Some Saturday Links — What is a “Good Death”?

Death as transition: hard for the living, return of loved ones for the dyingMy recent blog posts about “The Dirtiest Word I Know” and “Further Thoughts on Death & Dying, Good and Bad” both hint at the concept of a “good death.”

That begs an obvious question I’ll start to try to address here:

What IS a Good Death?

Rather than offering my personal take on this, here are links to several articles that discuss the concept of “A Good Death.” These provide a good starting point for further thoughts.

What is a “Good Death”?

This article provides a simple definition before exploring various aspects of the concept further:

“By most standards, a good death is one in which a person dies on his own terms, relatively free from pain, in a supported and dignified setting.”

This article builds on the work of Dr. Dilip Jeste, director of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at UC San Diego School of Medicine to address the question.

“To help open up the conversation in our death-phobic culture, Jeste and his colleagues are working on a broad definition of a “good death” that will help healthcare workers and family members ensure that a dying person’s final moments are as comfortable and meaningful as possible.”

Seven Keys to a Good Death

This article from Greater Good magazine delineates seven key aspects for what they consider a “Good Death.”

“Is a ‘good death’ just an oxymoron? Or can the experience of death be far more positive—an opportunity for growth and meaning?”

The Order of the Good Death

This is the home page of an organization dedicated to helping realize the concept of a “Good Death.” They encourage everyone to join the “death positive” movement to change our conversation about death & dying.

“The Order is about making death a part of your life. Staring down your death fears—whether it be your own death, the death of those you love, the pain of dying, the afterlife (or lack thereof), grief, corpses, bodily decomposition, or all of the above. Accepting that death itself is natural, but the death anxiety of modern culture is not.”

A ‘good death’ by going gentle into that good night

David Allan, editorial director of CNN Health and Wellness, writes regularly in a column called “The Wisdom Project.” Here is his take on the idea of a “Good Death.”

“How do you want to die?
It’s a question that inspires some to grab a sand shovel, dig a hole and stick their heads in it — which, less metaphorically, is a possible answer to the question. But the more we ask this simple yet deeply complicated and personal question, the more its answer will probably determine the difference between a life that ends peacefully or regretfully.”

What is a good death?

This article from a website titled “The Art of Dying Well” delves into the discussion from a religious point of view.

“It might seem strange to think of death as something that you can ‘do well’. But, there are few things we would want more for ourselves and our loved ones than a good death.”

Defining a Good Death (Successful Dying)

Finally, here is an academic paper reviewing available literature and calling for more research on the topic.

“Within the healthcare community and, more specifically, in hospice and palliative care, there has been some discussion of the concept of a good death. This concept arose from the hospice movement and has been described as a multifaceted and individualized experience. According to an Institute of Medicine report published 19 years ago, a good death is one that is “free from avoidable distress and suffering for patient, family, and caregivers, in general accord with the patient’s and family’s wishes, and reasonably consistent with clinical, cultural, and ethical standards.” This concept has received some critique in several disciplines, including medicine, psychology, theology, sociology, and anthropology. In particular, concern has been raised that there is no such thing as an external criterion of a good death and that it is more dependent on the perspectives of the dying individual.”

There are many ways to view death and deal with its inevitability. I believe it is time — past time really — to talk more openly about it. Not all deaths will be “good,” but not all deaths must be bad, either. If we approach our own life’s end as another part of a full life to be experienced thoughtfully and with feeling, maybe we can make some of the suffering and grief we suffer more bearable.

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Final Daze of SXSWedu 2018

Yes, you read that right: “daze.”

After even just 2 days of jam-packed days of session after session opening amazing doors to educational insights and practice, the cognitive overload of SXSWedu starts to take its toll on me. The last post featured doodles from Wednesday’s sessions — with a major break for lunch.

Texas food checklist — BBQ, done!

Texas food checklist: BBQ—done!

I had to slow down the pace of information consumption to have any chance of regaining my focus, and hitting the Iron Works Bar-B-Q, just around the corner from the Austin Convention Center, certainly hit the spot and revived me for the afternoon sessions.

Thursday was the final day of the conference, and they structure the schedule differently. Without a keynote to kick off the morning, I took my time to get down there for a couple of morning sessions.

Standardized Data, Extraordinary Insights

A lot of the disconnect between data collected by schools and timely, actionable classroom recommendations for teachers is caused by a fundamental lack of “data interoperatibility” — systems that do not “talk” in similar terms cannot easily share data, hampering efforts to aggregate that data and arrive at broad-based insights. This session presented one approach to addressing that critical need: Project Unicorn.

Katie Fang & Michael Discenza (SchooLinks), Mike Baur (Michael & Susan Dell Foundation)

Katie Fang & Michael Discenza (SchooLinks),
Mike Baur (Michael & Susan Dell Foundation)

Teaching with Play & Pretend: Using LARP in School

Do you LARP? Chances are, you do, or at least you have. LARP stands for “live action role-playing,” and the field edu-LARP explores how using this sort of playful approach can engage students and promote deeper, more meaningful learning.

Please note: this was an active hands-on experience, complete with team role-playing, abbreviated though it had to be for this presentation. My doodle note does not attempt to capture any of the game we played called “The Lake.”

Amanda Siepiola (Creative Action)

Amanda Siepiola (Creative Action),

Who Has the Right to Education?

The Closing Program brings the entire SXSWedu audience back together for 3 back-to-back presentations in a format similar to the keynotes, but a little shorter. The first of the 3  addressed the broad challenge of worldwide educational needs — of girls, in particular.

Dr. Alaa Murabit (Omnis Institute/United Nations)

Dr. Alaa Murabit (Omnis Institute/United Nations)

Note that this doodle is incomplete: Dr. Murabit said she would list off 7 factors impacting global education efforts, so I drew 7 numbered circles. But then, I lost track of what she listed off as numbers 6 and 7. Not only had my rain been bubbling with hints of cognitive overload for the last day at least, my hand had started to cramp up after 3 and a half days of doodling.

During the 2nd closing speaker, I fell behind so quickly that I just gave up. I’ll wait and watch it on the SXSWedu YouTube channel when they post it, I figured, and finish out my doodles then. After all, they had already posted the opening keynotes talks, so I figured they’d post the closing program speakers within a week. In fact, I even skipped the final closer to get jump on getting over to the closing party before the crowd arrived.

Well, a week later, I am still waiting to review those videos. Still, I believe in lifelong learning, so I have no problem coming back later to learn more from SXSWedu. I’ll let you know if I learn anything else interesting.

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Day 3 Doodles from SXSWedu 2018

Sure enough, I started to slow down by the third day of SXSWedu —you’ll notice there are fewer doodles for this day.

What Hath We Wrought?

Connectedness was supposed to help bring a more participatory culture. Danah Boyd explores some of the unintended consequences of social media, including media manipulation and polarization.


Here’s the video from Danah’s speech if you want to follow along in my doodlenotes above.

 Wednesday keynote: Danah Boyd (Microsoft Research/Data & Society)

Youth Publishing: How to Energize Emerging Writers

More than just a writing workshop, this approach helps students write and polish their stories — and then publish them as books (chapbooks), complete with public reading at the book release.

Andrew Griswold, The Telling Room

Andrew Griswold (The Telling Room)

Science or Art? Online Teaching & Learning

This team from Cambridge explained their approach to building an online environment to help students extend their knowledge and learning through semi-structured interactions.

Andrew Nye (Cambridge English Language Assessment)

Andrew Nye (Cambridge English Language Assessment)

Reinventing Corporate Education

Anant Agarwal (edX),Mark Cousin (Boeing), T.C. Haldi (MIT xPro)

Anant Agarwal (edX),Mark Cousin (Boeing), T.C. Haldi (MIT xPro)

We’re Doing Gamification Wrong: Kids Want to Learn

Unlocking extra game, a typical edtech attempt at motivation, doesn’t motivate kids as well as taking simple steps to promote their attention and engagement, as shown through this research.

Elliot Hedman (Curriculum Associates)

Elliot Hedman (Curriculum Associates)

StudioLab: Transmedia Knowledge Pedagogy

This Future20 session took a quick look at how to help students structure a “suite” of media to present information to different audiences.

Jon McKenzie (Cornell University)

Jon McKenzie (Cornell University StudioLab)

Next: Wrapping it up for SXSWedu 2018…


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Doodling SXSW 2018 — Tuesday

Day 2 of SXSWedu 2018 started off with a call-and-response kick-off for the keynote speaker talking about reality-based education and how his college, a historical black college, became the first urban work college.

WE Over Me: From College to Movement

Michael Sorrell Paul Quinn College

Again, I invite you to follow along in my doodle-notes while watching the video from the official SXSWedu YouTube channel.

Michael Sorrell  (Paul Quinn College)

VR: Beyond Virtual Field Trips to Building Empathy

As noted in my post of doodle-notes from Monday, VR (virtual reality) was a hot topic this year, packing the room for many of the presentations like this one.

VR: Beyond Virtual Field Trips to Building Empathy

Seth Andrew  (Democracy Prep), Monica Ares (Facebook Education),
Rodriguez (MIT), Tina Tran (Oculus)

Fidget Spinners, Mindfulness, and Flow

Several smaller sessions addressed their topic in a format called “Future 20” — for the 20-minute presentations they featured, giving learners a quick dip in the subject without exploring its deeply as the hour-long sessions.

Fidget Spinners, Mindfulness

Herb Coleman (Austin Community College)

Can Personalized Learning Replace Standardized Testing?

Another topic area with multiple offerings was “Data.” This session looked at how our use of data can move past the hated and dreaded standardized testing to improve education.

Can Personalized Learning Replace Standardized Testing

Joanna Gorin (Educational Testing Service), Susan Fine (New Classrooms Innovation), Jon Deane (Chan Zuckerberg Initiative)

Educating Teachers — Closing the Digital Gap

Some excellent ideas in education pose difficult issues in implementation, so several sessions focused on presenting specific examples, including this one from Northern Ireland.

Education teachers — closing the digital gapSeamus Sands (Kainos Software)

Next, we’ll revisit the SXSWedu sessions I attended last Wednesday.

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SXSWedu 2018 in the Rear View Mirror

Once again, the “hidden” portion of SXSW has come and gone.

SXSWedu may draw educators, students, and educational technology companies from around the globe, but it rarely draws attention in Austin the week before the “real” SXSW. The music, film, or interactive festivals will take over Austin’s downtown over the next 10 days or so. Headlines read, “SXSW is coming!” and banners hung on downtown poles around the site of the edu conference proclaim: “SXSW March 9-18” as if thousands of people swarming between the Austin Convention Center and the downtown Hilton simply weren’t there.

That’s okay. We had fun and there was a whole lotta learnin’ goin’ on, to paraphrase the old rock & roll song. In fact, I learned so much, it will take a week at least to figure out everything I did learn. Of course, there were also many moments of “A-Ha!” when a new bit of information combined with previous to create a new insight.

I don’t intend to try and tell you about everything I went to, but I can show you some of what I attended: as usual, I took notes via doodles. So, I figure I can share some of those over the next several days from the Back Porch (conveniently relocated to Austin’s Lady Bird Lake). And I see that the official videos from morning keynote talks are already posted on the SXSWedu YouTube channel.

One fun thing I’d suggest is to watch the keynote videos while trying to follow along in my doodle-notes. And n fact, I will need to watch the closing program videos to complete my doodle-notes from those last 3 speakers.

Meanwhile, here’s a look at some of what I heard during the first day — along with the video from the opening keynote given by members of the Moth storytellers.

Stories of Schooling and Being Schooled: The Moth

Here’s the doodle-note…

Stories of Schooling and Being Schooled: The MothMicaela Blei, Tim Manley, Crystal Tuckert, Chris De La Cruz

…and here’s the video so you can follow along —or fill in gaps in my notes.

Opening Keynote: The Moth

Students Can Build the AR/VR Worlds of the Future

Every year, there seems to a “hot topic” at SXSWedu that pulls so many people to related sessions, they cause waiting lines leading to some disappointments. VR — virtual reality — seemed to be that topic this year. I caught histone but missed others I wanted to get in, due to those waiting lines.

Students Can Build the AR/VR Worlds of the Future

Jordan Budisantos0, Rafranz Davis, Mark Suter, Jessica Lindl

Modernizing Learning through Experiential Education

Several sessions offered specific case studies, like this one.

Modernizing Learning through Experiential Education

David Delaine, Adam Fontecchio, Jennifer Standford

Art as a Pathway for Health & Wellness

Of course I loved this presentation with its emphasis on the visual…

Art as a Pathway for Health & Wellness

Jeanette Betancourt, Jane Park Woo, Melissa Menzer, Lee Francis

Personalizing On-Line Education

As a frequent on-line learner, I wanted to hear more about how to bring it alive.

Personalizing On-Line Education

Sally Berkowitz, Paul Krause, Chad Olivieri

Go Big: Digital Education Experience Design

Shifting expectations for learners by looking at even informal classrooms through the lens of museum-style “visitor experience” programs.

Go Big: Digital Education Experience Design

David Crusoe

Of course, there are other aspects of SXSWedu, so I spent some time wandering the Expo as well as the Playground. They also had an Innovation Hub, but I didn’t spend much time there, as that primarily featured vendors offering ed-tech products & systems for sale — somewhat interesting to me, but since I am not currently in the market for any of these solutions now, I mostly went there for the evening Happy Hours.

Next time, I’ll share my Tuesday doodle-notes.

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Austin — Forever Changing

Austin has always been all about change.

Austin skyline, 2018

Austin skyline, 2018

My earliest memories of Austin come from the early 60s when we would come up from Houston to attend UT football games. Often, we’d meet up with Uncle Willie and Aunt Marion, who had come down from Dallas. I can clearly recall walking the campus and Aunt Marion, in particular, would be startled, point to a building, and ask, “What’s that? That wasn’t there before!” or point at something and say, “That used to be…”

You can see how my earliest impressions were that everything about Austin was subject to change. Well, everything except maybe a few things like the State Capitol, the UT Tower, and…well, that’s about it. Nearly everything else I thought might be permanent back then— El Matamoros, the Nighthawk Restaurant on the Drag — has disappeared over the years.

So, coming back to my former home of over 40 years this week after having moved away last year, I feel like I’m re-enacting Aunt Marion’s reactions to the changes we see in Austin today. And yet, Austin springs eternal, you might say. Here’s a set of short films of Austin through the years, seen through the lens of a movie camera.


This clip dates from back in the days when my mom and her older sister, Marion, were looking to leave San Angelo to go to “The” University. Back then, it was well-understood that meant the University of Texas, in Austin.

Austin: The Friendly City


This matches the time period of my days wandering the UT campus growing with Aunt Marion marveling at all the changes.

Austin: The View From Here


Here we see Austin circa 1987, the first year for SXSW, the music festival.


Still, Austin has always had its unusual approach to controversy. Here, for example, is short film about an historical event 25 years ago: the Mooning of the KKK at the Capitol.


Austin: still weirder than you think.

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Further Thoughts on Death & Dying, Good and Bad

Death in a brown robeSo, I had been intending to write a piece about “redesigning the Death Spiral” and the concept of A Good Death. And right then, I got walloped upside the head and heart with a Bad Death.

In the simplest terms, a Good Death would be one that is foreseen and well-prepared for, so that the dying person and their loved ones have a chance to talk about what should be done before, during, and after the actual process of dying to help everyone involved confront the inevitable and help us grieve. When we’ve watched a loved one suffer great pain and loss through illness and injury, and the end draws near, its arrival can be seen as a bit of a blessing: the end of physical suffering and the release of the spirit from an incapicitated physical body.

But when death comes quickly, unexpectedly, and far earlier than we had considered possible for a person, we lose some of that opportunity to shift our perspective into acceptance. So it was just recently with my cousin Gwen’s death. One day, she was alive and vital, brimming with life — and then she was gone. She lingered in coma 10 days, but that hardly helped prepare any of us to say good-bye to her.

So, I’m left gut-punched by a Bad Death just as I am spending more time contemplating the aspects of a Good Death. It was almost like the “parentheses” of Mike Eddy’s and Granny’s deaths — but in reverse. It feels both unfair and yet somehow horribly appropriate. For without the specter of a Bad Death, most of us would still prefer to keep Death & Dying off to the side and not have to consider anything about our own. And it is that avoidance response, so strong behaviorally, that handicaps us in the search for a Good Death.

I will return to write more about death and dying again in the future. It is, after all, one of the few topics we all share in common. Meanwhile, I will grieve for Gwen’s death. In consoling myself and others, I was reminded of what a work colleague said to me after the death of my 5-year-old niece, Jessie (the death of a child is rarely a “Good Death”). Pam shared with me that her twin sister had been killed in a car wreck at age 19 many years before, and said, “I can tell you the pain itself will never really go away. With time, it will come less often and pass more quickly, but the pain itself will never go away.”

Each death serves as a reminder that we are all temporary here.
We must love & cherish each other everyday.

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