Good morning, and TGIF!
This is the final issue of the Eduvation Insider for 2020, a year we all look forward to putting behind us. (I’m no golfer, but it’s tempting to “call a mulligan” and pretend the year didn’t count at all.)
With the time pressure of monitoring thousands of sources and writing this daily digest (275,000 words since March), I really regret that there hasn’t been time to keep up with scheduled video production on “Ten with Ken” as well. (I still have several interviews in the can, waiting patiently…)
Reluctantly, I have to admit that we’re going to have to settle for a WRITTEN 2020 Holiday Special, in this year of COVID19. (Like I said, a mulligan!) Nonetheless, I hope you’ll find something entertaining, heartwarming or a little bit uplifting among these examples of campus communications.
The Ten with Ken Holiday Special
For the 6 years I’ve been producing Ten with Ken, we’ve created a television-hour-long special each December, rounding up the best examples of higher ed social media from the previous year. In 2015, we started with two 20-min episodes focused on Holiday Greeting Videos generally, and Holiday Music & Goodwill. The 2016 Holiday Special was a single 25-min episode, which introduced the idea of “best in class” awards. In 2017, 3 shorter episodes (totalling 50 min) divided vids into Gingerbread, Snow & Dancing Deans, Naughty or Nice Carpools & Carolling, and Seasonal Storytelling: Satire & Sentiment. (Have I always had a leaning towards alliteration?) The 2018 Holiday Special was a concise 13-min Holiday Video Countdown of the 10 best examples in rank order. Last year’s 2019 Holiday Special was perhaps the most polished, with the 3 episodes I’ve been promoting in this newsletter all month: Midwinter Magic, Season’s Eatings, and Festive & Fuzzy.
(You’ll find all 5 years’ worth of holiday specials in this playlist on the Eduvation YouTube channel, if you missed them.)
After 9 months of social distancing, the holiday videos of last December feel distinctly out of place. They joyously depicted students baking cookies together, choirs singing shoulder to shoulder, roughhousing in the snow, and of course ubiquitous hugs and smiles. As we head home to a winter break like no other, scenes like that will either make us queasy or profoundly sad.
So this year, in part thanks to this format, I will break with tradition and focus instead on ultra-timely videos released Dec 1-17 2020.
My apologies to those of you who produced brilliant work last December… I did collect 292 examples in this 2019 Holiday Videos playlist. And also, my apologies to those of you who are about to release your 2020 videos.
“A great lasting lesson of 2020 is to cherish the human connections: the delightful, dedicated, caring, creative, inspiring people all around us… May the new year bring all of us closer together.” – Rafael Reif, President, MIT
The Full Collection
Since Dec 1, I’ve spotted 193 videos from the 800 higher ed YouTube channels I monitor each and every day. You can see the full playlist of 2020 Holiday Videos here, in the order they were published, and I will keep adding to this playlist over the holidays. (Be warned, the entire playlist will take you several days to watch…)
The Top 20 of 2020
Over the years I’ve now reviewed thousands of higher ed holiday greeting videos, and while plenty of fireside well wishes or animated greeting cards are great for their target audience, identifying the very best means sifting out those with substandard audio or video production quality, and watching for creativity, original music, and emotional resonance. I’ve set aside lengthy recordings of church services, sermons, concerts, and year-in-review presentations, as well as vids that were essentially rerun from previous years. (I still love uStirling’s skating squirrel, for example, but we awarded it “Best-in-class Animated greeting” last year. And Mohawk College’s animated greeting this year looks identical to one last year, with facemasks added in.)
At a time when many universities are offering students a pass/fail option, it seems unfair to rank these holiday greetings – which were after all created at a time when campus MarCom staffs are stretched past the breaking point, video shoots are virtually impossible to organize, and budgets are tight.
Nonetheless, I want to create some sense of prioritization for those of you with limited time, so I have worked out my own, admittedly subjective, ranking of the top 20 holiday greeting videos of 2020. To some extent, I have juggled the rankings to fit things neatly into thematic categories, too – so don’t dwell too much on the specific numbering. Still, if you have limited time or patience, start at the top of this list…
The vast majority of higher ed videos this time of year capture concerts and musical performances on campus, or carolling sing-a-longs (and inevitably covers of Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is you). Since we now know that aerosol transmission poses a major coronavirus risk, choirs had to find novel ways to perform together – but the power of traditional music and words to console us in these trying times is unrivalled. This year, the videos with the best production values also featured some amazing musical talent from the college or university community…
#1. Amazing Voices
Azusa Pacific University (California)
Azusa Pacific held a virtual “Rally With Us” fundraiser for student scholarships on Dec 9, featuring breathtaking vocal performances by alumnus and Broadway performer Darnell Abraham, accompanied by APU faculty (and sometimes student ensembles via Zoom). His outstanding performances of “This Christmas,” “What Child is This?”, “O Holy Night,” and even “Jingle Bells” gave me goosebumps. Azusa
#2. What a Wonderful Song
Fleming College (Ontario)
Fleming released #WonderfulWorld as a tribute to students, staff, frontline workers and many local heroes “who have made an untenable situation a moment of pride and reflection on the power of coming together.” The music video is a collaboration by local artists including singer/songwriter Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo fame, and even College president Maureen Adamson plays guitar. Fleming
#3. Auld Lang Syne
College of William & Mary (Virginia)
If ever there were a year to forget, while simultaneously waxing nostalgic about times long since, it’s 2020. William & Mary (established 1693) puts together a moving version of the classic song, “Auld Lang Syne,” with some great footage of campus, and a voiceover that reminds us that for >300 years, “we’ve adapted, we’ve persevered, and we’ve always found the light.” W&M
University of Aberdeen (Scotland)
Aberdeen shared an original musical poetry composition, “Solas,” that acknowledges the difficulties of 2020 while framing a beautifully-shot tree-lighting ceremony. “We’ve been tried, we’ve been tested… But we did not break, we never gave up… and together we found the light.” (I’m not sure whether the title alludes to the “5 Solas” of the Reformation, or what.) Aberdeen
#5. Musical Noise
New Brunswick Community College
What it lacks in vocal talent it makes up for in creativity. NBCC put together “the Sound of the Holidays at NBCC” – in which objects across campus – from sandpaper to car doors, concrete trowels, power drills and keyboards – evoke the tune of “Deck the Halls.” Clever idea, and clearly plenty of enthusiastic participation! NBCC
The pandemic has intensified empathy and kindness for colleagues and students, so it’s only natural that holiday well-wishes start to move beyond clichés…
#6. Heartfelt Authenticity
Vancouver Island University (BC)
I think we should look beyond the uneven audio and video, to appreciate the genuine interactions of VIU president Deb Saucier and her daughter Mia, as they build a gingerbread house, while watching video by Pastry Arts instructor Ken Harper. It’s charming to spend some time with them at home, and Deb’s heartfelt message is clearly sincere: “You’ve made my family incredible welcome… I’ll do my best for you because I know you’ve done your best for me.” VIU
#7. Ojibwa Pandemic Story
Glendon Campus, York University (Ontario)
The francophone Glendon Campus shared a unique “Ojibwa Tale for the Holidays.” Elder Donna-Lise Lamothe tells the story of COVID19 from the perspective of Mother Earth, who “needed a rest” because her “2-legged children have lost their way.” The birds and animals decide “to send an illness that would stop only the 2-legged,” and send them back to “their communities and tipis” to reflect on their duty to environmental stewardship. Ultimately, the story is one of environmental revival and abundance. Glendon
Christmas is for children, they say, and certainly much of the joy we take in traditions like Santa Claus or classic holiday television is better when shared with childlike enthusiasm. Ask any therapy dog, and they’ll tell you that pets are one way to elicit some of that innocent joy from stressed adults. Perhaps that’s why plenty of presidents recorded their greetings this year accompanied by their dogs (like King’s UC principal David Malloy and his dog Ady).
Even better, a president can become a children’s cartoon character…
#8. Claymation Wonderland
University of Waterloo (Ontario)
As in previous years, uWaterloo president Feridun Hamdullahpur returns as an animated claymation avatar with “a Special Holiday Message.” Although he is rejoined by Mr Snowman and Miss Goose, this is more than a mere rerun: Hamdullahpur encourages everyone to wear facemasks, and interrupts his own video to deliver a more sincere message in person. Waterloo
#9. Holiday Cheer Alert!
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
UIUC chancellor Robert Jones sees that the “Holiday Cheer” meter is off the bottom of the scale, so he begins handing out free cookies (in a mask, and with a reacher-grabber arm). His gesture starts a cascade of good deeds and generosity that, of course, raises the level of cheer across the campus. A slick, feel-good holiday video. UIUC
#10. Thundering Zoom
University of Victoria (BC)
It has long been a trope of higher ed holiday videos to portray the institution’s mascot, wandering around an empty campus, perhaps indulging in some Home Alone style mischief, longing for the day when students return from winter break. But when many campuses have been empty all year due to the pandemic, that trope would just be too sad. uVic’s “Holiday Gift of Connection” changes up the pattern, as Viking mascot Thunder (wearing a mask) wanders into an abandoned computer lab and gets some heartwarming messages from students via Zoom. uVic
Honourable Mention: This one from NSCG Stafford College came to my attention much too late to be included, but it really deserves a place on this list somewhere!
The “shout-out” has long been a staple of higher ed holiday videos, but it works particularly well in times of social isolation, since it features a sequence of individual clips sharing quick answers to common questions, or sometimes reciting a poem or singing a carol…
#11. Boxes & Bows
Trent University (Ontario)
Considering the trying times, Trent produced a pretty good socially-distanced multilingual shout-out video in which members of the community share their wishes for the holidays, tossing a package between each other as a dynamic way to hand-off and create continuity between scenes. Trent
“My holiday wish is that you all find happiness, hope and optimism for brighter days ahead.” – Leo Groarke, President, Trent U
#12. Hopes & Wishes
Whitworth University (WA)
Perhaps it was inevitable that our minds turn to gratitude in the wake of a year like 2020. Students at Whitworth reflect on their experience and growth this semester, what they miss most about pre-pandemic life and traditional holidays, and their hopes for next year. Whitworth
#13. Socially Distant Holidays
University of Waterloo, Faculty of Environment (Ontario)
The great outdoors makes the perfect setting for this year’s holiday video from uWaterloo’s Faculty of Environment. Staff and faculty, led by Dean Jean Andrey, deliver a series of rhyming couplets with suggestions for a socially-distanced holiday season. Technically it’s quite uneven, like most Zoom calls, but the enthusiasm comes through. UWE
A perennial favourite in higher ed holiday videos is “The 12 Days of Christmas,” because academics just love list-making, it would seem (I’m one to talk…) and the song lends itself well to parody…
#14. Twelve Days of COVID
South & City College Birmingham (UK)
SCCB produced a quick, one-verse parody of “12 Days” that plays up program areas at the institution (I assume), like “11 pipe(fitte)rs piping,” “7 students sewing,” “4 bearded barbers,” “3 french manicures,” and more. SCCB
Twelve Days of COVID
Glendon Campus, York University (Ontario)
We already recognized Glendon above (#7), but their bilingual version of “Les 12 jours de la COVID” is certainly another good example of this genre, and it nicely satirizes “reee-mooote learning… toilet paper hoarding, and a day full of zooming.” Glendon
#15. Twelve Signs of 2020
The bar is a bit higher to include a video by enrolment consultants, but Helix cleared it with “The 12 Signs of 2020.” The vocal performances are deliberately amateur, but the humour is irresistible in “10 rolls of TP, 6 feet a-spacing… 3 kids at home, 2 new hobbies, and a Zoom call that goes awry.” (Oh, and there are plenty of cameos by cats and puppies.) Helix
Maybe it’s my years spent as a designer and creative director, negotiating with difficult clients who ultimately wanted to use up all the white space and squash the big idea, but this one made me LOL despite the uneven production values and acting…
#16. Nightmare Client
Camosun College (BC)
Sherri Bell, Camosun’s president, must be a great sport for doing this holiday video about a holiday video. She burdens poor Sean, the designer, with incessant change requests, adding far too many reindeer, the entire college executive, an absolute blizzard of snow, and more. Camosun
Another longstanding trope of higher ed holiday celebrations is encouraging staff and students to create messages of hope or seasonal wishes, and add them to a campus tree or cafeteria wall. Two videos in this vein made it into the 2020 top 20…
#17. Notes of Hope
Boise State University (Idaho)
Boise State shares “notes of hope” in this brief, wordless video, pinned to a wall of holiday lights by students on campus. They wish for travel, friendship, performances, health and love like before in a post-COVID world. “I hope we all smile a lot more,” says one. Boise
#18. Limerick Tree
University of Limerick (Ireland)
UL president Kerstin Mey invites staff to submit Christmas wishes or hopes for 2021 online, so that they can be “tagged” and added to the campus community tree. Original music by Antony Gormley, “Together and Apart,” really makes this video stand out, as facilities staff light a campus evergreen while others type in their wish to be “together again in 2021.” uLimerick
Rounding out the top 20 of 2020, here are 2 more holiday for good measure…
#19. Winter Warmer
Edinburgh Napier University (Scotland)
ENU students in the Bachelors of Popular Music program pull together a lively, well-produced Zoom cover of John Legend’s “Bring Me Love.” The audio sounds good enough to have come from a studio, even though we can see the students performing in isolation at their homes. The second half of this video is the ENU Chamber Choir, performing “Gaudete” via Zoom. (There’s even a little echo, as if they were in one large cathedral space.) ENU
#20. Frantic Magpie
Mount Saint Vincent University (Nova Scotia)
MSVU mascot “Captain Crow” has just 10 seconds to decorate the campus tree for a lighting ceremony, but naturally, he pulls it off! MSVU
Phew! That’s my run-down of some of the most memorable videos of the season. It took me two days to review the collection, narrow it down, and write this “script” – and if I had 4 or 5 more days, sure I could shoot and edit it as in previous years. But naturally, in the time it has taken me to do that, dozens more videos have flooded the interwebs, and I’m sure they will continue next week as well.
I hope you found something to lift your spirits in all of those examples, and that you will accept this project as my annual gift to you, my readers.
Best wishes to you and your loved ones for a peaceful, restorative holiday break, and here’s hoping that 2021 turns out to be a truly happy and prosperous new year!
Stay safe and be well, everybody!
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