A Janus 2020 Look

Janus was an ancient Roman god of beginnings, transitions, time, passages, and endings.  He has two faces, as he always looks both at the past and the future.  The past year has certainly been a passage, with the global pandemic and the recent American elections…and as the year draws to a close, looking back and looking ahead seems in order.  The year was full of lessons, and at least with the outgoing President Trump, I typically had more than enough case lessons for my Social Media course!

I was not able to attend the latest Perpetual Beta Coffee Club – a global community hosted by Harold Jarche that meets monthly via Zoom.  But I watched the recording of the December 17 meeting.  Andrew Trickett had suggested that it be a Janus meeting, and some interesting ideas were shared.

(If you are interested in fresh ideas from the global gig economy, I highly recommend joining Harold’s Coffee Club. The cost of a latte monthly brings you a wealth of actionable information!)

One member noted that as an optimist, it was helpful to realize that it can always get worse!  That is frightening as one looks at how bad 2020 was, yet some pundits have warned that 2021 could be even worse…that this was just the warm-up for what is to come!

I hope not!

And I am the first to admit that 2020 did not hit me as hard as it hit others.  I am twice retired, and my monthly retirement from the Navy and from my years in higher education, meant that money was not an issue for my wife or I.  We listened to the scientists and took the precautions suggested for wearing masks, not going out except as absolutely needed, and social distancing.

But like many families, COVID-19 did have impacts.  My younger brother’s family was hit hard, with my brother, his wife, their daughter, his son-in law, and his brother-in-law’s family all infected.  My niece’s husband spent several weeks in the ICU, and her uncle passed away.  Just today, I was in a local Seven Eleven and asked the manager why he was not wearing a mask.  He informed me that the pandemic was a hoax and that now that election was done, the virus would be gone.  It amazes me how flippant some people can be in the worse health crisis this country (or world) has faced.

And Seven-Eleven just lost a customer!

I missed seeing the kids and grandkids obviously!  2020 started with us learning that one of my daughters had breast cancer, and the early months were spent in New England helping out … until the COVID crisis really hit. She fought the cancer while her immune system was compromised, so COVID was a reality and a scare through-out the year.  I am so proud of how she handled “life”, work, motherhood, and all that this year threw at her!

I have missed our couple of times a week dinners with friends, but we compensated with Zoom.  In fact, one point Luis Suarez made in the Coffee Club was how many were able to quickly adapt the ways in which they worked … if they had the right mindset.  I saw that in my students as well.  I taught in two totally online programs – one for Northeastern and one for Creighton, so the pivot online was not an issue for me.  What I did see was increased focus on what that might mean … and I think that was a good thing.

As I look back, I hope I as a person and my colleagues in education and the world at large work on that mindset.  This past year, the web (and the physical world) was awash in partisan bickering, whether about the pandemic or politics.  It was rather nostalgic to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” this Christmas season … but it seemed that new Christmas movies were focused more on putting others down than lifting them up.  Ken Blanchard’s 2002 book Whale Done! explored the power of accentuating the positive – and we as a country and as educators need to start catching people doing things right.

Poster of Its a Wonderful life and cover of Whale Done

I think that one positive that came from being locked down is that I spent more time engaging with my students.  Most responded positively … and those that did not had good reasons, given the pandemic.  I can only control my attitude, but I want to work on being even more positive as the next year unfolds.  Some of the discussion in the Coffee Club this month revolved around the idea of social relationships as part of work.  I plan to be even more mindful of how I might build relationships with my students.

I had an interesting end of year conversation with one of my students, who thanked me for the conversation!  It involved inclusion, and I worked to make my activities more inclusive.  One activity involved curating information about leaders in edtech, and while I had purposely included both males and females, it was decidedly white, which unfortunately matched the field.  So this time I included some emerging Black leaders as well.

Another activity that I really enjoyed was one I borrowed from Flower Darby.  As their final tweet in the Social Media course, the students picked from the following pictures as the one that best represented their mood at the end of the course (with an explanation in 280 characters).  My student noted:

“…The fact that you used non-human pictures enabled folks to not have to confront a lack of representation in their choices.”

Good point!  The balloons, cat, and dog were the top picks … though I was hoping someone would pick my favorite – “The Kid” Grogu!

As an aside – the finale to Season Two of the Mandalorian rocked!

Many have noted that the future is going to be different.  We just spent a year working and learning remotely … so there will not be a return to “normal.”  An Avoa post discussed preparing for the new normal, noting “If there were sacred cows before, there are no longer.  Kamran Rosen posted last month about this being Year One of a new era in education.  And Dian Schaffhauser posted in Campus Technology about envisioning the future of higher education in a post-pandemic world. I plan to continue my online teaching in the coming year … and I expect exciting days are in store for what this future higher ed landscape might entail!

As 2021 approaches, I also hope to “live” more in each day.  My wife and I should qualify for vaccines fairly early, since we are over 65…and we do plan to get them.  My prostate cancer appears to be re-emerging after 18 years in remission, so I have tests scheduled for February to confront that.  The important thing (a lesson from 18 years ago) is that positive attitude is crucial.  Cancer sucks … but the alternative to living is not an option!

A few years back, I noted that I had not yet taught my best class, nor written my best blog post!  It appears that a chapter I and two of my doctoral students wrote for an upcoming book was accepted, so I should have a chapter coming out this next year!  I have over 20 students in my Winter Northeastern EdTech course, four independent doctoral students in my Technology and Leadership course, and six doctoral candidates working on their dissertations, with another defense now slated for mid-January.

So…it IS a wonderful life!  I look forward to continuing to engage with all of you in 2021!



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