Policy vs. Guidance Pedagogy

During an ethics board meeting recently, we discussed ways of providing direction to faculty members who have student-based research in their courses.  For faculty who have research elements built into their courses, it can be a challenge to determine what counts as research, and whether said research is subject to the rules governing conducting research at an institution (specifically in our case, whether an ethics application would need to be submitted to the board).  Not every scholarly activity necessarily counts as research, and not every kind of research requires an approval from the institutional research ethics board.  Since this can be a bit of a murky area, we have been considering ways of providing direction.

The conversation abstracted away from the specifics of this case, and we discussed some of the issues concerning policy and guidance, which applies to education and pedagogy more generally.

The benefit of policy is that it spells out clear expectations of what is expected, what the division of responsibility looks like, and what consequences might be considered in the event of a policy breach.  Policy is designed to protect the institution through due diligence, and it focuses on expressing what rules need to be followed in order to not get into trouble.  Loopholes arise when the policies are not sufficiently rigorous the cover contingency cases and when policies are not harmonized laterally or vertically with other policies.  Policy documents focus on the “ends.”

On the other hand, guidance documents focus on the “means” by providing suggestions and best practices that could be followed.  Guidance documents typically do not include comprehensive rules unless it’s appropriate.  Instead, the purpose of the guidance document is to provide clarity in ambiguity without necessarily spelling things out.  They are deliberately left open because guidance documents are meant to supplement and add to ongoing conversations within a field or system.  While guidance documents also do not provide comprehensive options to contingent situations, the strength of the guidance document is that it’s educational in intent – it provides reasoning that helps the reader understand the position it takes, and paints a vision of what success looks like.

I realized in the meeting that this has a lot of crossover into considerations for teaching.  It’s is better, in my opinion, to teach students frameworks for thinking, rather than rules for success.  In the case of ethics, I would avoid teaching students what rules they need to follow, and what they need to do to avoid getting into trouble.  Instead, I would seek to build good practices and habits into the material I’m teaching so that I can model what success looks like and help them understand why.  This way of conceiving the material is forward-thinking.  It gets the students to envision what the end-step looks like, and allows them to work backwards to figure out how they want to arrive there.  By focusing on the principles you want the students to uphold (as opposed to rules to follow), the students learn to think for themselves and are able to justify the decisions they make.  This also has the benefit of avoiding the problem with prescriptive policies – students are prepared to reason through novel situations based on principles.

 

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

 

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5 Post-Conference Thoughts

I was away in Montreal for the Canadian Association of Research Ethics Boards conference last week, so I didn’t get a chance to write a blog post leading up to today (hence why the post is late).  However, I didn’t want to leave you hanging, so here are some thoughts on attending the conference.

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This was the first conference I attended where work paid for it.  It was nice not needing to pay for the entrance, the flight, or the hotel room (previously, I would billet with conference organizers to cut down on cost).  It was pretty rad to stay at the same hotel that the conference was operating out of, which made life way easier.

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Conferences can actually be a great learning opportunity.  I learned a lot from the experiences of others as we shared stories and case studies, all of which I have brought back with me to bring to my boards.  I took around 11-pages of notes over the three days, so lots of stuff to review and implement.

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Networking is not something I have a lot of experience in.  In general, I’m terrible with schmoozing and making small talk.  On the plane from Toronto to Montreal, I downloaded my copy of Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone and brushed up on some conference networking best practices.  That hour I spent reading on the flight was pretty helpful over the next three days.

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I handed out business cards and collected them while in town.  I’ve already received an email from the President and CEO of an organization out of the US to follow-up on our conversation about receiving accreditation.  This is an example of what you should do with business card swaps – you go in, make a personal connection with the person, and give them a reason to follow-up.  If you give out your card, make sure to follow-up shortly after the conference to keep the connection going.

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Attending the conference put me a little out of my comfort zone.  I could have stayed comfortably in the hotel the entire time and avail myself of the amenities.  However, at various people’s prompting, I did venture out to explore the downtown core.  I made friends with one of the local bartenders as we smack-talked KW, and I was able to enjoy some genuine Montreal poutine.  For my first dinner, I went out alone, but on the second night, I made sure to go out for dinner with a group of people.  Meeting new people is challenging and not a natural thing for me, so I had to intentionally choose to put myself out there.  Having said that, I also respected downtime, and spent the evenings quietly in my hotel room enjoying movies and YouTube to recharge after the day.  I think it’s possible to strike a balance, and it’s good to respect your own personal limit.

All in all, it was a great experience.  I’m glad I went, but I was very happy to return home.  In the end, I felt “conferenced-out” and was looking forward to seeing my fiance after an intense three days of talking about research ethics.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

 

What I Read in 2017

Another year of reading has finished, so it’s time to take stock of how I did for 2017.  While I’m not an advocate of reading purely for the sake of speed or volume, I do challenge myself to see how many books I can get through during the year, if for nothing else than to ensure I’m carving out time to read.  For my 2016 results, check back to my post on What I read in 2016.

This year, I managed to get through 44 books and almost 14,000 pages, which is on par with my results from last year.  I posted my top list of books I read this year a few posts back, if you want to check it out.

I would say a little more than half of these books are audio books, as I decided to get an Audible subscription, and a friend has been kind enough to supply me with Terry Prachett books.  I have significantly picked up on the amount of fiction I’m reading, which was a deliberate choice since I noticed I consumed a lot of business and self-help books last year.

Title Author Pages
1 Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less Greg McKeown 272
2 The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck Mark Manson 224
3 Leaders Eat Last Simon Sinek 368
4 Awaken the Giant Within Tony Robbins 544
5 $100 Startup Chris Guillebeau 304
6 Tools of Titans Tim Ferriss 736
7 American Gods Neil Gaiman 558
8 The View from the Cheap Seats Neil Gaiman 544
9 The Consolations of Philosophy Alain de Botton 272
10 Catching the Big Fish David Lynch 208
11 The Colour of Magic Terry Pratchett 288
12 The Path to Purpose William Damon 240
13 The Light Fantastic Terry Pratchett 288
14 The 80/20 Pinciple Richard Koch 288
15 The Complacent Class Tyler Cowen 256
16 How Proust Can Change Your Life Alain de Botton 208
17 Equal Rites Terry Pratchett 282
18 No Fears, No Excuses Larry Smith 272
19 Mort Terry Pratchett 272
20 The Death of Expertise Tom Nichols 240
21 Never Split the Difference Chris Voss 288
22 Sourcery Terry Pratchett 336
23 On Writing Stephen King 288
24 The Happiness Project Gretchen Rubin 368
25 Reading the Humanities John Greenwood 156
26 Spark John J. Ratey 304
27 Wyrd Sisters Terry Pratchett 336
28 Managing Oneself Peter F. Drucker 72
29 Pyramids Terry Pratchett 308
30 The Checklist Manifesto Atul Gawande 240
31 Total Recall Arnold Schwarzenegger 656
32 Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual Jocko Willink 208
33 I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had Tony Danza 272
34 Guards! Guards! Terry Pratchett 416
35 Eric Terry Pratchett 160
36 Side Hustle Chris Guillebeau 272
37 The Productivity Project Chris Bailey 304
38 Moving Pictures Terry Pratchett 400
39 Mating in Captivity Esther Perel 272
40 Finding Ultra Rich Roll 400
41 Reaper Man Terry Pratchett 288
42 The Art of Learning Josh Waitzkin 288
43 Machine Man Max Barry 288
44 The Road to Character David Brooks 320
Total: 13904

All in all, I am very happy with the results, and I am looking forward to tackling the growing stack of books I have in my office for 2018.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

What I’ve Been Reading (as of June 19th)

Drawing inspiration from Marginal REVOLUTION, a blog co-maintained by economist and author Tyler Cowan, I think I’ll insert an occasional update of the books I’m reading.  While Cowan and Alex Tabarrok update the site several times each day, and you’ll see these lists from them at least once a week, I do not have plans to update with any regular frequency.  However, I’ve been reading books at a decent pace, and I have enough books on the go that I can make a short list here from time to time.

For all the books I read last year, see My 2016 Reading List.  You can also follow my reading on my instagram account, where I post the covers of books as I finish them.

Here are five books I’m currently reading:

Reading the Humanities: How I Lost My Modernity by John Greenwood

This book was authored by one of my former professors from way back in first year of undergrad.  I still owe him two papers from the class I took with him – it’s the only class I failed at university (surprise, surprise).  I found myself in the university book shop on a recent visit to campus and decided to pick this up and check it out.  It’s exactly what you would want and expect from a professor who teaches literature and meditates on various topics relevant to life.  It reminds me a lot of what you see from The School of Life.

 

Mort by Terry Pratchett

I’ve been taking in the world of Terry Pratchett by audiobooks as of late.  It helps me pass the time on the commute to work, and I enjoy fictional books delivered by audiobook, as listening to the story is easier to absorb than nonfiction.  The titular character Mort is alright enough, but I’m really in this story for Death.  Everything about the character Death is awesome to me, especially his dry humour and the metaphysics that goes into explaining a character who reaps souls.

 

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

This book pops up in a lot of self-improvement and self-reflection blogs and books, so I think it was inevitable that I would read it eventually.  This is doubly so because she name-drops Aristotle on the cover (virtue ethics for the win!).  I actually stole this copy from my fiancee’s mother, so I should finish it and put it back on the bookshelf before anyone notices.  Amusing sidenote – I stole this book from her a couple months before Christmas, then my fiancee received a copy from her mother as a Christmas gift.  Really, I should just read the one we have a home…

 

 The Road to Character by David Brooks

Another book related to my future mother-in-law.  This was actually a book I had mentioned to my fiancee that I was interested in checking out and was planning on swiping from her mother (I really seem to have a problem with theft and books, specifically the books owned by my future mother-in-law…).  Well, my fiancee told her mom  that I was interested in the book, so I received it as a gift for last Christmas.  Funny how things work themselves out.

 

 

Rome’s Last Citizen by Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni

I believe I saw this book recommended by Ryan Holiday on one of his monthly reading lists.  Last year, I was on a big stoicism kick, so the life of one of Rome’s most famous stoic practitioners appealed to me.  I am finding the read a little slow as there is a lot of extra history that is included to give context to the events of Cato’s life, but I’m still finding the book interesting and insightful.

 

Feel free to comment below with books that you are reading that I should check out.  I’d love to hear about them and grow my reading list.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Keep Your (First Aid) Skills Sharp

I wrote my masters thesis in 2012 on the relationship of knowledge, first aid, and the moral requirements of rescue.  The thesis argued that 1.) if you have special knowledge or training (first aid), you are morally required to render aid, even if there is no pre-existing legal requirement; and 2.) everyone should be trained in first aid.  While it is the case that I have to keep my first aid certificates current in order to work at the bar, I believe that it’s important to keep these skills fresh and sharp regardless of your occupation.

You never know when you’ll need to draw upon the skills, so frequent practice is important if you want to be effective.

There have been two instances while working at the bar where a pedestrian was struck by an automobile while I was working.  The first was New Years Eve a few years back, and the second was this past St. Paddy’s Day.  Thankfully, in both instances the person did not seem to be critically harmed in the incident, and both were conscious when they were loaded into the ambulance to be taken to the hospital for further attention.  I suspect that while both had some degree of recovery ahead of them, they thankfully won’t likely experience prolonged physical suffering.

In both instances, I was working on the door, so I was the first responder on scene to start treatment.  In the case of a traffic collision, the most important steps are to protect yourself, and start control of the scene.  I can confidently say that I’m terrible at the first thing, and half-decent on the second.  This is why consistent practice is important.

Protect yourself

I fail on this in two regards.  I have a tendency to run out into the street to reach the pedestrian quickly, meaning that I put myself at risk of getting hit by a car while on scene.  The other thing I’m bad at is getting to the pedestrian and starting treatment before I finish the scene survey (which includes putting on medical gloves to protect myself).  These are big no-no’s.  I expose myself to unnecessary risk while trying to be first to the injured, when realistically I should take an additional 15-30 seconds to stop, take in the scene, and put on my gloves.

Control the Scene

I am adequate at this because I tend to default to immobilizing C-Spine and trying to talk to the pedestrian if they are conscious.  I could do this better in a number of way, such as having a fellow staff member control the spine while I assess for additional injuries and control the scene (directing people around me, updating EMS, taking notes, etc.).  In regards to the staff at the bar, I am probably the most experienced first aider, so removing myself from the decision-making portion of the response has benefits and drawbacks.  I am the best person to perform first aid until advanced medical care arrives, but I also have enough experience to understand the dynamics of the scene.  At this point, it’s best that I trust my fellow staff to respond appropriately.

Responding to a traffic incident is chaotic, noisy and confusing.  On top of this, adrenaline courses through your body, making your hands shake and your limbs jittery.  Your brain feels like mush because your thoughts are lightning quick.  Time seems to slow down, and that ambulance that is 5-8 minutes away always takes an eternity.  You are hyper-focused on your patient, but aware that there is a light din of noise at your periphery.  It’s like a bubble is around you, and you are hoping like hell that you don’t mess anything up under the spotlight of the gawking mass of people encircling the scene.

This is all normal.  It (sadly) gets easier the more you do it.  You become calmer each time you respond; it’s happening to me already.

The lesson to take from this is to always keep your certs current, and find time to meaningfully practice your skills.  Someones life may depend on it.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

 

 

 

 

 

Checking Intuitions – Is Facebook As Bad As We Think?

Last week, I published a long, rambley set of thoughts about my relationship to Facebook.  The following night, I sat down with a group of friends to discuss a taped forum discussion published by the CBC.  If you have never looked into CBC’s programming, particularly their show Ideas, and their daily program The Current, I highly recommend them.

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/screened-off-the-dangers-of-an-insular-web-1.3937638

It’s always good to check your intuitions and opinions against what others think, because sometimes its possible that your biases blind you to alternative considerations.

Now, what I’m about to write about is entirely unverified and does not serve as an argument on any side of this debate.  This post is not meant to deliver any definitive answers on the topic of whether Facebook (or the modern internet) is less democratized, more problematic, or having a polarizing effect on how people think.  What I wish to capture is how my mind expanded a bit when I listened to how others viewed the podcast topic and their reactions to it.

Going into the meeting, I felt that I aligned with the views discussed in the program.  I feel that people are polarizing in the online echo-chamber communities and that the internet, or specifically products created for the web, are designed to be attractive and modify behaviour to increase engagement.  Shallow content and emotional shortcuts are easily bypassing critical thought and our ability to maintain our attention is being eroded.

There were two counter thoughts brought up at the meeting that significantly shook my opinion.  Again, I pose these as items to consider, not definitive rebuttals to the original claims.

Rose-Coloured Nostalgia

The first assumption challenge by one friend was that the understanding and explanation of how the internet is currently, and how the internet “used to be,” do not adequately reflect reality.  In the first instance, the speakers on the program are only speaking to a mainstream understanding of social media.  They use Facebook as the default conversation piece because it is the highest trafficked site, however their descriptions do not account for all uses of the net, nor all demographic engagements.  In fact, Facebook-use is in decline among younger internet uses (“old people got on Facebook and ruined it”).

But in the second instance, my friend (whom is a few years older than I am) disagrees with the assumption that the internet in the late-90’s and early 2000’s was more democratized.  On a purely surface level, sure, it was more democratized because there were less corporate products.  But at the same time, the internet was more closed off to the mass market because no one knew how to use the internet.  Without the advent of streamlined user-interfaces, most people lacked the technical skills to adequately use the internet beyond services provided by internet providers (the Yahoo’s, the AOL’s, etc.).

I realized that my understanding and buy-in for the arguments is predicated on an understanding of the internet that I have no direct experience of.  I only started using the web in 1998, compliments of AOL and the many coasters they sent to our house.  Other than chat rooms and Slingo, my recollection of the net pre-2000 is pretty spotty.  I have nothing that informs my opinion on the matter, and it’s entirely possible that I’m agreeing with a characterization of the web that is out of line with reality.

Deep Data

Another excellent criticism that another friend raised is that Facebook isn’t necessarily forcing people into echo-chambers, nor are people necessarily becoming more radical in their views.  In fact, we don’t really know what’s happening relative to the pre-2000’s.  For the first time in history, we are able to collect massive amounts of data on the reading habits of people online.  Until recently, understanding where people seek out content, how they share, what they share, what they click through, etc, was not possible to the degree we are seeing now.  It’s bad for us to see the limited data and fit a worldview to it.  Quite simply, we don’t know if Facebook is changing anything, or if we are just able to glimpse into the minds of others for the first time.

But, you may say, “I’ve been on Facebook since the mid-2000’s and I’ve noticed a shift in my news feed.”  Yes, that’s true.  It’s also true that algorithms are more sophisticated now to curate your news feed.  The only thing missing from that consideration is that the sample size for you has changed.  If Facebook’s size had remained constant, we could potentially make an inference to how Facebook has impacted people.  Instead, Facebook has gone from being the domain of college students (a typically liberal-leaning demographic) to high school students (remember when we thought that was a mistake, and these kids shouldn’t be on the network) to when our parents joined Facebook (ugh! They ruined Facebook!).  Consider an alternative perspective – our experience of other people on Facebook was initially biased, and then regressed back to the mean once the user pool expanded to include non-university users (which is a fairly homogeneous class of people, all things considered).

Closing Thoughts

Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure what’s right, but I suppose that’s a good thing.  Recognizing that my own views and opinions should be treated as suspect is a valuable insight to have.  It requires a level of self-awareness that usually doesn’t get a lot of discussion in today’s media.  Instead, everyone seems to speak from a position of authority that I feel as though I lack in my internal monologue.  Maybe my friends are correct, and that the think-pieces about the dangers of walled-gardens and the role that social media has on our ability to think critically is all smoke and little fire.  To be fair, where there is smoke, there is usually fire, so there is *something* there that needs to be discussed.

I appreciate the insight my friends brought to the table.  It shouldn’t be surprising that the answers they gave above are wholly connected to their fields of expertise.  The first friend has a PhD in criminology and has studied deviance online.  The second friend works in marketing for a major Canadian food company.  Their experiences are helpful to provide alternative viewpoints to my own, and if it is true that you are the average of the 5 people you most commonly associate with, it’s a pretty powerful example to me of the value in a diversity (plurality) of thought.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Blog: Decisions in Life

A little while back, I swallowed some of my biases and checked out Tony Robbins’s documentary on Netflix, I Am Not Your Guru (trailer here).  I had prejudged him as something in between a vacuous motivational speaker and a charlatan.  I of course based this opinion on nothing and admit that it was incredibly closed-minded of me.

I quite enjoyed the documentary, and I felt that I was captivated by his charisma.  While I know a lot of the business involves crafting a certain persona and message, and that the documentary is edited to create a particular narrative, it softened me to him and I wanted to check out some of his other works.  I’m not interested in investing the money to attend his events (I’m not *THAT* open-minded), but I thought I’d give one of his books a shot.  He also recently appeared in a podcast episode with Tim Ferriss, whom I’ve started to trust as something of an authority figure.  Anything that Tim Ferriss says, I’m willing to listen to.

So, I checked out Awaken The Giant Within, by Tony Robbins.

There was a really cool perspective he shared that has stuck with me since hearing it.  Explained the etymological origin of “decision” or “to decide.”  Without getting technical, it splits the word into “de” and “cision” or “away” and “to cut,” or in essence, “to cut away.”

Ok, that doesn’t sound very insightful.  But then he framed it in terms of what a proper decision entails.  He notes that when we talk about “making decisions” in our lives, we often are speaking as if we are expressing wishes.  To him, people “decide” to lose weight all the time, but never follow through on the execution.  In other words, when someone says they’ve decided to exercise and lose weight, until they follow through on that action, all they are saying is “I wish to exercise and lose weight.”

To make it a proper decision, you have to essentially make a cut and discard every other alternative.  When you decide something, you are firmly choosing not to entertain any other alternatives, and you are committing to that course of action.  To decide is to cut off those alternatives.

Framing it that way made a lot of sense to me.  It’s a criticism of myself that I’ve heard flavours of for some time, and it’s something I try to be mindful of.  This past year I’ve been reading books and reflecting on myself in order to live more intentionally.  I’ve had a few decision points so far that are opening up interesting futures to me.  Right now, I’m looking at career moves; should I continue to become a paramedic, or should I commit more fully to teaching.  I don’t have an answer to that questions yet.  It’s still really early in the process and I’m fine to live with that ambiguity for now.  I have plenty of time yet to explore my options.

There are other areas where making decisions has become important.  For the sake of being cryptic, I cannot divulge them at the moment and I apologize for that.  I’ve had a decision weighing over me recently that I finally pulled the trigger on.  But there are other “decisions” that are manifesting themselves as “wishes” and I’m not forgetting about them (I’m looking at you, exercise!).  I still haven’t followed through on committing to exercise, so for now that’s is my personal shame I carry around.

What I’m starting to wrestle with is how to take ownership of deciding my life’s course and what it means to be a person of character and commitment.  It’s not a strength of mine historically, but it’s a virtue I seek to cultivate moving forward.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan