In my July 8, 2014 blog, I promised to check in with four self-assessment reports throughout the year, at the following times:
- The commemorations of the American and French Revolutions (first two weeks of July)
- The Jewish religion’s holy day, Yom Kippur – a day in which Jews are advised to take accounts of their doings and undoings (beginning of October)
- New Year’s Day (January 1st)
- Earth Day (April 22nd)
The July date also coincides with the Muslim religion’s Ramadan, and Earth Day doubles as my wife’s birthday, so they are extra meaningful. I am writing this report two days before Yom Kippur, and it will be posted three days after. Arguably, Yom Kippur is the ideal day in the Jewish calendar for a self-assessment.
I first intended to structure these reports similarly to the daily reports that I get from a good friend that works in the financial industry. He has the Bloomberg machine on his desk that provides him with an updated analysis of the financial market, which he shares with clients and friends. His reports simply include short lists of daily events that he thinks impact the industry and a paragraph that summarizes his opinions of the effects that these events might have. I quickly realized that at least for the first report, my approach has to be totally different. Unlike the daily events that my friend deals with, I am dealing with global events that affect basically everything that we do. Data on what is happening are everywhere, and most of them are reliable. Have a look, for example, at the portal that the World Bank is using to discuss climate change; it is a massive undertaking. However, I hope to be able to distill these data to their simplified essentials, while preserving his format as closely as feasible. I want to include not only data of what I am doing and the impact it has, but also what all of us collectively are actually doing or not doing to minimize the long term damage to the physical structure of our planet that results from our consumption activities on a global scale.
Today’s report will not include any of this. It will focus on the principles that I want to follow, as well as (hopefully) generate feedback from all of you that will allow me to rethink and adjust as I move forward with this blog.
Assessment has become a big thing in academia. Every school now engages in the activity with the full knowledge that if they don’t do it, their “customers” will do it for them. Our “customers” (in academia) are our students, our communities, our alumni, our donors, our evaluators and whoever else is providing the resources for what we are doing – and thus has the power to stop the flow of the resources and force all of us to look for different jobs. If we neglect assessing ourselves, other people will do it for us, a prospect which fills every school with dread. I am the assessment coordinator of my department so I am fully engaged in all aspects of the process. Any assessment starts with goals and objectives, along with tools to measure whether these goals and objectives are being met.
In my very first blog, on Earth Day, April 22, 2012 I tried to explain (and meanwhile figure out for myself) why I am writing and what my goals are. Here is what I wrote:
It’s with excitement and some trepidation that I write my very first blog post today. As a trained scientist, it really isn’t in my nature to write short blips about weighty subjects like climate change. But I’ve taken up this challenge – today, on the 42nd anniversary of Earth Day – because I simply couldn’t stand by and watch while climate change “deniers” continue to try to take center stage and to keep all of us from doing what’s necessary to head off the impending climate change disaster. As a professor, a scientist, a Holocaust survivor and someone who has just written a book on climate change, I think I am uniquely positioned to tell the climate change story. I know that once people really grasp the science behind climate change and how each person really can help us reverse course, they take action and feel hopeful. I’ve seen it happen. Despite everything, I feel hopeful too.
I got 77 comments on that blog! Most of the interest didn’t arise from my writing about the climate change issue, but rather came about because my special background allowed me to connect the climate change threat with that posed by the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s. The latter led to the Holocaust, and the murder of millions – including most of my family. I invoked the Holocaust because I saw it as an opportunity to translate some elements of the way its history has been taught, and bring science education to some segments of society that would not otherwise have been reached. I also realized that my unique background as both a Holocaust survivor and a climate scientist gave me the “legitimacy” to try. I believe that mitigation of and adaptation to the threat of climate change are political processes that need as broad a participation as we can get; such broad participation requires expanding the education beyond the student population that I usually teach. This remains my central goal, against which every assessment of what I am doing will be judged.
It is clear that unlike in my school, my audience here is the “general public,” so my success or failure should be determined by the extent that my writing is read and shared by others. Humility is an important asset; if I were to assess myself in comparison to Katy Perry (57,000,000 twitter followers) or Barack Obama (45,000,000), I would conclude that I’m a total failure and I am wasting my time. If, on the other hand, I simply compare my progress against the number of students with which I am in direct contact at my University – and for whose teaching I am being nicely compensated – I am doing fine.
Writing the blog on a weekly basis takes me about a day per week – time that I could have used for other activities. It also costs me money, because I engage public relation people to help me both edit my blog and satisfy my goal of reaching as broad as possible a general audience. My editors and publishers work for non-profits and share my goals, but they need resources. Since I am paying them personally, my family is among the most important customers who need to be convinced that what I am doing is worth the sacrifice.
So here’s a basic breakdown:
As far as social media goes, I have recently made more of a push. Most of my efforts have focused on Twitter. Since my blog on July 8th, I have gained 125 followers (bringing my total to 283). I also gained 45 retweets, 35 messages or mentions, and 28 favorites. This is all readily accessible information. On Facebook, in the same time period, my page got an additional 1500 impressions from 784 unique users.
As I mentioned earlier, this first report is mostly explanations, and includes very few facts. Starting with the next report, I hope to start following a more structured routine that not only tracks my own progress in reaching a larger audience, but also society’s progress in meeting the challenge of climate change. Hopefully you guys will provide the necessary feedback to help me constantly improve what I am doing.