Looking Back at The Year That Shall Not Be Named

Looking Back at The Year That Shall Not Be Named

December 22, 2020 Off By JR

This my second only time to blog about a year in review, great timing. But recently I watched a video from a leader at our institution and in that video what caught my attention was not necessarily the praise staff and faculty got (which they really deserve), but they mentioned a bunch of these other things that happened in 2020 that we might have forgotten about (like when Australia was straight up in flames at the start of the year). So this year I think it might be important to really try to pause and think about all the things that happened this year, and not just focus on the pivot to online or on what might be the biggest world event in my lifetime. I’ve been back and forth as to whether I want to write down my thoughts from Jan-Dec or by topic. We’ll see what happens.

Presentations and Workshops

My time working at ualberta was probably peak presentation and workshop time for me. Since leaving my post there, I’ve presented or given workshops less and less often, partly because it tends to fall out of my current role, and although I’ve attended conferences I don’t seem to get things together in time to present anything – which is compounded by the fact that positions I’m in are not academic positions and therefore many conferences exclude the kinds of work I’m involved in. This year I had quite a few opportunities, which is probably due to the nature of being involved in online teaching and learning. The year kicked off with a presentation for JSGS’s OnEd speaking series. They offer a session about once monthly and invite talks from all kinds of different folks from within the university and outside to talk about their work in online learning. My presentation, The Ingredients for Successful Online Classes, focused on a few aspects of online course design, but the one quote I pulled that has stuck with me the most is, “Effective feedback isn’t a fix: it’s food, not medicine” (Torcivia Prusko, P., 2020).

The next two talks I was invited to present were both hosted by Mescasewis Cultural College. I am fortunate to know a librarian from there from my days in the Alberta Open Ed scene. The first talk, Ingredients for Interaction in Online Classes, focused on three primary types of interaction I consider when designing online classes: student-content, student-instructor, and student-student. This borrowed again from a food and cooking theme, and the quote about feedback appeared here as well. In the student-content portion I provided a brief overview of H5P, as that is my current favourite tool to provide an interactive content-based experience and build in feedback to course materials. There was an overwhelming interest in that specifically which led to being invited back to give a presentation, It’s Alive! Using H5P to Create Interactive Content. This presentation was actually based on an accepted proposal I submitted to the CAUCE conference, but that event was cancelled due to COVID. So I’m pretty thankful I still got to go ahead with it, and the participants in that session were fabulous.

Following that, one of the participants went back to their home institution, SAIT, and so I was invited to present basically the same thing to instructors in the school of construction. It was humbling to be invited out of the blue like that, and we had a great conversation about how they might use H5P to teach construction courses, which felt good as I like those subject areas. Or rather, they’re near to my heart because I used to teach those classes to high school students myself.

H5P was the gift that kept on giving this year, as towards the end of the summer I was also invited to speak at a BCCampus event. They kicked up a project this year to provide grants to create H5P activities for a variety of open textbooks in their catalogue. Instructional Design of Open Textbook Practice Problems, was presented by myself and my colleague Julie and hosted by Alan Levine and Clint Lalonde. The H5P PB Kitchen is what they called the working virtual space where folks could gather and chat about all the ingredients they used to make delicious H5P content. Who know this whole food themed ID presentation thing would take off this year.

I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with all of these educators and ed tech folks from across Canada this year and look forward to future opportunities.

In the Community

Starting in mid-late 2019 I was given the opportunity to teach both the metals 101 and welding 101 classes at the Saskatoon Makerspace. I majored in Practical and Applied Arts in my B.Ed program and had taught industrial arts at a few schools in the province. After moving onto grad school and then into instructional design, most of my ‘shop’ days kind of seemed behind me, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I taught a few classes and settled on combining the metals and welding classes, so participants could work through most of the tools that would make sense for many metal/welding related projects. The project I chose for this was a classic beginner welding project, a six-sided die. Through these workshops I’ve gotten to meet so many new and old members at the Makerspace, and help people that really wanted to learn a new skill. I started ID in a continuing education area, and the more continuing ed things I get involved with, the more I find that’s where I think my heart is, both from a teaching and learning perspective. One of my more recent private metals/welding classes was a mother and son, and the mother said she wanted to take this class because when she was a little girl she wanted to be a welder when she grew up. Things changed of course, but it was awesome to see her energy and excitement fusing pieces of metal together. Another welding student was a husband who was taking the class so he could make stands for these kind of doll projects his artist wife made. Another was a designer who wanted to be able to fabricate his own prototypes. The range of interests was wide, and really cool.

As for myself, in January I was a participant in someone else’s Kumiko class. If you haven’t met kumiko yet, it’s a style of Japanese woodworking that is geometry and pattern making without fasteners. That’s something I really love about Japanese woodworking actually, how well everything works without glue, nails, and screws. I have lots of my own table top size power tools for woodworking, and access to the tools at the Makerspace of course, but kumiko uses all hand tools. From planes, to saws, to chisels each piece is carefully crafted by hand. I’m not one for attention to detail usually, which is why I’ve always admired those who can do this kind of work well, but I found this activity really enjoyable. Things have gotten away from me since this workshop, but I think one day I’d like to start making more kumiko projects – especially since the pen/pencil making has paused fully.

On a more work related note, there were a few times throughout the year where I was asked to participate in interviews about instructional design. Although I’m in that frame of mind most days in a week, it’s not too often that I get to talk about things from a professional or strictly ID sense. Much of the work ends up being communicating principles and practices applied to other disciplines, but not taking that look directly back into ID and what the role is like. Sometimes you get in the flow, and then someone asks you what seems like a simple question about how you work and you have to pause and reflect on what exactly it is that you’re doing, and I appreciate the invitations I’ve received that prompt me to take that pause.

Judo & Karate


I did manage to keep up with Judo training until things shut down. That included a handful of tournaments this year in addition to my regular training schedule. The SaskOpen tournament was in January and I participated in two categories, kata and ne waza (ground fighting). For kata, I was pleased to bring home silver in nage-no-kata (forms of throwning), and gold in ju-no-kata (forms of gentleness). All kata in judo are done with partners and in each of these I play the role of uke (receiving the techniques). In the case of the former that means attacking and being thrown 30 times over about 7-8 minutes. I’ve been practising both of these kata with my partners for a little over a year, and so it was nice to see our work presented to an audience and the judges. As for the ne waza, although I came home with bronze that means a record of 1-2 so I obviously have work to do in 2021.

_MG_0017.jpgIn March I had the opportunity to compete at the Western Canadian Kata Championships in Judo. My partner and I had worked really hard to get to this stage and so we headed to Edmonton and I feel we had a pretty good performance. The event is held at the West Edmonton Mall in the hockey rink, the mats go over the ice of course. It’s a whole different feel when you’re in a space that is that open, but also the glass dome over the rink completely changes how the sound feels. When performing kata for judo there is a lot you glean from listening, the pace of your partner, their distance, etc. All of that all but disappears in that space so you have to focus so hard to not hear the crowd at the starbucks, people talking on the benches, or to be thrown off my others practising or performing on other mats. We brought home a bronze, which we’re really happy to have. One additional bonus for me is that the gold medalist was a sensei at the judo club I attended while I lived in Edmonton, so I was humbled to be able to share the podium with him. The next day was the Edmonton International tournament. It had been quite a while since I fought in regular shiai (judo tournament mode). I managed to keep a pretty solid head on my shoulders during most of the matches I felt, but I can still imagine how badly my lungs were burning after the first match (this was pre-covid worries in Canada, so the burning was definitely just the effort I had to expend). I managed to scrape by to 3rd place, and haven’t had a match since. Judo might be what I’ve missed most this year, the exercise, the learning, the friends, and testing yourself.

Even with all of the disruptions, I’ve been fortunate in my karate training as well. In January I was promoted to 6th kyu (still pretty far off from a blackbelt), but I have felt sharper progress up to that point and locking in some things that used to seem impossible to learn. I’ve never competed in karate, they have kumite (point fighting) and kata (solo demonstration) but being in the middle of the country there haven’t been a tonne of opportunities. This fall however, the Sato Cup Invitational Tournament (2020) had an e-tournament. Like everyone else, it looks like karate went online which was really cool. There were nearly 200 participants from 9 countries. Everyone submitted videos of their performances, and then with immense effort the organizers collected the videos, judged, and streamed the tournament on YouTube. This was a really cool opportunity to participate in a tournament, without having to travel, to get feedback from a diverse audience, and see a wide range of performances from a whole bunch of different schools and styles. I placed very well, but based on the score I received I have plenty of work ahead of me in 2021.

Professional Development

I completed my M.Ed program back in 2013, and over time I’ve run into slight barriers in my skill set, mostly tech specific. For example, I still haven’t really made a child theme in WordPress, even though WP is a tool I use all the time and promote for use in education. I work on online courses everyday and yet I haven’t spent a great deal of time and energy working on my web authoring skills since maybe working with Dreamweaver. For a few years I kept an eye out for continuing ed classes and programs that focused on web authoring or WordPress, but so many of them across Canada are a) poorly promoted or difficult to find on Canadian University websites, or 2) are full credit courses which require registration in an degree program, and/or 3) are face-to-face only (I know, right?). I expanded my search a bit to include UX, and OCADu’s continuing ed program popped up, and most of the classes did have online offerings. I had originally planned on completing the certificate program over 2 years, but with many of my evening activities and trips cancelled I finished in just 10 months! Two courses on UXD, and three in authoring using HTML, CSS, Javascript, and PHP and lots of neat little projects along the way it was a valuable refresher and helped me to think about how I author pages differently. This will hopefully start to be applied to pages I design for courses and the first one should be hot off the press in winter 2021. Not only did this program introduce me to skills and concepts I hadn’t seen in a while, but some of the tools we used are really interesting. In particular jsfiddle for playing around with Javascript on pages with realtime feedback and Figma (my first course project was done with Figma) for UX design will continue to make appearances on my “workbench.”

Speaking of building up new skills, another opportunity that popped up this year was the beta testing of Reclaim Hosting’s latest project, Reclaim Cloud. Those of you who have accounts with Reclaim Hosting will know that it is based largely on cPanel (where you can choose what applications to install, manage email, create and manage databases etc. ) and the LAMP stack. This set up works great for things like WordPress, Lychee (what I host my photos on), Omeka, Scalar, and more. However, there are often programs I come across that are really interest ed tech that require either Node.js, or MongoDB (instead of MySQL). Years ago I’d asked Reclaim about the possibility of using the Adapt Authoring Tool for example, but it wouldn’t work on the shared hosting set up I was on. Reclaim Cloud blew all of that out of the water and gives you even more control to set up mini virtual environments to run applications. I blogged about a few of the applications I tried out: Head in the Clouds with Adapt; Breath of Fresh Air – Wiki JS in the Clouds; Adventures Docking in the Cloud;  and a few others. Some of the posts were even mentioned in the Reclaim newsletter about Reclaim Cloud which again was super humbling – I was just excited about the opportunity to play in the sandbox and explore some of the new possibilities. I’ve been pretty quiet in there this fall, but hopefully will get a chance for another deep dive in 2021 with a full paid account.

I’ve been a member of ACCP-CAID for a little over 2 years now. This Canadian Association of Instructional Designers has hundreds of members from across Canada and bridges between freelancers, corporate based IDs, and IDs based in higher ed. It’s a great mix. They offer workshops and master classes throughout the year and also act as a hub for job postings. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll have noticed I also posted loads of jobs this year (well, shared postings) as I’ve never seen job postings in the volume and frequency I saw this year. This fall, a new board position was created at ACCP-CAID, Administrator of Networking and Technology, and I’ve joined the board in this position. I’m very much looking forward to working with my colleagues on the board, and with promoting the organization and contributing to the larger ID community. More news to come.

Years and years ago I had an interview with a German company that works in the online learning space. I had taken German in high school and fair ok when I visit Germany, and Austria. I sheepishly have to reply to hostel/hotel staff that assume I speak French because I’m from Canada that I am better with German than with French. Back when I was preparing for the interview I found Duolingo and worked on refreshing my German skills. I quite liked it, as I had about a 40 minute walk to and from work at that time so it was perfect for daily practice. I ended up at ualberta instead but the app always stuck in my mind. Around the same time I had travelled to Finland and really liked it, and surprisingly picked up on a tiny amount of the language while I was there. I got really good at ordering ice cream (which is awesome in Helsinki). I checked Duolingo at the time but no Finnish offering. I tried CDs and a couple of other language learning things to try to learn more Finnish but nothing really seemed to stick. So I could count, ask some basic questions, recognize certain words, and pronounce things if I could read the letters. This year Duolingo launched their Finnish language track and I’m currently sitting around 130 days streak. It’s not the best way to learn a language, but I’m finding I’m somewhat consistent and making progress so that’s better than nothing. I’m hoping that the next time I go (whenever things open up again) that I can try to practice my real world listening and speaking skills.

Through all of this year I’ve been reminded time and time again that I’m fortunate to be where I am. This recap of my year is not meant to downplay all of the things that threw everyone for a loop this year, and ultimately harmed hundreds of thousands and even millions. With all of the focus on that side of things I wanted to sit back and look for bits of silver lining, the things that keep me going so that I can bring my best to 2021. Thanks for being with me this year, I hope you’re well and safe, and I hope to see you here again in the new year.

“Objects in Mirror are Closer than they appear” by CFlo Photography is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0