Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Uncanny Valley and #ReneeZellweger

Yesterday the news was filled with photos of Renee Zellweger. Lots of people have weighed in on her new look; my reaction is "live and let live." My only hope for her is that she is happy and ignoring the Internet right now. In my opinion, she is and was always beautiful.

Why are people reacting so strongly to her change in appearance? I was fascinated by the collective reaction and discussion. It reminded me of the Uncanny Valley, people's simultaneous attraction/revulsion reaction to things that are "almost" human, particularly virtual or robotic representations. Basically, people get creeped out. Check out this article for some examples.

I'm not suggesting that Renee Zellweger doesn't look human, but I am suggesting that she doesn't look like the Renee Zellweger we remember from Bridget Jones or Jerry McGuire. We have an expectation of the visual representation of "Renee Zellweger" and her new appearance looks "almost Renee Zellweger," just as many realistic human robots look "almost human."

It's that violation of our expectations that causes our reaction, that "close but not quite" feeling, causing us to make comparisons of what we're seeing to what we have seen and try to hone in on what is different. It's a tension that we struggle to resolve, and when we can't, we are revulsed, creeped out, angry or sad.

As an immersive learning designer, it's a good reminder that people have a deep, immediate emotional response when their expectations are violated, especially to discrepancy or changes in characters, often in a negative way. As a human being, it's a good reminder to be gentle with each other, and today, to be gentle with Renee Zellweger.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Open and honest questions

On Saturday I attended a retreat on how to ask open and honest questions as part of my ongoing learning and growth as a member of the Worship Committee at USSB. 

It sounds so easy! Open and honest seems like such a natural extension of being a good listener, no? 

Actually, no.

The goal of open and honest questions are to help the person you are listening to deepen their thinking and understanding of the situation they are sharing with you. They are questions in service of the speaker, a gift you can give to help someone better process their thoughts, think differently about a situation, or reach their own epiphany. 

Why are they so difficult? Because we typically ask questions in service of ourselves, the listener. We ask inquiring questions to satisfy our curiosity. We ask diagnostic questions to try to identify the problem and solution ourselves. We ask leading questions to "encourage" the speaker to see our perspective on a situation, or apply our opinions as a possible solution. In short, open and honest questions are difficult because as we listen we are really preparing for what to say next, how to engage in the conversation in a meaningful way but in a way that ultimately serves ourselves. 

Open and honest questions require you to listen deeply to what someone is saying, to hear the themes, and to identify questions in service to the person speaking. For example, after sharing a difficult situation about my children, one of my group members asked, "How would you define your role as a mom in this situation?" That question allowed me to think more deeply about what my responsibility is, and isn't, in relationship to the decisions my kiddo is making. It wasn't a question that gave an opinion or asked for more detail about the situation; it was a question that made me think. 

Open and honest questions are the ones that make you pause when they are asked, a total body response as the question "lands" on you, and the best ones are questions that hit at the core of the answers you yourself need to be able to find.  In that vein, one of the most interesting challenges of open and honest questions is that the questioner shouldn't necessarily expect an immediate response. When someone asks you the question you need to answer, it might actually take awhile. Even if the answer isn't immediate, the work is going on inside. 

How can we incorporate more open and honest questions into training and learning? Isn't this the core of motivation and behavior change? How can we marry open and honest questions with training content to get to not just the what, but also the how and why of change?

Monday, September 22, 2014

My activist heart

I was Worship Associate at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara yesterday and as part of the service, I not only got to be the voice of Mother Earth (!), but I also delivered this reflection on the tension of wanting to devote your life to making the world a better place and the daily demands of life.
You might not think by looking at me that I am an activist.

In college I worked in inner city schools in Lansing, Michigan to try to prepare the kids they deemed “disadvantaged” to go to college. Later, after grad school, I quit my corporate Training Manager job and helped start a charter school in Philadelphia based on the radical constructivist educational beliefs of Paolo Freire. I’ve participated in pro-choice rallies and I even got to sit in the office of the Deputy Governor of Pennsylvania and explain how the legislation they were passing to heavily regulate women’s health facilities would impact the women of Pennsylvania.  I financially support several grassroots and lobbying organizations that support movements like equality, clean water and climate change.  On Martin Luther King Day, I take my children to work on projects in the community.

I’m proud to be a Unitarian Universalist, in part, because of our history and beliefs rooted in social justice. I am an activist in the deepest part of my being, wanting to change the world, leaving it better than when I came into it.

There’s another side to the story, though. I don’t know what happened to those kids I tutored in Lansing…I graduated before most of them would have ever even applied to college. Two years after helping start Freire Charter School, I had to leave and get a “real job” because I couldn’t afford my student loan payments. That legislation in Pennsylvania passed and many, many clinics that had provided abortion services were forced to close their doors. By that time, I was accepting the job that moved me here to Carpinteria.

I want to be an activist, I want to stand up for my liberal beliefs, I want to make the world better, and yet the demands of daily life: my financial obligations, the things I want to be able to provide to my children and the things that simply bring me joy…these things are in constant competition with this feeling that I can, and should, make a difference.

I feel this most acutely when I see the phenomenal work and effort of others. Becca Claassen, one of our own congregation, has dedicated her time, energy…her life…to her passion: protecting our water in Santa Barbara county and working against climate change. I cannot tell you how much I admire her and the work that she is doing, standing up for what she believes in. Her passion and commitment is inspiring as an example of living our principles.
Watching Becca and others who live their values makes me deeply consider if I’m practicing what I preach. We all have our unique passions that drive us, and mine is gender equality. As a woman in the tech and gaming industries, I’ve faced more bias, discrimination and harassment than even those closest to me will probably ever know. I’m not alone and gender discrimination in the workplace is just the tip of the iceberg. Recent public conversations about street harassment, rape culture in schools and college campuses and the heightened focus on domestic violence prompted by arrests and indictments of NFL players, fuel my passion to work toward gender equality. When I see the work of Wendy Davis in Texas, I long to join the cause that seeks to make this country, this world, just as safe and full of opportunity for my daughters as it is for my sons.

There is a tension. I’m not in a position that I could quit my job and dedicate my time to gender equality, even if that’s where my activist heart is. I have bills and kids and a house to take care of and commitments to honor to my family and to myself.

What can I do? For me, the sentiment “Think global, act local” rings true. Maybe today isn’t my day to change the world in a big, public way. Maybe there will never be that day. But today is the day that I can teach my children about gender bias and discrimination. It IS the day that I can raise issues in my workplace that level the playing field. It IS the day I can write blog posts, post articles via social media. It IS the day that I can offer financial support to those who are dedicating their lives to the causes I believe in. It IS the day that I can jump in when I can, to march in a rally or make canvasing calls.

Today is the day that I have shared my passions with all of you. Maybe you are a passionate feminist too…maybe there are ways we can work together and support each other. Maybe today is the day that you share what you’re passionate about with someone after the service and you make a connection that leads to action that really does make the world better.

Maybe I don’t have to be an army of one to change the world. Maybe we are the army already.

Friday, September 19, 2014

My littlest teacher

My youngest daughter, Sallie Rose, is 8 years old today.

Have you ever met someone who, as soon as you talk to them, warms your heart? Who when they listen to you, really listens and understands? Who knows just when you need a hug, or a word of encouragement? Who has an infectious and totally unselfconscious giggle? Who is wise, insightful and mature beyond her years?

I gave birth to one of those people. I wasn't sure I wanted more children after I had settled in with my two older boys (funny, now that we have six...) and I was pretty sure I was a "boy-mom." As we like to say, she snuck in there. I cried when I found out at my first ultrasound that she was a girl; I didn't think I'd know how to raise a girl.

It didn't matter what I thought I knew, or what I didn't know...Sallie has taught me. She has a heart so big it can't be contained in her little body and you can sense it whenever you are near her. She makes life better for everyone around her. I admire her strength and wisdom and most of all, her radiating love.

We find many teachers in our lives and learn different things from these people that help us grow and evolve. My daughter has been one of my greatest teachers. She gives me strength and perspective and courage.

Happy birthday, Sallie Rose. And no, you don't have to ride in your booster seat anymore :)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Immerse yourself in learning at #DevLearn 2014

It's almost DevLearn season! A few weeks ago, I wrote a reflection on why I go to DevLearn each year that was posted by the eLearning Guild, "Something New."

DevLearn 2013
This will be my 7th DevLearn in a row. Wow. My first year, in 2008, my fledgling company Tandem Learning attended as a new vendor. The conference was in San Jose and we had a booth out in the hallway, showing off 3D immersive environments for learning and our demo of a Virtual Territory for pharma sales training. We also hosted a wine reception, and it was there that I met many of the people in the learning industry that I call friends today. 

Over the years, I ran ARGs at DevLearn, hosted the Emerging Tech stage for a couple years, did pre-conference sessions, concurrent sessions, and even did the closing Ignite! keynote wearing a fabulous fascinator (the conference had moved to Vegas by then and I wanted to channel my inner showgirl).
DevLearn 2009: Dr Strangelearn ARG
I'm particularly excited about DevLearn this year. While there are lots of reasons, not least of which are getting to see Neil Tyson Degrasse keynote and the new location at the Bellagio, the main reason I'm excited about DevLearn 2014 is because this is the first year I'll be attending as an author. It was a long road to publishing my first book, Immersive Learning, and I'm really proud and excited to share the key themes of the book at DevLearn this year. 

Ignite! Closing keynote 2011
There's a few ways you can join me in exploring immersive design at DevLearn this year. First I'm hosting a concurrent session on Thurs, Oct 30th at 10:30 am to share real-world examples of how organizations are using immersive learning to improve performance. If you're attending DevLearn, I hope to see you there!

If you REALLY want to immerse yourself in immersive learning, please join me on Tuesday, October 28th for a full-day pre-conference workshop. We'll spend the day digging in to the immersive design process and you'll leave with an actionable design document. You'll learn how to do a thorough analysis which is critical and serves as the basis for your design, we'll walk through how to make decisions on theme, character development, storyline structure, feedback and scoring. 
We'll explore all of the different technologies available to deliver your immersive training. I'm really excited about this session, and hope you'll join me!

Other places I'll be at DevLearn? Look for me signing books on Thursday after my concurrent session (time tentatively set for 12:30pm) and maybe even a Morning Buzz session? Otherwise, I'll be attending sessions and looking forward to opportunities to connect with all of the brilliant people congregating at DevLearn this year. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

#draw21days Day 18: Cardboard doodles

Despite my solo-parenting weekend, I'm actually finding quite a bit of time to catch up on my drawing. As I'm getting to the end of the challenges, I'm starting to wonder what's next and how I can keep this practice going. I've never thought of myself as an artist, but I'm starting to not be able to picture NOT drawing. Maybe it's time for some art lessons? Maybe I should check out the other courses on :)

Last night I was checking in with the littlest Pagano and my husband before their bedtime. The little guy was describing his "invisible friend" who lives in California while he's away. His name is Burn and he has a fiery tail and likes to give you sunburns. Doesn't sound like a very nice guy, but I decided to try to draw what he might looks like for my Day 18 challenge. Here's Burn:

I still had a lot of cardboard left and time to kill while I worked with my 6th grader on math homework, so I also drew Burn's nemesis, Cooly McFishy.

I've also decided that I'm not that excited by doodling, but at least this was a chance for me to practice the graphical/cartoon style that I've been struggling with.

I did like working on the thicker cardboard as opposed to paper, and working with pen instead of pencil was a little unnerving...I'm still not that confident! But at least I'm taking chances!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

#draw21days Day 16: Drawing design & Day 17: Window to the soul

I'm back in it!

After getting past the dinosaurs on Day 15, I broke out my new sketch pad and pencils and worked on the next two challenges this morning.

Day 16's challenge is to draw an iconic image of an owl, using photo references to guide your drawing. Graphical style drawings are not my strong suit, or at least I don't feel super confident in those drawings. I took a couple passes to try to get more "logo-like" but I also wanted to take my new pencils for a spin, so I still did some shading.


This is one that I might come back to and try to get more graphical, but I do like how my owls turned out.

Day 17...eyes! Yay!

I used to doodle eyes constantly, so the biggest challenge with this challenge was not falling into my old doodling patterns. The challenge was to do 2 drawings, 1 realistic and 1 graphical. I used a photo of John and I as a reference and drew John's left eye. I really like how it turned out.

Coming off the realistic eye, I had to do a couple "in between" drawings before I got more graphical. One of the things I was thinking of was how difficult being a cartoonist would be for me, as I really struggle with simplicity and consistency of shapes. This is definitely something to work on!

A few more challenges to go...I'm already wondering what to do once the 21 challenges are complete.