Monthly Archives: October 2018

#heweb18: solving the mermaid’s dilemma

A mermaid performs in a Dive Bar aquarium

It’s perhaps an apt metaphor that one of our favorite stops during the recent HighEdWeb Conference in Sacramento (aka #heweb18) was the nightly mermaid shows at a place called Dive Bar. Because, in a way, higher ed communicators find themselves in the mermaid’s dilemma.

The folk tale that also served as the basis for the Disney blockbuster “The Little Mermaid” features the mermaid Ariel falling in love with a human, but facing a difficult decision: If she remains true to who she is, as a sea-dwelling mermaid, she has no future with the man she loves. If she could adapt human form, she could never go back to her mermaid lifestyle.

We feel like that in the higher ed digital community sometimes. We try to stay true to ourselves and what we know our best practices, but something we find ourselves trying to please others in ways that go against our own core values.

We can gain enough expertise to speak at a conference full of brilliant humans, only to be treated like paupers on our own campuses. Through education, training, sharing ideas, innovation and trial and error, we gain expertise that allows us to generate success for our institutions and our audiences. But then HiPPOs and various others with no knowledge of these acquired best practices dismiss our expertise and make requests we know are not good for our institutions: Post this flyer on social media, put this dense mission statement prominently on the website, write this story that we’ve said no to others in the past and now will have to write 10 more in the future.

But the thing about the mermaid’s dilemma, and folks tails in general, is that it assumes a false dichotomy: We can either be this thing or that thing. We make the same mistake in higher ed: We can either do things our way or their way. But that’s overly simplistic. Generally fairy tales work themselves out with some kind of deux ex machina or some kind of magic. nd you know what: We work in positions where we can make magic happen.

As it turns out, closing keynote Sir Ken Robinson gave us the keys for getting past our mermaid’s dilemma. He spoke of the three Cs that aren’t used enough in educating children but which can better prepare them for the future: curiosity, creativity and collaboration.

Curiosity: Yes, we think we have the answers, but have we, in fact, asked the questions? One facet of curiosity is that we need to get outside ourselves (or get over ourselves) and learn more about what those asking things of us truly want. Another facet of curiosity is always looking for a better way and trying new things to move our institutions — and the industry — forward.

Creativity: This is where the magic happens. Whether it’s in writing, video, photography or other content creation; coding; design; implementation of technology; or any other part of digital communications, we put our minds, our hands and our teams to work to solve problems, even the ones that seem difficult if not impossible.

Collaboration: The idea that, in higher ed, we only have our way or their way is self-destructive. That administrator or dean or faculty member whose requests might rub you the wrong way wants the same thing you do: to recruit great students, provide them with opportunities and pave the way toward fruitful futures. We might disagree on the methods, but we want the same outcome. This is an opportunity for you to cultivate your curiosity (learn more about their viewpoints, problems and needs), instill your creativity (find clever and effective ways to solve their problems) and collaboration (remember that you’re on the same team, and to go out and build those teams. And #heweb18 shows how many of us collaborate with other campuses by sharing expertise, ideas and advice.

To those I would add a fourth C: Care. This came up in multiple presentations and contexts. We do what we do because we care about our institutions and our students. But speakers also kept promoting self-care: about finding the right work-life rhythm, about finding ways to recharge and refresh our bodies and minds and about realizing that if we’re not happy and energized, we can’t bring the best to our institutions and our students.

For those of us blessed to work in higher education, it isn’t a question of doing things in the way we’re comfortable with or abandoning what we’ve always known to please others. It’s a question of how we can make our choices work for everybody at the table, and ultimately work for our students. It’s hard work but it’s also a kind of magic.

And to attend a conference where we constantly learn new and exciting things, see mermaids swimming in giant aquariums atop bars and attend the awesome annual #karaokeplane where hundreds of people — both from the conference and locals — come together for an uplifting  evening of improvised entertainment … well, it’s enough to make you believe that magic can happen.

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The Frank Turner experience: part concert, part therapy

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Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls rocking in concert

Seeing Frank Turner live is as much of a group therapy session as it is a(n excellent) concert.

Frank’s catalogue includes beautiful, poignant song about broken people trying to mend themselves. His words have found many of us at the right time in the right place with the right message. For me, songs like “Recovery,” “The Next Storm” and “Get Better” all lifted my spirits and my thoughts when I really needed it. And looking around the crowd that enjoyed Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls’ show last night at the State Theater in Ithaca, I was far from alone. Many people were shouting his lyrics back cathartically, while others wore their emotion on their faces, these songs washing over them and making them feel cleansed.

He’s been through a lot himself, known as a man who got where he is by a rather ridiculous work ethic couple with being a charismatic everyman. It comes across in his songs, his shows and, if you want a nice read, his autobiography “The Road Beneath My Feet.” Frank is a rock star, to be sure, but this nervous, angular, foul-mouthed Englishman really feels like one of us.

Frank tells audiences his shows have two rules: “Don’t be an asshole” and “If you know the words, sing.” If you don’t know the words, he says, you can dance. But he also urged the crowd to dance during various songs, so much of the crowd was singing and dancing.

He started with a slow song, the title track off his new album “Be More Kind,” which thematically set the theme for the night. Frank and the band picked things up with “1933,” one of a few tracks on the new record castigating fascists and racists (as any good punk rocker would) and by the time the crowd was sing “we can get better/because we’re not dead yet” from “Get Better,” the show was in full gear.

A smattering of people had their smartphones out taking a lot of pictures and recording, although it seemed like less than an average show. Frank and the Sleeping Souls provide a very immersive concert experience, best not viewed through a tiny lense. Take a few photos to remember the experience, sure — I usually do mine during the first few songs, then put my phone away — but realize this a live and dynamic thing you should enjoy in the moment. In “Don’t Worry,” the first track on his new album, Frank even has a few lines that seem to address the need to spend less time with technology and be more human:

Don’t let your heart get hardened into stone
Or lose yourself in looking at your phone
So many so-called friends
And still you feel alone
You should spend more time with the do’s than with the don’ts

This was an evening about doing and feeling and singing and dancing. Frank inserted a three-song solo acoustic set, which included “Smiling at Strangers on Trains,” a reworking of an old song from his previous band, Million Dead. Then he asked the crowd up front to make a circle and a mosh pit broke out (I was more concerned about my glasses than my body, but we all made it through).

The band closed the set with “Photosynthesis” (the show-closer for some previous tours). During the break before the last chorus, Frank said we had a chance to take this feeling, this positivity forward, that on Monday morning we could go to work or school and choose not to be assholes, to make compassion in fashion again and to simply be more kind. It sounds cheesy to say, but it was actually quite inspirational.

His four-song encore included one last fast dancing song, “Four Simple Words,” before he closed with “Polaroid Picture,” a song about making memories last. He asked the crowd to put their arms on each other’s shoulders, and soon strangers on both sides of me stretched out their arms and smiled. So we were one big, sweaty, happy wave of people swaying side to side together, one more indelible memory during a song about just such a feeling.

The best art is about transformative experiences. For many of us fans, that’s what Frank Turner’s songs mean to our life. Last night felt that way too, where even a solo like me was dancing with hundreds of strangers turned friends. How many of us got up this morning and went to work or school and decide to be more kind as a result? We’ll never know for sure. But what if we did?

 

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