Managing to lead at UBC

A picture of documents on a table including a certificate for 'managing at UBC' leadership program.

May of 2023 was a pretty big month for me. We were moving (again, more on that later) and still had time to take a much needed vacation, to see old friends, the honor to attend a besties wedding and visiting family among the highlights keeping me busy. Professionally speaking, it also marked the completion of my most recent professional development endeavor ‘Managing at UBC‘, part of the leadership development program. Joining UBC Okanagan in February of 2022 marked several new challenges for me, not the least of which was providing leadership to the Learning Technology Support Team at The Centre for Teaching and Learning. Having had several inspirational managers in my career, I had plenty of sources to drawn on in terms of the ways I could be successful as a manager myself, but of course there are always unexpected challenges that go along with any new responsibility. In my case 2 of the biggest were a return to campus for all classes after 3 years of teaching and learning through a pandemic, and a return to the office, also after 3 years of working through a pandemic. And oh yeah, that and the fact that this was my first official job where I had direct reports.

I had so many questions. What was my team like, and would they ‘like’ me? Would there be time to provide them the support they needed and still accomplish the many other duties that were assigned to my role? Would we be as positive and effective a group as I had recently experienced with the hardest working team in Ed-Tech in this province?

This program came at the exact right time for me.

Managing at UBC is a leadership development program designed to equip newer managers with the foundational skills, knowledge and tools to succeed and grow in leadership roles at UBC.

UBC Human resources

I gained so much from this experience, and at times our regular workshops and coaching sessions were literally keeping me afloat amidst the storm of leadership challenges I was facing. It was an important reminder of the value giving yourself the time for your own professional development and personal reflection. I wanted to capture a particular aspect that really stood out for me.

I have strengths!

I mean, I have enough self confidence to believe that, but in terms of being a new manager, what did I really come to the table with? Wasn’t I starting out from scratch having to build this ability as I went along? The ‘strengths based’ assessment module was amongst the first of our training and real eye opener. Specifically acknowledging the fact that there are no one set of skills that make a good leader, in fact, everyone has the ability to lead but just may do it in different ways. In our assessment my strengths were

  • Adaptability – You live in the moment.
  • Developer – You see the potential in others.
  • Empathy – You can sense the emotions of those around you.
  • Strategic – Can sort through the clutter
  • Positivity – Generous with praise

All of which I genuinely related to. In this session were were asked to reflect on our strengths and activate them. First to redefine what are your strengths as things that give you strength. Next, to continue to seek out positive reinforcement as opposed to looking for things to fix. Finally, your strengths can be cultivated, and doing so will help you to let go of your perceived weaknesses, self doubt and imposter syndrome.

This also came with the realization that my strengths, or any other leaders for that matter may not be perceived as such with every member of the team. My ability to be adaptable for instance, known as ‘go with the flow’ may not land well will those that value consistency and routine for instance. Still, this was an invaluable insight to begin to build my own model for what kind of leader I will be and begin to explicitly define and lead with my values. Recognizing that a healthy, positive workplace and space is amongst my priorities allowed my ‘going with the flow’ to be directed and that everyone can identify with as a desirable outcome. I’m still figuring alot of this out, and looking forward to building on my experience to continue making a positive difference for the humans in the room.

HUMAN GENERATED COMMUNICATION.. A post-it with a little doodle of some icons representing sound, sight, touch and heart.

Revoke Access to the Machine

The digital de-cluttering project continues. It has been a slog, I’ve been trying to be thorough and complete with my process, but the more I go down this rabbit hole, the deeper it gets. Thankfully there are many fresh resources out there and many other humans involved in this work, so I have pleasant company. Before I get to them, an update. I began this project by pruning my twitter feed (and other social media) and shoring up the apps that I keep on my phone and other mobile devices. What I did not mention was that simultaneously, I’ve been going through my passwords, and all the accounts on sites I have been joining over the years. It’s ALOT. And for most of them, (you guessed it) I have had one simple password. These are relatively pithy sites that you have to join to get a service or free sample, so maybe not that important, but each “sign up” requests a bit of info about me that is out there in server world. I have been more diligent about critical sites like financial services of course, and thrown a few curve balls on the “big four” social media platforms, but once a login pattern is established, it tends to get reused. My old trails on the net. Exploring these paths has been interesting to say the least, and time consuming as the dog barks.

I can only really do it in small doses, 30-60 minutes at a time, then I lose steam, hence it is taking the whole month. As sites and services come and go over the years, retracing these steps and covering them up is not a clear path. Not to mention that I have linked one service to another in many cases, to ‘sign up’ via a Google account for eg. or when I got married just HAD to post my instas to that wedding website. It gets to be a tangled mess quickly. I suppose its my awareness that has changed. Awareness about the accumulation of my data that has gone from, not really caring at all, (2004) to quite a bit of anxiety and smidgen of fear (2020), even though I have the best of buddys that have been sounding the alarms for years.

So therefore, this month I am diligently…

  • getting new passwords for every site
  • deleting accounts and apps
  • revoking access from one site to another.
  • revoking access from the algorithms to myself (as best i am able)

For the passwords I am using a password manager, so its even possible with the over 200 sites I am registered for. I wont say which password manager because I do not want to recommend any in particular. And I will be switching once I get them all done anyway. *Sometimes* deleting an account is simple, there is an actual button there. In other situations I have had to email support and go through an arduous exchange that takes days to verify… blah blah blah. Revoking access is the most fun. First of all its sounds like something a boss would do, and gives me a sense that I have some control. Also, there is usually a button. It is a very satisfying feeling, which I will relate to breaking a shackle, bond or some physical restraint. ahhhhh.

What I need is a mute button, or what my Nana would call the “blab off” for the internet. Except of course for the invaluable and notable humans who share the most important reads at the exact time when they can be received. There were many of these recently and I must share.

Algorithms in education

This is the really tough nut to crack. I have been looking at the relationship to the forces of big data in my personal life, but of course this is a glaring topic in my professional life as well. There has been no better way to start this bender than to sign up for the “digital detox” by Brenna Clarke Grays‘ Her 3rd post in the series, “Digital Detox #3: Algorithms and Exclusion” struck at the exact chord I’ve had on repeat this past month. (Open E) Follow that with a shot of Clint Lalonde from the #OER20 committee. Who is “Contesting Open Space” by looking at the dissonance between Open Source Software and Open Education. He will get this weeks quote.

As we begin to frame our discussion about what it means to work openly in an age of surveillance, we need to consider deeply the dissonance many of us feel using platforms that do not reflect our values as open educators. It is a dissonance I know I feel daily.

For the chaser, I’m thankful to Paul Stacy for pointing us to Project Information Literacy, a non profit that “conducts scholarly studies about students and how they find, evaluate, and select information for use in their courses and for solving information problems in everyday life.” Their recent report, “The Algorithm Study“, brings us toooo… our first comic! and not a moment too soon, all this text is starting to make my head spin.

Jessica Yurkofsky

This amazing comic says it all really. Far more than I’ve been able to say in my several of hours writing this post so far. It comes from creative technologist Jessica Louise Yurkofsky, and inspires me to no end. Among her many achievements she has worked on The Reading List for Life, which explored how open syllabus data might support lifelong learning in libraries. Now this is a rabbit hole I could get lost in.

How about some Porto as a digestif? You may have thought I have been doing lots of reading and clicking this month, all indications point in that direction, but I have also been listening…. to Team Human. Media Theorist Douglas Rushkoff has been producing this podcast for several year now, I’m way behind, only on episode #43 of the current #146 but its been awesome I’ve been binging. This whole post was supposed to be riffing off the many things I’ve learned so far in these episodes, but all I have time for now is a link. I’m sure it will be a good one. I’ll be back to pursue some of these trains of thought again, trust me. It’s a driving force in my daily routine at this point. All I will say for now is that I *am* on team human.

Breaking Trail on the Socials

A big aspect of my de-cluttering process is about breaking old habits, and forming new positive routines. So often in digital life we make do with the way we did things last year, because it takes more work to change, than to keep on doing things the way we always have. These are the well worn trails we have come to know and love. Using the same password for multiple online services, following social media accounts long after we find out they are a front for selling the latest kitchen gadget, or even keeping the same apps installed and taking up space on your home screen. I am doing a deep dive this month into all my digital nooks and crannies, and intend to, as so appropriately put by Brenna Clarke Gray, “talk frankly about the problems with the way we use technology and, more often, the way technology uses us“.

and I *do* feel used! By the tech that I once thought was so useful.

Whether its the multitude of passwords I manage, the two factor authentication I need to keep my information transaction secure, or the Captcha hoops I have to jump through to verify that I am human, I can’t help but think that its all making me less so. More machine, less human.

This is one of the reasons I joined the TRU Digital Detox and why it is now one of the cornerstones of my process. Its giving my a chance to think about the personal digital spaces I inhabit, and some of the professional spaces that we promote, support, design and use in my professional world at SFU. So I will be including both perspectives on my post today.

First, a bit about breaking new trail. It’s something I love doing snowshoeing or x-country skiing in the mountains, especially when we have the snowfall like we are getting today. Breaking a new trail is work, but it is also adventure. The unknown, the surprises with each new step. For some reason, breaking new trails in my digital habits is less than thrilling, even if the methods are more obvious. I will again use Twitter as my eg. I’ve found the use of this platform pervasive in my daily routine, It’s one part distraction, one part research, one part noise, many parts bullshit, and a decreasingly research and a personal learning network. that I have now deleted the app from all my mobile devices. Along with many others. Like following many accounts on social media, apps on my device tend to pile up, and never get deleted even if I only tried them once. I went through the app list on my device this morning and asked my self a few questions about each….

  • Do I even know what this app is or does?
  • When was the last time I used it?
  • How much of my personal information did I give it?
  • Can I possibly service if the app is only accessible through the desktop?

It was a tough choice to cut Twitter in particular, because I have gotten so used to using it as a chat/text channel with some of my closest friends and colleagues. My new trail for Twitter use in now restricted to my desktop at work, and now that I have de-cluttered the accounts I follow there, it is less distracting and more supportive of my work. It’s research! 😀

Back to the Digital Detox and the last post on Ethics and Data Privacy. I can see from this post I have only begun to scratch the surface, but the information here as well as the prompts below have thrown some light on my trail breaking. I thought I would just answer them now, but most importantly (I believe) is that I will be sharing this process though our internal newsletter, with my fine colleagues at SFU. Hoping to kick off the year with some fresh discussions and learning opportunities, internally at first and then who knows.

  • Did you learn anything today about how data is used that will change your own practice? Yes! Mostly the stats on Turnitin  and I am not directly responsible for the use of these services at SFU, but I work with the folks that are.
  • What questions do you have about the tools you’re required to use for work or school? Does a tool being mandated change your perceptions of it? I am still forming these questions for our internal users.
  • What do you do to protect your data? This is the big question for me right now, and I have to admit I have been quite lazy in protecting my data… well no more! I’ve started to de-clutter the accounts I follow and apps and services I have accounts on. This is a huge task right now, and I’m going down a few rabbit holes, even in closing accounts. You would not believe how often this process has involved emailing the IT folks of said service, and being put on the equivalent of “hold”, while they figure out who this guy is emailing them to delete an account.

Well this post is already running long, and gone a few tangents. I’ll be back next week with my continuing adventures, but wanted to leave you with one gift, and image from the SFU Media and Maker Commons , 100% operational as of YESTERDAY. I was delighted to connect with many fellow makers at the grand opening yesterday, and am MOST delighted about the inclusion of the ol SFU printing press amongst all the VR printers and new fangled fer flugens available. Analogue baby. Making a comeback in 2020. (*fingers crossed*)