a little code here and there, which I haven’t done seriously since I was a chemist (a long long time ago when I was just out of college). I think the most rewarding thing is that in this job, I’m using almost every domain of expertise that I’ve accumulated over the years: math, science, social media, eLearning, student learning, research, higher education, game design, analytics, and personalized learning.

Since Area9 is based in Denmark, I am now a remote worker (a daily commute to Denmark seemed a little much). I get up super early (5am … my choice) in order to have some overlap in work hours with the Denmark office. While 5am may sound awful to you, the bonus is that my work day is half over by 9am (see, that part doesn’t sound so bad, does it?). Also, my commute time from bed to work is approximately 2 minutes (I have to stop in the kitchen for coffee). I do remember to take showers and get dressed properly, but sometimes not until lunchtime.

It’s a bit strange to think that I used to work in an environment (a College) where I interacted with hundreds of people every week in person. Now my in-person world is much smaller.  I actually take a couple-hour break in the late morning to exercise and go out to lunch with friends just to get out of the house and make sure that I have some human contact!  But I do have some company at the little home office – here are two of my colleagues:

So far, I’ve found that this new remote worker lifestyle is giving me greater flexibility (duh) to actually place some emphasis on having more balance in my life. I’ve gone back to taking karate and yoga classes. I have time to learn some of the things I’ve been meaning to (like programming in Python). And I’m really looking forward to winter because I can easily put in my work hours and then go snowboarding any afternoon I want!

Back in 2011, when I finished my Ph.D., I’m not sure what I imagined myself doing (I probably didn’t imagine myself as a remote worker living in Utah), but this new position seems like a particularly good fit!

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NPS and Gamification

Last weekend I visited Bryce Canyon National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument for a 3-day digital detox. [Yes, believe it or not, I can put away the Interwebs for 3 whole days.]

While hiking in Bryce Canyon, I stumbled across a bit of gamification of the hiking trails called Hike the Hoodoos Challenge.

With all the hype about digital badges and gamification lately, I can’t help but wonder why the NPS doesn’t take this a step further and develop a digital mobile game where you can earn activity badges in all the National Parks and Monuments by hiking the trails. It seems that you could just as easily use QR codes on the signage to “check in” to various trailheads via a mobile app. Better yet, let state parks get in on the action.

Maybe you’d rather just see the pictures though … here’s Bryce Canyon and our hike to the Queen’s Garden.

And here’s Cedar Breaks National Monument (we took the 2-mile hike to Spectra Point/Ramparts Overlook Trail)

Of course, if the NPS did create a mobile app game for hiking (Hiking the National Parks with Zombies?), then I suppose I would have to carry my phone with me, huh? Here I am, sans Internet-enabled digital devices.

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Momentary Lapse of Memory

I feel like I’ve been in life free-fall all summer.  I didn’t begin the summer intending to quit teaching, change jobs, and move 1000 miles away, but that’s what I did, and it still catches me off-guard sometimes.

It’s amazing how rooted your brain can become in patterns of behavior.  I keep having these momentary lapses of memory, especially when I travel.  I’ll wake up in a strange hotel room and my brain will begin searching for the “teaching tasks” I have to do (paper grading, class prep, test writing), and then all of a sudden I will have this realization that I have a new job, live in a new state, and am no longer teaching classes.  It’s a strange mental shift every time it happens.  It leaves me with this uneasy pit in my stomach.  I left a pretty safe predictable job for one with a much higher degree of uncertainty, where I’m still feeling out my job duties and I rarely know what to expect to be assigned next. I suspect this feeling of uncertainty will pass with time, but for now, it’s a strange way to wake up in the morning.

I always worried that I would miss teaching if I left, but so far that hasn’t happened.  Perhaps it’s because my job keeps me pretty busy. Like teaching, there is an endless list of things I could be accomplishing, so I’m never bored.

I’ve been trying to understand work-life balance as it pertains to my new position.  As an educator, there was no work-life balance during the semester.  If you weren’t teaching, you were either planning to teach, grading papers, or doing a post-mortem on something you taught and trying to figure out how to make it better the next time around.  I worked from the moment I woke up till the time I dropped into bed exhausted, 7 days a week, week after week.

There seems to be a little space for the possibility of a life outside of work now that I’m not teaching.  Email slows to a trickle (if any) on the weekend.  There’s a definite lull in work activity after 6pm every day as people go home to their families and spend time with them.  This has been the strangest thing to get used to. Students communicated indiscriminately throughout the week – no time was sacred and responses were always expected and expected quickly.  How strange it is to turn off email on a Saturday and not worry about an angry student escalating their problem to an administrator while you enjoy a day off.

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New Chapter: Life Reboot

For the last year, I’ve felt this yearning to do something different. I’ve been a full-time faculty member for a decade now, teaching many of the same courses semester after semester after semester after … yeah, well, you get it.

A series of conferences and events in the last 6 months has made me realize that my “alignment” between my passions and my job was off.  I attended the UpToAllOfUs un-conference in February, and felt a strong pull to do something different, something more amazing.  I attended the TEDxSummit in April, and coming back to work was like a rude awakening after being in a liquid network of ideas for 5 days. And then I attended the LAK conference and really just felt unsettled about how I was spending my time.

Since I began blogging in 2007, I’ve learned about so many things in my free time: education technology, the scholarship of teaching and learning, social media, data visualizations, professional development for faculty, higher education, leadership, learning analytics, eLearning strategies, game design, writing, speaking, technology for productivity, mobile apps, and … well, probably a lot of things that aren’t coming to mind right now.  In this decade I’ve finished a Ph.D., made a name for myself as a futurist, and connected with instructors, innovators, and futurists around the world.

Now, the time has come to shed one identity (math faculty) and take on a new one.  It’s actually an identity I’ve been donning in my “free” time for a while now, I’m just shifting the focus to it full-time now.

I have accepted a position as the Director of Learning and Research at Instructure (they build the Canvas learning platform), in Sandy, Utah.   The position will give me a chance to grow professionally, to use all the skills I’ve learned in the last five years, to work with some really amazing, talented, and energetic people,  and (bonus) I get to move back to the mountains.

The view from the Instructure building.

Why Instructure? After all my complaining (for years) about the state of the LMS market, I began using Canvas in May and fell head-over-heels in love with it. It is, by far, the best learning platform I’ve ever seen, and Instructure is innovating like mad. I have always said I’d know the right job when I saw it, and this is it!  I want, more than anything, to help Instructure  to build and spread the best learning platform the world has ever seen, and I am super-excited to get started.

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Self Evaluation: List of Fives

"Fives" by Leo Reynolds

Whenever I hire a new assistant, I have a list of questions I ask to get a feel for how we can best work together.  I want to make sure I take advantage of their strengths and provide them the opportunity for growth.  I think that good working relationships are developed when each person’s skills are valued and when they can learn about the things that they enjoy.

So, I’ve developed my “List of Fives” to feel out the strengths and growth areas for someone I’m going to work with, and I try to use it to help us to take advantage of synergy whenever possible.

1. What are your five biggest strengths?

2. What are five things that you enjoy learning about?

3. What are five topics you’d like to learn about that are unfamiliar to you?

4. What are five skills or strengths that you’d like to get better at?

5. What are your five favorite sources of inspiration? [books/websites/articles/poems/videos/songs]

As a little reflective exercise today. I answered these questions for myself today.

1. What are your five biggest strengths?

Innovation
Communicator/Explainer/Speaker
Organization
Problem Solving
Knowledge of Ed Tech Space

2. What are five things that you enjoy learning about?

Science of Learning
Learning Analytics
Social Media
Game Design
Data Visualization

3. What are five topics you’d like to learn about that are unfamiliar to you?

User Interface Design
PHP or WordPress coding
Science/History of Futuring
Science of Multiple Choice Testing
Artificial Intelligence for Learning

4. What are five skills or strengths that you’d like to get better at?

Patience
Leadership / Managing a large team
Fundraising / Raising capital
Conflict management (just not much experience)
Contract negotiation (no experience)

5. What are your five favorite sources of inspiration? [books/websites/articles/poems/videos/songs]

My Twitter network
TED
Book: Theory of Fun for Game Design
Magazine: Technology Review
Magazine: Wired

It’s an interesting little exercise to help you to see whether your current job is actually utilizing your skills and providing you with growth, isn’t it?

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