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The meaning of ethics. The journey of ethics.

October 11th, 2010

What if the journey to find the meaning of ethics is more important than the actual meaning of ethics? What if the true value of the question lies within the question itself and not within the answer? When I embark on an expedition I am often confronted with more questions than answers—more paths than I am able to travel. This disturbs some people; it excites me. Unanswered questions and untraveled paths are opportunities for my mind to wander, to diverge, and to know that I know only a mere fragment of what there is to know. For every question, there lies a myriad of answers. Some will comfort me; some will confront me. I choose a trail that does not contest or I choose a trail that will test my will. I traverse the landscape and find meaning around each bend. I absorb the air and derive meaning with every breath I consume while adding to the world and changing the landscape with each exhale. All answers lead to new paths, new corridors to meaning. Past and present meaning informs future meaning. I continue to travel.

Do we all see the world through the same lens? If the answer is “no” and this seems to be the answer; does this mean that we see each other as unethical and immoral? If so, is this fair? Does fairness have a place in ethics and morality? Does justness? Does justice? What makes something just? Who decides when actions and behaviors are just? What makes actions ethical? What makes actions moral? These are some of the questions I am challenged with as I consider the meaning of ethics—as I travel over unfamiliar terrain. When do we decide that these things are the way they are? Are we born with an understanding of what is “right” and what is “wrong”? Or do we learn right from wrong? Is right and wrong like hot and cold? Do we understand it once we get close enough to touch, experience, recoil from, and recover from it? Do we ever fully recover from a decision that turns out to be unethical or immoral? If our wounds heal and we recover internally, does the world allow for us to recover publicly? Or are scarred for a lifetime? For those who weave ethics and morality with religion does the mark live beyond a lifetime, must eternity also be considered? I continue to ask.

Travel directs us to opportunities for reflection. Bodies of water force us to stop and contemplate our movements—to determine our course ahead. We often see these moments as inconveniences. We do not like to remain still—we are on a journey, after all. We must progress. We must keep moving. However, in the stillness we are able to see ourselves, where we are, and who we have become. We can see the toll of our excursion. If we are truly still we even can see the shape of things to come. Indeed, in the stillness we progress the most. I continue to wonder.

If I stand still and search the stillness for answers, will I understand the meaning of ethics? Will the universe open up to me and instill such knowledge? If it does would this be an ethical way of finding the answer to the question? I have embraced the stillness, listened to the universe, and to many, I will have failed, as I do not have the answer. There is no simple statement that I can make, no essay that I can write, that succinctly and sufficiently answers such a question. Not because there is no answer but because the answer is not where the value lies. The true value is in the journey to find the answer not within the answer itself. I continue to wander.

I will continue to ask the questions, continue to traverse the paths. I will travel the corridors searching for meaning and understanding. Letting each moment inform the next. I will stop and embrace the stillness—knowing this is where the essence of truth lives. I will seek out the meaning of ethics and morality and hope to never quite feel comfortable with the paths that I choose. As soon as I believe that I know the meaning of ethics it will be time to journey beyond what I think I know. Through the unfamiliar environment I will continue to travel, to ask, to wonder, and to wander.

Leadership and new science

July 13th, 2010
342 Comments

Maybe it’s because I have a deep affection for sci-fi—sci-fi that is often based on new science: invisible fields, self-organizing systems, the chaos theory, quantum physics, and other wonderful scientific goodness that makes for creative science fiction. Maybe this is why I opened Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World on Sunday, and couldn’t put it down until I was completely finished a couple of hours later. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into when I started the book—I hadn’t read any summaries or reviews. All I knew was that I needed to read the book as part of earning my doctorate. So I began my journey to figure out how leadership and new science were actually connected. I was happy to have author Margaret J. Wheatley as my guide. Her writing style was thoroughly enjoyable. She weaved together science, leadership, and organizational theories with ease and grace.

I’m not sure I’ve ever taken the time to consider where organizational and leadership theories emerge from. This is one of the reasons why I am pursuing this doctorate degree in Learning and Leadership—I want to learn more about leadership. Sunday, was the first time I consciously considered that the way we organize businesses, schools, and governments may come from the way that we see the world—a world we tend to view via the way we understand it, which is through natural sciences. “The new science research referred to in this book comes from the disciplines of physics, biology, and chemistry, and from theories of evolution and chaos that span several disciplines” (Wheatley, 2006, p. 10).

OK, so you might be thinking, “hey, I’m a designer or I’m a web geek not a science nerd, this sounds like a snooze fest or way too scientific,” but let me assure you this book is anything but. Wheatley does a great job keeping her tone friendly and approachable. She uses examples that people in a myriad of occupations can relate to. Heck, she even quotes Star Trek once. I won’t attempt to explain all of the connections Wheatley makes between leadership and new science, you’ll have to read her book for that, but while reading the book I realized that many of the points the author makes are valid and I wanted to share some thoughts. Wheatley (2006) states,

“Each of us lives and works in organizations designed from Newtonian images of the universe. We manage by separating things into parts, we believe that influence occurs as a direct result of force exerted from one person to another, we engage in complex planning for a world that we keep expecting to be predictable, and we search continually for better methods of objectively measuring and perceiving the world. These assumptions […] come to us from seventeenth-century physics, from Newtonian mechanics.” (p. 7-8)

She goes onto state, “One of the first differences between new science and Newtonianism is a focus on holism rather than parts. Systems are understood as whole systems, and attention is given to relationships within those networks” (Wheatley, 2006, p. 10).

Wheatley (2006) explores relationships in organizations like businesses, schools, and governments. She does this through the lens of new science. She explains that we are seeing a change in the entire universe including a change within organizations—a change from permanent structures to agile, effective, self-organizing groups. (p. 82) Anyone who is tapped into social media and the Web is very aware of the power of self-organization. We see people self-organizing through twitter.com, facebook.com, meetup.com, gowalla.com and a plethora of other online tools. We see people coming together to solve challenges and to make a positive impact on the world. We witness people use twitter to inform others about severe weather, natural disasters, and man-made emergencies. Then we see people use twitter as a tool to organize ways to help people affected by these events. Self-organization is a powerful phenomenon—a phenomenon that is occurring at all levels of life. It’s a phenomenon that can excite and scare people.

Wheatley (2006) states,

“We believe that in order to maintain ourselves and protect our individual freedom, we must defend ourselves from external forces. We tend to think that isolation, secrecy, and strong boundaries are the best way to preserve individuality. But this self-organizing world teaches that boundaries not only create distinctions; they are also places for communication and exchange (see Margulis and Sagan 1986). Because system members engage in continual exchanges among themselves and with their environment, the system develops greater freedom from its environment.” (p. 85)

As I read this, I began to think about the pushback I often receive about sharing my coursework, curriculum, lesson plans, and other key elements that I use for teaching. I get a lot of resistance about being so open. For example, I remember being at one of my first academic conferences a few years ago. I was sitting down for a meal with a tableful of other design educators. I’m not sure how the conversation started, but I clearly remember a woman telling me that she would never give the head of her department her syllabi. I couldn’t understand this for a number of reasons. My first question to her was, “don’t you want the head of your department to know what your teaching? ” Her answer, was “no.” She went on to tell me that all the materials for her courses were her materials and she wasn’t going to share them with anyone (not even the head of her department). I thought how sad her working environment must be. No sharing, at all, not even syllabi (which can be the most boring, must standard document within a course)? How does anyone in that department know what anyone else is doing and teaching? How are the students getting a well-rounded education if the leaders in their department (their professors and their head of the department) are not planning together and sharing information? Knowing I had just recently changed my focus from purely industry to an academic/industry mix, the woman warned me not to share any of my work with anyone. The other design educators at the table agreed and they said that I would become obsolete if I shared my work.

I didn’t heed their advice. I continue to share my work. I do so with the understanding that: 1. no-one else is me so no-one else will ever be able to teach a lesson or work through a project the same way I do (and I will never teach a lesson or work through a project the same way someone else does) 2. I don’t focus on becoming obsolete. If I make myself obsolete by sharing information than in some way I should be happy and if I make myself so obsolete that there is no longer need for my services, I have faith that another opportunity will open up for me to explore. There are no good reasons to live in fear and no good reasons to hoard information that can help improve education for students around the world.

Many people are scared to share—the idea of open-education (and open-information sharing) is just too much for many people to handle. I know that if I had not been willing and wanting to share my tools, resources, and knowledge that I would not be involved with initiatives like the Open Web Education Alliance (OWEA) and The Web Standards Project Education Task Force (WaSP EduTF). Which means that I would not be helping educators and industry leaders from around the world to improve web education. I would not have opportunities to travel, speak, and write about web education in meaningful venues. Sharing was the most powerful thing I could do and I am incredibly grateful that I did not listen to those people stuck in Newtonian thinking and instead embraced the ideas of new science. Ideas like self-organization, which lead to people who saw the need to create a better web for a better world, giving their time and resources and getting other people involved to create meaningful and positive change in the world.

Wheatley (2006) says that, “Most people come to their organizations with a desire to do something meaningful, to contribute and serve” (p. 132). She states, “The call of meaning is unlike any other, and we would do well to spend more time together listening for the deep wells of purpose that nourish all of us.” I couldn’t agree more and I find this especially true when speaking with others who are involved with improving education. Wheatley (2006) states,

“In all types of organizations, too many filled with people exhausted, cynical, and burned-out, I have witnessed the incredible levels of energy and passion that can be evoked when leaders or colleagues take the time to recall people to the meaning of their work. It only takes a simple but powerful question: “What called you here? What were you dreaming you might accomplish when you first came to work here?” This question always elicits a deep response because so few of us work for trivial purposes.” (p. 132)

Maybe these are the questions we should ask of each other. Maybe this is where our focus should be—on meaning and discovery—not fear and secrecy. Wheatley (2006) says, “In every organization, we need to look internally, to see one another as the critical resources on this voyage of discovery. We need to learn how to engage the creativity that exists everywhere in our organizations” (p. 9). She goes on to say,

“In the quantum world, relationship is the key determiner of everything. Subatomic particles come into form and are observed only as they are in relationship to something else. They do not exist as independent “things.” There are no basic ‘building blocks.’ Quantum physics paints a strange yet enticing view of a world that, as Heisenberg characterized it, ‘appears as a complicated tissue of events, in which connections of different kinds alternate or overlap or combine and hereby determine the texture of the whole’ (1958, 107). These unseen connections between what were previously thought to be separate entities are the fundamental ingredient of all creation.” (Wheatley, 2006, p. 11)

Maybe if we switched our focus from a top-down leadership model and started considering the relationships between people and allow people to become self-organized we would find that more people are satisfied with their work, their work environment, and with themselves.

“With relationships, we give up predictability and open up to potentials. Several years ago, I read that elementary particles were ‘bundles of potentiality.’ I began to think of all of us this way, for surely we are as undefinable, unanalyzable, and bundled with potential as anything in the universe. None of us exists independent of our relationships with others. Different settings and people evoke some qualities from us and leave others dormant. In each of these relationships, we are different, new in some way.” (Wheatley, 2006, p. 35)

Everyday we witness people developing their own groups and outlets to find meaning and act on discovery. We see this happening in spite of organizations like businesses, schools, and governments not because of these organizations. We witness more and more people sharing information. We see people embrace their bundles of potentiality. Now it’s time for organizations to do the same thing. To understand that there is no single leader in a group, no one person who can solve all of the challenges. It’s time to realize that it is the relationship between all of the parts—between every person—that creates a cohesive whole, a whole that is able to effectively solve challenges and produce positive change.

Is there a doctor in the house?

April 13th, 2010
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My father often says, “if I get to the point where I think I know everything, I might as well be dead. There is no point to living if I’m not learning.” These words have always resonated. Everyday, I set out to learn something new and everyday I do just that; I learn. These learning moments help fill my life with joy and with purpose. They make life interesting and fun.

It’s probably not a big surprise that I am a huge fan of higher education. I’ve enjoyed being both a student and an educator. Although, I’m always learning and always teaching, I’ve maintained the official roles of student and educator at separate times; this is about to change.

Last week, I received a letter that started with this:

Congratulations! I am pleased to inform you that the doctoral faculty committee has recommended you for acceptance to the Doctoral program in Learning and Leadership at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in Fall 2010. This decision was reached following a thorough and holistic review of your qualifications. This will certainly be an exciting period of learning for you and all of us associated with the program.

I’m not sure when I first through that earning a doctoral degree was something I was keen on pursuing. I vaguely remember thoughts of wanting to be a doctor when I was in elementary school but I’ve always been squeamish around blood and I also remember wanting to be an astronaut, a ballerina, and Jean-Luc Picard’s wife. Obviously, not all dreams can be realized. As I began going full throttle with improving web education, I began to understand that I wanted to further my own education.

Some people will wonder why I have decided to advance my education when I already have earned a terminal degree in my field. I’m not sure why I wouldn’t want to learn more. I am sure that I don’t know everything and that learning is rewarding. I also want to set a positive example for my students and for my 20-year old niece (who Shaun and I are guardians of) and let them know that even though not all dreams can be realized, many goals can be accomplished. I want them to see that education is important and worth the time and effort that goes into earning a degree. So in Fall 2010 I’ll embark on a new journey; I’ll begin earning a Doctor of Education degree in Learning and Leadership.

I’m extremely fortunate and really excited to be earning this degree at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC). This degree will afford me the latitude to continue to dedicate my time and resources to both web topics and web education. It’s truly wonderful that the degree I researched and wanted pursue is actually, offered right here at UTC. Earning my MFA in Integrated Design at The University of Baltimore lead me on the path of all things Teach the Web, InterACT, the InterACT book and OWEA. I’m completely stoked to start the next phase of this web education adventure and see where earning my doctoral degree leads.

Simple Pleasures

January 30th, 2010
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There are moments in our lives when things are put into perspective—when we have an opportunity for clarity. These past few weeks have provided me with such an opportunity.

The second week of January I was very sick and missed an entire day of classes. I was able to get Basecamp messages to my students before I went to the ER. The students held critiques and worked in the studio even without me there (I have great students). I didn’t know that I was having an allergic reaction to medication that was suppose to be making me feel better. Instead of helping me, the medicine was causing me to not be able to hold any fluids. I spent the majority of the day getting IV fluids and meds put into me. Not fun but I was grateful I could receive the medical attention I needed.

Although not feeling 100%, I returned to the classroom the following week. I started most of my classes with a conversation about the simple pleasures of life and design. I realized that one simple pleasure that I often take for granted is just being able to have a drink of water. Not being able to consume any water without becoming violently ill and seeing the images of people in Haiti so in need of clean water really made an impact on me. I decided that every time I sipped a bit of water during the week, I would take a brief moment to enjoy the simple pleasure, the opportunity, and be grateful.

I shared this with my students and we talked about how easy it is to get wrapped up in deadlines, expectations, and everything else that comes along with being a designer. We discussed what made us want to be designers and what kept us motivated. We shared our simple pleasures of design. Our conversations lead to my students writing short blog posts about this topic. It’s still early in the semester and in theory we’re not as stressed out as we will probably be during mid-terms and finals. Hopefully, these posts will help us to remember the simple pleasures we find in design.

Some quotes from my junior and sophomore students about the simple pleasures they find in design.

“Simple pleasures can be big moments like a finished crisp product or just a beautiful line, typeface, or color that just seems so right when you place it in a design.”

“Doing something creative and expressive that doesn’t involve file saving and vectors is a lovely release.”

“All my life, I have been interested in adventures and mysteries. When I realized that I could walk down a road and observe the creativity around me, I realized that there was always an adventure and a mystery waiting.”

“I find simple pleasure in problem solving.”

“Packing my art supplies after a long night of working, a simple pleasure.”

“I really enjoy taking the time to make sure things are placed where they need to be, and making sure that the kerning is absolutely perfect.”

“Learning a new shortcut/key command/trick that I know will save me HOURS worth of work in the future. I know this may not apply to everyone, but I’m a student. This is huge.”

“It’s wonderful to be able to express what you love in a completely original way…”

“What everything boils down to is that the pleasure in art for me, comes from love and results in my expression of that love, whether it be my love for the sun through photography, my love for emotions through my journal, my love for my friends through letters, or my love for creativity, eloquence, innovation, and beauty through design.”

“I really love that fact that design actually improves our lives.”

My simple pleasures of design tend to change. I enjoy teaching students and sharing my experiences. This semester I am teaching Typography 1 and I’m rediscovering how wonderful drawing letters can be. I find pleasure in the fact that even though each of my days is filled with design, they bring new and varying challenges.

If you haven’t taken the time lately to think about the simple pleasures you find in design and the creative process, set aside a few minutes and do so. If you’re in an office setting, in a classroom, or with friends/family share what you discover.

What are your simple design pleasures?

Students Must Love Technology

January 13th, 2010
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Tuesday, my mom, who was once a teacher, sarcastically stated, “your students must love technology.”

Tuesday, I didn’t feel well. Actually, I felt so bad I couldn’t stand up straight but I knew class needed to move forward. Due to snow, half of my courses were canceled the previous class meeting and I knew we couldn’t afford to fall further behind.

So what’s an educator to do?

I logged into my first course’s Basecamp space and wrote the students the following message:

Hi Everyone,

I’m not feeling well. I’m doing my best to feel better and make it into class, I’m not sure when I will make it in or if it won’t be until Professional Practices. It is important for me to attend Prof. Pract. since our client is coming in so I will be using the time until then to try to get better. Thank you in advance for understanding. Until that time follow the instructions below for Web Media 2. Review all of these instructions before starting and let me know if you have any questions. I will keep an eye out on my email during the beginning of class.

Break up into the following groups:

{I listed 5 groups with 3 student names in each group.}

Spend 30 minutes reviewing each group member’s 2 clever web banners. Have a meaningful discussion about each our your group members’ choices. Make sure everyone is given the opportunity to speak and to listen. Make it a discussion not a monologue. You do not need to only talk about your own banners: ask questions and talk with your group about their choices, too.

  • Was it difficult to find 2 clever, well-designed banners?
  • Where did you have the best success finding them? (What types of websites?)
  • Why did you choose these examples?
  • What makes the banners “clever”?
  • What design elements are working?
  • What design elements could be stronger?
  • What copy is working?
  • How could the copy be stronger?

Spend 20 minutes writing a blog post that includes the type of information that you’ve discussed with your group. The post should be at least 250-words and speak to your 2 banner examples and to the general information you discovered/realized during your group discussion. Post your writing and your images of your 2 banners. If you write about your group members’ banners include those images, as well.

Take a 20 minute break (really not a minute longer).

Spend 70 minutes (the remainder of class) working on the following tasks in the following order:

  1. Post your potential domain names on Basecamp.
  2. Read the Web Banner Tips article (ignore tip #10).
  3. Read the Optimizing Graphics article.
  4. Work on the Web in the Wild Banner project.

Homework

  1. Complete Web in the Wild banner.

Thank you again for understanding. Make sure to follow these instructions and take this seriously, pretend I am there, because I could show up at any time. Also, note that you want to use your studio time wisely as the completed Web in the Wild banner is due at the beginning of next class.

Leslie

I used the message as a learning moment. Showing the students how to be accountable even when you are unable to follow through with your responsibilities. My Web Media 2 course and my Professional Practices (Prof. Pract.) course have mostly the same students in each course. In the message I demonstrated the importance of prioritizing responsibilities. I also made my expectations specific, clear, and the instructions easy to follow. This allowed my students to get a sense of the amount of planning I actually do. I keep my classes seemingly organic however there is a lot of very specific planning that allows my classes to seem free flowing. Students also were able to get a sense of the working world. These kind of situations happen all of the time. Instructions are often provided via email or through an online project management tool. Whenever possible, I treat my students as professionals, in return they act professionally.

I was able to rally and stand upright again and made it into class. When I walked into the classroom, all of my students were working. The room was quiet; one person was playing mellow music for the entire class (they often take turns being the DJ for the day); and, a few students were discussing the assignments.

A couple of factors helped our coursework stay on track:

  1. We’ve had a number of courses together. My students know that I’m serious and that expect them to follow instructions.
  2. My students generally they take their coursework seriously and want to get the most out of their courses. They’ve paid for their education and they want to take full advantage of their investment.
  3. My students know that I will do everything in my power to be in class. I don’t miss class unless I absolutely have to. I imagine they knew I would show up at an unexpected time with the expectation to find them working.
  4. Solid prepping and a great plan book. When I plan my class time, I break down the time into minutes. So I already knew what needed to happen and how much time each task should take. I was able to pass that information onto the students even though I felt so sick. Because I had preplanned I didn’t have to think about the nitty gritty details. I just had to relay them to my students using the technology I had available.
  5. Technology. If I was an educator before the Internet existed all I would be able to do is call into the office and ask the office manager to let my students know that I wouldn’t be in class and that class was canceled. The students wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn the information they learned on Tuesday and we would have fallen behind in the course. At 7:19am I tweeted,

“Web Media 2 students please read your email/check Basecamp”

and they were able to read the message I had posted on Basecamp. I realized that I needed confirmation that at least one of my students had read the Basecamp message so I added the comment

“And someone in the class please post a comment letting me know you’ve received this info. Thank you.”

Shortly after, I receive a comment that just read, “Received.” Despite feeling so ill, the brevity of the response made me smile.

Technology has really altered the way information can be disseminated. It allows us to be more connected, which worked out well in this situation. Even though students enjoy days off, I have a feeling my students were happy they didn’t show up for an 8am class just to be sent home. They were able to accomplish a lot and we’re totally on track.

So it turns out that I’m human and sometimes life/illness gets in the way of what I really want/need to do, like be in the classroom with my students. It’s comforting to know that my students and I have a solid relationship; I can trust them to be responsible, they can trust me to use technology to ensure that their getting the most out of their education and from me.

My mom is most likely correct (99.9% of the time she is); my students probably have a love/hate relationship with technology. Bad news—there really are no days off from school because the professor isn’t feeling well anymore. Good news—there really are no days off from school because the professor isn’t feeling well anymore.

Back To It

January 9th, 2010
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This last year has been busy—recently I was told I was the queen of understatement.

Let me try this again—this last year has been beyond crazy, insanely, overwhelming, and wonderfully busy.

Well, that doesn’t totally capture it but it’s a little more accurate. My schedule has been so full that I’ve completely neglected posting here. I became one of the many who found it much easier to tweet than to blog; one hundred and forty characters were uncomplicated. Even though Twitter made more sense to my lifestyle, I found myself feeling guilty that I wasn’t blogging. I would start writing posts then something would come up and I wouldn’t have a chance to polish them and if the words weren’t perfect and the sentences weren’t spun just right, I didn’t post them. So I have an entire folder of potential posts that sit there taunting me and making me feel worse. I’ve decided life is way too short to feel this way. So I’m making a commitment to myself to stop this cycle. Expect regular posts that will hopefully be well written but might not be 100% perfect. Here we go…

This week marks the beginning of the Spring semester. On my first day of classes, it snowed and school was dismissed early, which made me question the logic of calling this term “Spring” semester. Because of the early dismissal I was only able to teach 1 ½ courses. This term I teach three, double-contact hour, studio courses:

  • Web Media 2 (3rd year students),
  • Typography 1 (2nd year students), and
  • Professional Practices of Graphic Design (3rd year students).

My 3rd year students are like a family. They move through most design courses as a cohort and end up spending a lot of time with each other. During their 3rd year, they spend a lot of time with me. Last semester they called their Tuesdays and Thursdays the “Day of Leslie”. Their personalities vary widely, from completely shy and quiet to very loud and not shy at all. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we spend almost 5 ½ hours together. I’m not perfect and neither are my students but most of us are in the classroom for positive reasons and really put effort into the courses.

I do my best to balance the “Day of Leslie” with quiet time for people who need the silence and time for others to be a little more boisterous. I’m sure both groups wish we spent more time in the environment they are more comfortable being in but each group respects the balance and rarely complains. We take mini-breaks throughout the day and many of the students often break out in some sort of dance. I’ve told this to my senior faculty and I’m pretty sure they think it’s a little crazy and maybe it is. But as long as the little crazy is helping my students morale and keeping them focused and creative I embrace it. With such a long day together we need to take breaks and have a little fun. It seems to keep all of our energy levels up and the mood in the classroom seems happier after a little fun and physical movement. Extra bonus, last semester, I learned two new “dance” moves: Karate Chopping Bats and the Garbage Disposal, oh yes, I dance, too. After our mini-breaks, we all get back to work.

Our first class of Web Media 2 was a lot of fun. We had a special guest from the UTC Lupton Library who demonstrated the Safari Tech Books Online subscription. This semester students will be reading from a number of different books so we’re going to test drive the e-books and see how it goes. These are some of the books we will be using:

The UTC Lupton Library team has been really supportive of incorporating technology into the classroom, coursework, and the library. Our guest asked the students to help test out a couple of new ways the students can contact librarians for assistance. One of these ways is the library’s new mobile site. If my Web Media 2 students provide helpful feedback to the library staff in written form and show me that they have done so, they earn extra credit.

The highlight of the first Web Media 2 class was having the opportunity to announce that EngineHosting is supporting our class by providing free hosting to my students for the remainder of their time in the program and for one year after they’ve graduated. This was an awesome announcement to make and I wanted to deliver it in such a way that my students really understood EngineHosting’s generosity, the monetary equivalent, and the fact that each student needed to really respect the relationship with EngineHosting. I photo copied hundred and twenty dollar bills (not to size of course and only one sided, don’t want to get sent to jail). I gave students an envelope and wouldn’t let them open it until they all had received one. Then they all opened their envelopes and I explained about the hosting and this opportunity. The students were completely shocked. They sort of didn’t know what to do or say (which is rare). They were totally surprised and it was really fun to see the different emotions on their faces. They were so elated and just so grateful and even asked if they could bake the good folks at EngineHosting cookies.

Thank you Nevin, Laurie, and all the wonderful, supportive people at EngineHosting that will be working with my students! And thanks again for letting me have an Oprah moment… and you get hosting, and you, and you… It’s the kind of moment an educator doesn’t often (or ever) get to experience, thank you.

Change the Web

January 20th, 2009

Today was a great day to work on a university campus: great to be around the next generation that will usher in change. Young people who believe in change and who believe they can be apart of what makes the future a place we will want to live. As I told my students, “today is not about whom you voted for. It is not about politics. It is about opportunity, change, and hope: things that we all deserve to desire.”

Today, while I was in the classroom teaching the next generation of designers, A List Apart posted issue No. 276, an issue dedicated to change, change in web design education. Aarron Walter wrote an insightful article where he states,

No industry can sustain itself if it doesn’t master the art of cultivating new talent—an art that requires close ties between practitioners and educators.

I agree with Aarron and I hope that together our articles will create new opportunities for change.

Building a Door

January 19th, 2009

Sunday, January 11th was not just another graduation ceremony. It was not just a day 6-years in the making, or just the day that I earned my Masters in Fine Arts majoring in Integrated Design from the University of Baltimore. It was not just the day when 6-years of working full-time, starting and running my own business while attending night courses, teaching university level courses while writing my thesis, came to completion.

And I was not just attending my graduation, listening to inspirational speeches, and moving my cap’s tassel from one-side to another. I was one of the people who spoke and tried to inspire an audience of 3,000.

Students and their families have general fears and anxieties over graduating but the state of our economy has heightened these fears and anxieties. I knew that I did not want to speak to state of the economy. I wanted to share a message of hope and opportunity. So I kept the commencement speech positive, I thought of my students who will graduate this year and what message I want them to take with them once they leave the security of the university setting. Below is the commencement speech that I gave.

Good afternoon.

Thank you to our distinguished guests, we are happy that you have joined us for this occasion.

And a very special thank you to faculty, staff, family, and friends who together have helped those of us who are graduating today to navigate the last few years of our lives and who have helped us to form a foundation on which we will build greatness in the years to come.

I am honored to share the stage with people who have made a positive impact on my life. An impact that runs both wide and deep. People who have drastically altered the course of my life. People at the University of Baltimore who are selfless, encouraging, and supportive.

One of the things I have learned is that I do not believe in luck. I believe that hard work leads to good fortune. That being prepared for opportunity and being ready to embrace it makes you seem lucky to those around you.

Every one of us who are graduating today has worked hard to be here. We have given our resources to continue our education in order to create meaningful opportunities. We are not here today because we are lucky. We are here because we wanted more, more opportunities. We wanted more from life and we were willing to put forth the effort to accomplish this.

Today we should celebrate our accomplishments and ourselves. It is a day of reflection, a day that we remember what we have sacrificed to be here and what we have gained through the process of earning our degrees.

It is a time to recognize that what we have learned goes beyond words we have read in textbooks. Our education has taught us many things. It has taught us to work with other people, to give to others, to learn from others, and to challenge the status quo. It has taught us that we can be more than who we thought we could be.

And now we have a responsibility to take what we have learned and share it with our community. Now we start a new phase in our lives and it is up to us to be prepared for opportunities that present themselves.

As Milton Berle once said, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”

We are all faced with building our own doors, then taking the steps to open the door and cross over the threshold. In life we are faced with a variety of doors that we can walk through. Some are heavy. Really heavy and we cannot open them ourselves. This is when we need to call on our friends and family and let them know our goals. Let them know that we need assistance in opening a door, a door that will lead us on a new journey and bring more opportunity.

We need to remember that most people want to help and by allowing them to help us, we give them the opportunity to feel good about themselves. We allow them to make a positive difference in our lives. And these people should know that when they are standing at a door that seems impossible to open by themselves we will be there to help them open their door of opportunity.

So we need to be prepared to help ourselves, to ask and accept help from our support network, and to help others. Then when opportunity presents itself we are able to embrace it. We are able to take on a new challenge, to engage with new people. To allow ourselves the chance to work hard towards a goal that excites us. We are able to challenge ourselves to connect to life in a new way, to follow a new direction.

We are able to recognize that what we thought we wanted might not be what we really needed and that is OK because we are prepared, prepared for opportunity. Opportunity that will often take us on paths that we could not foresee but are paths that we should journey. We must say yes to this journey. Say yes life. Say yes to the possibilities. We must continue to work hard. Continue to be decent people. Continue to grow, learn, and give.

It is up to us to take what we have learned and apply it to our lives. To recognize when opportunity is knocking. And when it does not, we need to be wiling to take the steps to create our own opportunities. We should remember that change is often scary and that facing the unknown can be a task surrounded by fear. But rather than running away from those things that frighten us, we should embrace the change as something that will expand our field of opportunity.

We must recognize that we are not just lucky.

That we are people who work hard. We are people who desire opportunity. People who prepare for the unknown. Who embrace change, who learn from failure, and who celebrate success.

We work hard at being fortunate.

Thank you.