Every day I think about the future of learning and work. My full-time career is dedicated to discovery, design, and entrepreneurship in youth education. This dissertation is a mix of personal and academic interpretations about growth, technology, narrative structures, and world-building.
My work as a businessperson is as much science as fiction: science because it is driven by hypotheses and experiments, and fiction because it takes guts, imagination, and ethics. I believe that good businesses require both, and good businesspeople do their due diligence to build their vision of a better world, despite capitalistic boundaries. Stay tuned as I figure out what needs to be done, then figure out how to do it correctly—however long that adventure takes.
I update this daily!
a. How to Read This Website
This dissertation is a long, one-page web document. The Table of Contents can link you to different sections and subsections. Every section is written as simply as possible, and academic jargon is italicized and underlined with a hover pop-up like this to explain it.
In the Table of Contents, ✨means that section has been recently updated. 🌱means it's a new section.
Some sections have blue, red, or yellow square tags, which mean that within that section, there is a different kind of content. Blue means there is a tech travelogue piece; red means a personal essay or story. Often paired with a personal photo and illustration, understanding these pieces makes reading the dissertation more clear and, hopefully, more fun:
"Wi-Fi and a Window" Travelogue
Wi-Fi and a Window
Sections with this blue are my travelogue field notes about technology use and literacy. As I visit schools and other new communities, I write "Wi-Fi and a Window" pieces to document my observations in the U.S., China, Mexico, and parts of Europe. I review my conversations with students and educators, focus groups, product tests, and local ethnographies. My reflections motivate the topics in that dissertation chapter.
If you read the "Wi-Fi and a Window" sections on their own, you'll get a series of my first-hand case studies about digital interactions in the 21st century. Feel free to use the insights for your own work.
"Jenny Types" Personal Essays
Sections with this red are personal statement essays about my own relationship with learning. These pieces are often more poetic, metaphorical, and self-reflexive.
If you read the "Jenny Types" sections on their own, you will get some of the essential essays about my young life, like a blog or diary.
Here are some basic term definitions I have set for this dissertation. Because my exploration is interdisciplinary, it is important to avoid conflating definitions from the different fields represented.
A series of experiences or events (think: an Instagram or Snap story).
The pattern that connects some experiences together, start to end, through cause and effect.
A type of plot that involves personal growth, understanding, and progress.
Seeking knowledge to understand or progress yourself or your world.
Your perception of the “who, what, where, when, why, and how” of the way things in life are. Informed by your story, plot, and journey.
Practices to discover the journey in your education and life story.
The visual interface that shows a story, plot, and journey over time. The y-axis measures the amount of self-awareness and personal growth of an experience.
Someone whose cookie trail you admire.
Seeing how a past experience in your story can be a plot point.
Seeing how a future experience in your story can be a plot point.
Earth's To-Do List
The database that reframes a career as a goal-oriented task to aid human flourishing (the Aristotelian definition of human flourishing is "activity in accordance with virtue").
Journey learners study a skill or seek knowledge as a part of a larger process to achieve a goal or mission. A journey learner's education always has a bigger reason. Journey learners are the "protagonists" of their education.
"School is the beginning of a child's life work."
How does a bird fly? Why do we dream? What is anger? Does the sun have a birthday? As kids, we’re full of curious questions. In fact, following these curiosities led to the progress of many domains and disciplines, from physics to poetry.
Yet today, seeking knowledge has lost its goal of understanding and progressing ourselves and our worlds. Instead, education is often a hurdle to making money, filling a resume, or achieving status—not a journey for a sense of purpose. Without that goal-oriented curiosity, school, work, and life can feel unfulfilling and useless.
Journey learning reframes education as studying for a goal, especially to follow our natural curiosities. By seeing our education and life experiences like a journey, we can better understand every up, down, test, and wisdom. With new skills, we earn a sense of purpose and stability: healthy aspirations, especially in a world of so many questions.
Journey learning asks us to draw from our past experiences and look for patterns in our work styles, attitudes, time management, and subjects and roles we prefer. What kinds of work trigger a flow state? Are there topics I care more about than others? What’s my stress threshold? Do I work well with others? Am I hard to please? As we ask questions like these, we grow more aware of the causes and effects in our lives so we can better play along.
We all have patterns in how we react to our education, career, and life experiences. There are infinite dots to connect and stories to tell about ourselves. Discovering these journeys and taking advantage of them is a skill we all share. Even our myths and movies consistently show us that this process is natural to our shared, human experience. To understand our journeys and how they change is to discover who we are and what we’re made of.
Basically, journey learning means we should be learning things for a reason, and those reasons come from understanding our personal journeys. My product ecosystem — Plot Twisters, Cookie Trails, Earth's To-Do List, and Water — gives us all the opportunity to be journey learners.
2. Plot Twisters
I am creating a digital world of personal metrics, metaphors, mnemonics, and storytelling tools to help to reveal the cookie trail of your experiences. Growing up, balancing my explorative hobbies with an academic and social life generated a lot of anxiety for me. In my conversations with others, describing experiences from stress to takeaways of an assignment seemed to be missing a standardized language. Therefore, I invented a quirky, mnemonic-based language to improve self-reflection.
There are no cohesive resources or tools in education to document hindsight. Through metaphors that quantify and qualify the lessons we learn from our lives, we can see clearly the experiences that have shaped us. The Five Axes below are categories of the abstract, implicit lessons learned in school:
- Control of Emotions
- Playing Along
- Defining Contentment
- Eliminating Waste
- Intentional Growth
Every Plot Twister connects to at least one of the five axes and clarifies our relationship to it. Each student should understand their work styles, habits, and tendencies, and be self-aware enough to direct that knowledge toward their academic and social responsibilities.
Stylistically, Plot Twisters is inspired by Highlights Magazine, Mad Libs, Neopets, Club Penguin, and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster—some visual staples from my childhood. Because this aesthetic is not found in the visual palette of today’s youth, which is largely saturated by social media and gaming. Visually the activities are memorable, which was corroborated by 24 user tests with students in elementary through high school.