Monday, July 11, 2016

What #PokemonGo means for immersive learning

I, like many of you, spent my weekend hunting for Pokemon while tracking my progress on Nintendo's new Pokemon Go game.

To say it was a revelation was an understatement. And the bigger question: will it lead to a revolution?

For many years now, I've talked about how technology can be used to create immersive experiences, how giving people the sense that they are performing real tasks and receiving real-time feedback is the key to that immersive feeling. I've talked about avatars and virtual worlds and alternate reality games and augmented reality and, recently, virtual reality. I've talked about how biometric data can be used to impact your experience within an environment, and I've talked about how all of these things are converging. I've also talked about the shortage of big design thinking in better leveraging the technology that is currently available to bring together storyline and experiences. Design has been lagging behind technology where immersive learning is concerned. I would tell people to keep their eyes open, because there would be a point where someone figured it out and it would go mainstream.

I'm pretty sure most people thought I was talking about a few years in the future. Turns out, I was talking about this last weekend.

Finally, FINALLY, there is an example of an augmented reality game with characters, avatars, interactive game play with feedback and leveling. And the whole world is, or wants to be, playing.

Our kiddo was working alongside a Meowth
This weekend I spent with my family, walking all over my home town Carpinteria and Santa Barbara. We were finding landmarks we didn't know existed which had been designated as Pokestops. We were exploring new neighborhoods and talking to strangers. We were walking, walking, walking. We were smiling and laughing. We were bemoaning our ridiculous battery life and speculating on our data usage. We were running into friends and chatting. We were teaching each other nuances and strategies in the game. We were laughing when we saw a large group of people wandering around a parking lot, looking for a Koffing we knew was there. I was sending messages to a friend halfway around the world in Milan, Italy, who was experiencing the same server issues we were.

Suddenly, everyone is playing and experiencing immersive learning.

For those of you who haven't played yet, imagine you are a Pokemon trainer (if you don't know what Pokemon are, google it). The world is filled with Pokemon, and you can find them via a phone app, then catch them using Pokeballs that you throw at the Pokemon on your phone screen. You can get more supplies at Pokestops, and train with the Pokemon you've caught at Gyms. All of these locations are populated from data collected over the last several years from another game, Ingress, which is (of course) a product of Google.

I could talk about the social learning implications (this game has no social features, but is an amazingly social game). I could talk about the health benefits, both mental and physical. I could talk about how the game is driving behavior change (my kids keep opting to walk instead of asking for rides...crazy...).

But instead, I want to talk about what Pokemon Go means for the future of learning. Because we finally have a flagship immersive game to build from. Where we go from here, and how we push technology to support our design, is really up to us.

First, let's talk about technology needs.

  • WE NEED BETTER BATTERIES. If we are leveraging our phones for experiences like this, we can't have our batteries last an hour. 
  • Also, WE NEED UNLIMITED DATA. It's well past the point that this should be the case, and the first major company who goes there will get my money, and hopefully yours too, so that the whole market will follow. 
  • We will need data to be able to interact in the world, unless, of course, we have UNIVERSAL WIFI. That would be ok, too.
  • And finally, the device-specific access is a drag. Most of the people we saw playing were adults, not because kids wouldn't want to, but because kids don't have smartphones that they can use to play. MAKE ALL DEVICES CAPABLE OF PLAYING IMMERSIVE GAMES. Photo apps, GPSs, data accessible (with unlimited data, as previously mentioned). Let as many people play as we possibly can. 

What about design?

Honestly, the possibilities are endless for future applications, but let's start with what we could do with Pokemon Go.
Santa Barbara Park Ranger
chatting about the Pokemon in the park

  • Tie Pokemon Go to biometrics. What if you could get certain Pokemon by keeping your heart rate in the ideal range for exercise for 20 minutes? What if you were rewarded for number of steps (not just distance covered, which is how you hatch eggs)? What if you were rewarded for consecutive days of hitting exercise targets? There have to be some easy partnerships to be made with fitness trackers. 
  • Add some social features. My kids already want to trade Pokemon. I'd love to see a way to do that through proximity, rather than some online marketplace. While I've been having great conversations with people I meet while playing, it would be great to have a game mechanism to prompt more interaction. Also, how about adding a way to friend other players you meet? It was great meeting folks all over town, but now there's no way to stay connected. There are already social groups forming outside of the game, why not enable it within the game?
  • Leverage Pokemon Go for medical treatment. If there were enough Pokemon in a hospital or rehabilitation center, patients could collect Pokemon as part of their recovery. Therapists could track distance walked or number of Pokemon caught to help encourage patients to get out in the world and walk. 
  • Pokemon Go as the new marketing angle, both customer and internal-facing. We already saw this with Foursquare, but is there something more to be done here? I would definitely frequent a place that set up a Lure to attract more Pokemon...beyond attracting more customers, could this type of activity work for new hire training? My family was chatting yesterday about what type of Pokemon we might find at our zoo; what if the zoo could strategically place Pokemon?
What are some issues that need to be addressed?
  • Accessibility barriers. Already, my color-blind husband can't see the difference between the blue and purple Pokestops and has to ask me. Can options be included for blind players? Hearing impaired players? Players with physical disabilities? Let's get everyone playing.
  • Technology barriers. Let's not make immersive learning only accessible to the privileged. While desire for immersive experiences might drive buyer behavior toward technologies that can support it, if only high end smart phones can play the experiences and only people who can afford more data can play, we are cutting out major segments of the population based likely on age and socioeconomic status from participating and benefiting. Immersive learning should be available to everyone. 
  • Societal barriers. There has been nervousness already around women playing alone at night, players who are ethnic minorities worrying about accessing Pokemon in particular neighborhoods, and general unease about what a gaming experience that everyone can play everywhere might uncover about our own biases, prejudices, and fears. These are things that already exist, that game play is exposing with heightened visibility. Ironically, it has also been prompting people from all walks of life to start interacting and supporting each other. Maybe there's something to us all just playing a game together that may lessen this barrier. 

But let's end with some larger implications for learning, particularly organizational learning.

  • New hire training: tour facilities with augmented reality or virtual reality. Meet key folks in the organization. See behind the scenes production, or visit HQ virtually. 
  • Skill refinement: once the basics have been taught, present ongoing practice scenarios. Could be internal, customer-facing, or software/equipment training. 
  • Product training: provide the ability to interact with multiple customers and see how the product benefits them differently.
  • Application in context: how do you navigate a real-life complex environment effectively? Think busy retail, insurance adjusters, combat/disaster zones, crime scenes, etc.
  • Don't mind the rattata in my kitchen
  • Just in time geographically relevant support. Have a question in context? What if an app let you access training and tips relevant to where you are?  
And that's just to name a few.

So, to sum up, we need better consumer tech for immersive experiences, we can build on Pokemon Go for even more immersive design examples and applications, we need to be mindful of biases limiting access, and there's a lot of potential for organizations to leverage immersive learning to solve meaningful learning problems. Let's do this, folks!

(Related: Does anyone even use Foursquare anymore? I bet the kids don't even know what that app is...)

Monday, May 9, 2016

The power of putting yourself out there

In the early days of my writing this blog, I would be surprised when people, sometimes people I was meeting for the first time, would tell me they read one of my posts. Over the years, I've come to be less surprised, but more grateful. While people have told me they have disagreed with my opinion, and I've even been threatened to edit or remove a post or two, in general everyone who has talked to me about one of my posts has been really positive.

I've written before about how nice it is to have someone talk to you about how something you've written has impacted them, but I've always focused on the positive experiences. I have realized in recent weeks that there are just as many negative reactions, and just as many possibilities for people to think poorly of me, form an opinion about me without ever meeting me. As wonderful as it would be for everyone to always heap praise, it is just as important to pay attention to the naysayers.

Tomorrow I'm presenting on the power of social media at the 20th Annual Professional Women's Association conference at UCSB. I've been putting together my slides, and thinking about how blogging has helped, or at least shaped, my career. The reality is that for as many job opportunities, projects, introductions and recommendations my social media presence has facilitated, there are likely many that were squashed by my personal reflections, my mentioning my children, maybe even because of my love of my pit bull (seriously, I've had people contact me privately...but look at this face!). At some point along the way, one of these things that I've shared through social media has likely meant an opportunity lost.
Darwin would like me to finish up this blog post.

And what?

I am who I am. If I didn't get an opportunity because of my personal beliefs or interests, then it's very likely that opportunity would not have been a good fit for me. If hiring a mom is a problem, I'm not right for your organization. If my publicly sharing my personal reflections and faith is troubling, then we'd likely not be a good match. If my love of zombies and robots and taking selfies on the beach with my husband are turn offs, then it's probably best for both of us to just move along.

While I like to think I post a good mix of professional and personal content on my social media accounts, what's true is that everything I post is a reflection of me, the whole human being. Social media allows me to find my tribe and build a solid, supportive network, but for me, it's not a closed network of like-mindedness. I welcome the differences in life views and experiences, because reading about you helps me learn more about myself.

And learning from others is (almost) always a good thing.

So blog and tweet and post and I'll be reading along, nodding in violent agreement or crying in empathy or laughing because it's funny because it's true. But don't hide, because it's nice to get to know you better, even if we're not kindred spirits. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there because of the potential lost opportunities; there is so much more amazingness to be gained.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

An open challenge to be as accepting as you say and think you are from the parent of a trans teen

Today an article was published in my hometown on transgender teens. Written by a cis-gender person and including the perspective of two trans kiddos, a therapist and a couple parents, the article suggested our transgender youth have a "dialogue" about their gender identity and noted that most people don't have any idea who they are when they're 14.

Which is like telling a teen who comes out as gay that they should think about it and maybe try to be hetero for awhile? Don't rush into being gay! Maybe you're actually straight!

What if you never felt comfortable in your body, never felt that you were the gender assigned to you at birth? Do you really think any person who comes out as transgender hasn't already been "trying" to be the gender they were assigned? Do you really think, at the point that someone, at any age, is brave enough to say, "I know you've always thought of me as a (girl/boy) but I'm actually a (transgender identity)" that that person hasn't already been through a huge struggle? While you might like to think it's a phase or an experiment, the reality is that to come out as transgender means risking friendships and family. It means being ridiculed, ostracized and sometimes targeted by people you know and people you don't know. It means risking your safety. It means struggling to know which bathroom in public is safe to use. It means, for my agender kiddo, not wanting to fill out forms because they don't want to choose between two genders. It means having people constantly challenge and question an integral part of your identity that you know to be true.

I can't imagine if everywhere I went, I had people challenging me to prove I'm a woman. I say I am. I am consistent and persistent. That should be good enough. No one has ever asked me to prove that I have a vagina to prove that I'm the gender that I say I am. And I REALLY can't imagine, although I now find myself thinking about it every day, what it would be like to not fit neatly into male/female, either/or. What if you are "both" or "neither?" And really, what is the big deal about that anyway?

I feel for my kiddo, having to try to explain using they/them/their pronouns and having to have the same conversations over and over:
Yes, they has always been used as a singular, nongendered pronoun.
Yes, I know it's hard for you to remember.
Yes, it's ok if you make a mistake, as long as you correct yourself and move on.

I have taken all of this for granted because I'm cis-gender. But I don't anymore, because my kiddo isn't. Their struggles and issues and obstacles are now mine too.

I want my child to be who they really are. I want their identity to be respected. I want them to be able to have a conversation about pronouns and the person they are talking to not make it all about them. I want my kid to be able to get a job and a drivers' license and be able to use their preferred name and their appropriate gender identity. I want them to be able to pee in public restrooms without being questioned, challenged, or assaulted.

I want people to get over their own discomfort and put themselves into the shoes of a transgender person for awhile. I want people to stop asking my kid if this is real, or if they're going to eventually pick a gender, or act like this is a phase. I want them to respect my kid's gender identity and stop making it all about them, what they are comfortable with and what would be easiest for them.

I know that's a lot to ask...people tend to focus on the impact and hardship to themselves over the impact and hardship for others. So let me end with this.

My kid's gender identity has no impact on you. Why do you care if another person has a different gender identity than the one they were assigned at birth? There is no deadline for gender identity. There is no requirement that you always have to be the same gender. We are autonomous human beings that should be able to choose the pronouns and name by which we are addressed, if the pronouns assumed at birth or the name given to us at birth don't fit.

If you don't get this, or if you are uncomfortable, then that is about you, not my kid. They know who they are.

Also? The labels liberal or progressive don't apply to you if you aren't willing to accept that others might have a different experience than you, even a different experience of gender.

The biggest challenge for my kid's acceptance in this close-minded, binary-gender world aren't the conservatives who spout hate and fear; we know those enemies and they are open with their opposition to accepting anyone who is different from them. Our biggest challenge are the wolves in sheeps' clothing, the so-called liberals and progressives who somehow understand that sexuality lives on a continuum but can't understand that gender does too.


So stop focusing on what transgender means for you; I have no sympathy that you have to wrap your brain around using pronouns that feel uncomfortable to you, or have to ask someone their preferred pronouns. It's a small price to pay for my kid to be accepted, respected, and honored for the gender and person that they really are.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The reminder that death gives

It's been a brutal start to the year with the news of several of my favorite musicians and actors passing away weighing heavily on my heart. It's tough to lose someone who has inspired you, entertained you, motivated you, validated you. It's tough to lose several of them within the span of a couple weeks.

It's funny what you think about when you're dealing with loss.

One of my overarching emotional responses has been what I like to think of as my death panic. As someone who likes to dig in and discover the root cause, solve problems and uncover unexpected issues that affect outcomes, death is really my nemesis. It is not a problem to be solved; it just is. And we don't know, no one does, what it really is. Is all of what I am here, right here, right now? All of these feelings and dreams and fears, are they just temporary, wiped out when I die? Or is there something beyond, and if there is, will I get to recognize and experience it?

A lot of questions with no answers + no way to really know = death panic.

But there ARE things you can control here and now. The death of my idols has been the catalyst to
reexamine my priorities. What is the life I really want to lead? Who am I, and who do I want to be for the people I care about? If today was my last day, what would be my regrets?

The big question: am I spending my most valuable resource, time, doing the things that are important to me?

As a product manager, one of the biggest factors in the day to day work that we do is time. Time is a known, limited resource. My whole job is to prioritize and make decisions around scope and urgency. I need to collect data and try to predict the future: what will have the biggest impact? what is the minimum amount of effort that will bring value? what should we do first?

When death affects me, I start applying those product management principles to my life. What is my minimum viable product? What bugs do I need to address? What enhancements do I need to tackle? What other resources do I need?

The world lost an immense amount of talent in a short amount of time; I lost some of my biggest sources of inspiration. As I'm mourning those losses, I'm also trying to appreciate the reminder that death gives. Thank you for one parting lesson, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Natalie Cole, Lemmy Kilmister and Dan Haggerty.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

My 2016 resolutions (after the dismal results of my 2015 goals...)

I've been thinking about whether I should be making any resolutions at all, since I didn't achieve ANY of my resolutions for 2015. But it's tradition, and so, 5 days in, I'm going to give it a shot. No pressure at all, actually...achieving just ONE would be an improvement over last year :)

My goals for 2016:

  • Learn to play my ukulele
  • Keep up with my workouts
  • Take a picture every day; post them in Flickr (or on some 365 day photo challenge site that I might find...).
That's it. I have professional goals, I have some travel goals...but my resolutions this year are my selfish, personal goals to do things that I know (will) make me happy. 

Here's to achieving all of your goals in 2016. Do something for yourself this year. 

Happy new year!

Burning bright

Last Sunday I served as Worship Associate at USSB and shared this reflection in the service titled, Dark of Winter. I didn't know what the reflection was going to be about when I started writing...I was thinking about winter and cold and darkness and how they resonate for me. Sometimes just writing triggers memories to work through; one of the benefits of having this space to blog.

Welcome 2016. Here's to winter and writing and having community to support you.


I grew up in Michigan, and during my preteen years, in Northern Michigan. Because of where I was raised, I have very particular mental references for what constitutes winter. Snow, of course. Lots and lots of snow. Cold. Burn your nose and ears and fingers cold. The kind of cold that creeps into your clothes and takes a while to shake off once you’re indoors. Blinding whiteness. Everything white and shiny and bright. Glittering whiteness. But the thing I miss most is the quiet.

When it’s so cold and snowy in the heart of winter in northern Michigan, you spend a lot of time indoors. Everyone does. Fireplaces crackle and blankets and slippers are the preferred fashion of the season. Indoors is loud and cozy and bustling with life as you stick close with family and friends to stay warm. In my house, there was a lot of laughter. A lot of reading. My sister and I put on shows for each other. There was safety and love in my house.

That wasn’t true for everyone. Winter in Northern Michigan for some meant being trapped. The winter I was in 7th grade, I went over to a friend’s house after school. You know that feeling, when you walk into an environment and immediately feel like you need to leave? I knew something bad was happening in that house. I could feel the suffocation all around me. I could sense my friend didn’t want me to leave. Her sister clung to me. I could feel the tension from their dad, asking when I was getting picked up. It felt like he wanted me out of there.

When my mom finally did pick me up, I didn’t know how to describe to her what I felt. The days were short then, so even though it was only 5 o’clock, it was already dark as night. When we got home, I went outside to think.

There’s nothing like the dark silence of winter. When heavy snow has fallen, there’s nothing to make noise: no crickets, no birds, just the occasional sound of branches breaking under the weight of heavy snow. Sometimes, when there’s no moisture in the cold air, the snow itself can creak, an icy, low-pitched crunch as the snow gives way underneath you.  I remember sitting in my backyard, thinking about my friend. The cold air hurt to breathe in, but I kinda liked it. It made me feel alive.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so helpless. Maybe that was the first day I really understood what empathy was, knowing that my friend and her sister wanted me, needed me maybe? to help them, but not knowing why or how. I could just feel it. The only thing that made me feel better was sitting in the dark, feeling the cold, and surrounding myself in the deep silence of the winter night.

Eventually, my mom came out to get me, made me brush off the snow in our vestibule, and then brought me in to sit by the fire. She knew I was upset, and she knew that neither one of us could fix it. Sitting in our warm, glowing family room that night felt wrong to me. I wondered what my friend was doing. In the era before junior high kids had cell phones, wondering was all I could really do.

A few weeks later, my friend handed me a note in class. It was a suicide note. I was only 11 years old, but I knew that I couldn’t let me friend hurt herself, even though she had written in the note that if I told anyone, she would never talk to me again. I took the note to my school counselor and there was a huge hubbub. My friend was whisked off to meet with counselors and administrators. Calls were made. I knew big important things were happening, but I didn’t know what. I knew my friend was safe, though...I knew that she had a chance to tell people she could trust what was going on in her life. I still don’t know what those things were. She was true to her word for a long time...she didn’t talk to me, and even when she did, our friendship was never the same.

The rest of that winter, I would go sit outside at night. I would let the air burn my lungs and my toes start to tingle as my boots couldn’t keep out all of the cold after awhile. I would sit in the silence of the heavy, snowy night and think. Did I do the right thing? Was my friend going to be ok? How could I enjoy being inside with the warmth and love of my family when other people were sad, in need, and in pain? 

I still like to sit out in the dark and think, although winter nights are not quite the same in Carpinteria as they are in northern Michigan. There’s no snow to muffle the noise, and no cold air to burn my lungs. But I can remember those feelings, and those nights, thinking about gratitude and fairness and empathy and helplessness. And I can still capture that clarity of vision in the dark that somehow is so elusive in the light.