My Job

As I said in my previous post… I’m not doing school anymore. I am on Coop, which means that I get to work full time and still be a student. It’s a pretty sweet deal. I’m working at the UBC Office of Learning Technology and it is a great place to be.

My current project is recreating weblogs@ubc. It’s going to be based on WordPress, with a lot of cool features, including CWL login. Soon I will also be working on UBC wikis so look out for posts about this in the future. I might even need some help from some UBC students in order to get some of the community based initiatives off of the ground.

Do Learning Tecnologies make a difference?

So, after a term of study and using all of the technologies that I have been speaking about… it’s time for the moment of truth, time to ask the question: “did they make a difference at all?”

My grades say no. According to my grades, I’m almost exactly in the same place that I was a before I got involved in LEAP and experimenting with learning technologies. However, I don’t think my grades tell the whole story. One has to remember that in addition to the fact that my courses were a lot harder this term, I am also a Residence Advisor, which seriously reduced the amount of time I that have to study. In fact, my grades staying the same speaks volumes about the tools that I have been using. I have used different technologies and techniques to make my learning more efficient and organized… and me keeping my A average is proof of that.

As for what was the most useful… here is a small synopsis of some of the things that I felt helped me most:

  • Google Calendar:

    Due to all of my involvement outside of school, I would never have been able to survive without this. Google Calendar is super easy to use and maintain. I can plan my days and weeks, look back at what I have done and coordinate with other people in my team. Google Calendar takes paper agendas, chews them up and spits them out… it really, really does.

  • Quizlet

    I raved about quizlet earlier… but using quizlet for exams blew my mind. There were literally pages on some of my exams which I just flew through… all the time saying to myself “Thank God for quizlet!” Quizlet is easy to use, collaborative… and above all… just a little bit fun. Of course flashcards can’t be used for all subjects, but for those in which it can be used… you would be a fool to not use quizlet.

  • Microsoft Office OneNote:

    This was indispensable this year. It does such a good job of keeping all your notes in one place and eliminating the need to print out pages and pages of course notes. It would make your life almost paperless if you have a tablet pc, but even if you don’t have one… there is no better way to organize you school life.

Those were the “super useful” technologies. I used others like electronic mindmapping, but I feel like those still need a lot of work before the concept can revolutionize the way one studies. As far as mind mapping goes… next year I plan to just put up massive sheets of poster paper around my room and map in my courses as they go. Electronic mindmaps just don’t have the dynamic interface yet that would make them revolutionary.

So there we go, experiment over for now. School is done so I have eight months to find a whole new set of tools to help me get through it all again in September. I am on coop now at the Office of Learning Technology, so even though I can’t really test them… I can still write about the great technologies that I will be finding/building in my work.

Where to study?

I am currently sitting in a small coffee lounge and bistro near campus where I have been studying for the past three hours. This is probably the longest consecutive amount of time I have studies since I started school this term! Terrible as that may be it leads me to ponder why I have been more successful today than on any other day this term.

The answer has to be that I am not studying at home. The problem with me and studying at home is not that home has too many distractions (although it does have a lot), it’s more like I have found ways to use those distractions. Here at the coffee lounge the only distraction that my mind (aching to think of something other than statistics and chemistry) can find is to order more coffee or go and draw some money from the bank. However, if I had to do this regularly my mind would probably find many more ways to distract itself. I’m sure if I came here another 5 times, by the 5th time I would probably get very little work done. The moral of the story for me is… change it up! Having a selection of different study environments and using them is critical. Of course this is difficult for me, a person who is being paid to be in my room 4/7 evenings of the week. For those of you at UBC who do have more freedom, here is great list of places to go study! For those living on campus, remember the study caf is open every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday (with AMS tutoring being available on Tuesdays and Thursdays).

For any students at UBC (living in Totem or Vanier) that are interested in getting a leg up before the exam season starts, Rebecca and I will be giving a presentation on how to use LEAP this upcoming Wednesday at 7pm in the Vanier commons block. We will also be handing out some great study packages. All are welcome to attend.

Will post later on how it goes.

Finally, here is the doodling of a kid who types all his notes out (me) and has no paper to draw on. I will probably bring ut a whole series once I get my graphic table that I will use to write down equations into oneNote.
firstdoodle.JPG

Cheers,
Andre

I find this really funny

OK, I am just too much of a Computer Scientist, this has to be one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a very long time:


xkcd has to be the best webcomic that I have seen (if you find better let me know). I’ve spent hours reading everything he has and laughing myself stupid!
That’s it for now, more to come from me after midterms this week…

LEAP to Learning…

Wow, well today is my last day of working at Student Development on LEAP.

If you are a UBC student and ever get the chance to work for anybody in Student Development grab that chance. It is amazing how everyone in the office is completely dedicated to your success as a student and as a person. Working there You just feel… safe! You know that if anything goes wrong that everyone you work with is there to support you. I would like to thank Tlell and Margot for being such great supervisors, and for taking every opportunity to let me grow in my work at UBC. I don’t know if I will ever find a better boss (I cringe at using that word… that’s how good they are) than Tlell or Margot. I’d also like to thank Angeli, Darryl and Mariana for being such great co-workers and for putting up with my constant stream of crazy ideas. Angeli especially has been very patient with me and my penchant for using different little technological tools to get things done. Collaborating with her on projects was an absolute pleasure and her music keep up a great mood in the office. Although I didn’t work with them directly, Kim, Chad, Shagufta (working at AMS) and Cindy (who works at OLT) have been a wealth of knowledge and I can think of a few times when they have each taken time out of their day to help me.

pyramid.JPG

I have gained so much from this job, I have learnt how to work in a team and collaborate. I have also learnt how to organize myself and to increase my own productivity. I guess perhaps the most important thing that I gained was a passion for learning (hence the title of my site and blog). Although I am sad to leave, I am also excited to get studying again! I want to start applying all that I have learnt at LEAP about learning and technology. I just can’t wait to find some academic knowledge and see if I am better at ingesting it! I will be testing everything I learnt and featured on LEAP (and of course blogging about it afterwards).

So off I go to be and advisor and a student once again, LEAPing, learning and blogging my way through life. It has been a great summer and I just want to say one more great big THANK YOU to all of you who have made it so.

Cheers,

Andre.

The power of blogging… my first taste.

I haven’t been blogging for a long time… something that is patently obvious from the lack of actual posts on this blog. You can’t blame me… I used to believe (as many non-bloggers… and even more bloggers do) that blogs are for complaining about your life and looking for sympathy on the internet. Since I’m pretty happy with my life… why on earth would I start a blog?

OK, yes, I know, that was foolish, I now know that blogs are about far more. That they allow us to get our ideas out to the world at large, to be part of an academic community… bloggers are the new scholars who discuss their topics of interest on a far broader scale than anyone could have imagined before. Of course… that’s supposed to be only if you’re good! The best that someone like me, a lowly undergraduate blogger with poor writing skills could hope for was that some of my friends and fellow students read it right?

Wrong! After three entries my blog has already been quoted! By Zoho, my hero in web application building!(you can read it here). To know that an international company with some of the best computer engineers in India has been reading my blog… that I have the power to reach that far with what I say… oh that power feels so good. I guess any seasoned blogger must have gone through this already… that exhilarating rush, that spark that galvanizes you to keep going and to make sure that what you write is good. Because if it’s not good… then it’s not read by anybody, then that delicious power disappears.

Zoho.jpg
(A zoho homepage screen shot… just because everybody should look at it!)

Facebook… I repent!

In my last post “Facebook… you’re dead to me” I lamented at the way in which Facebook apps have killed the usefulness of Facebook as a social networking application. I was wrong (at least to a certain extent) and two events since then have convinced me of that fact.

The first event was discovering that Zoho now has a Facebook App. Imagine, students can find their classmates on Facebook using the courses feature (and if Facebook takes that away I might just disown it again!) and then work collaboratively with them using Zoho. Apps like this truly have potential. Now it’s up to Facebook to stop pandering to the MySpace crowd and block apps that are completely useless and choose the best from apps that do the same thing… I mean we really don’t need super poke, pro poke, ultimate poke and extended poke… one kind of poke is quite enough.

The second event was catalyzed by UBC housing and Conferences releasing telling us where we would be living. However, they did not let Residence advisors know who they would be working with. So, using a Facebook group we got together and were able to map 80% of the advisors locations. Now that Facebook had allowed us to know who our teammates where, we then used it to join our house groups and connect with our residents before they even came to live in residence. Facebook has allowed me to find and help people that I will be living with in the coming year. It’s power as a social networking application is truly unrivaled.

Facebook is great because it combines all the useful new aspects of web 2.0 without students even realizing it. Facebook has:

  • Blogs (in the form of notes)
  • Discussion boards
  • RSS (mini-feed)
  • Twitter (in the “status ” section)
  • Comments
  • Quick communication without commitment… for all those who groan when their IM pops up with a “hey”.
  • Events (replacing iCal and Google Calendar)
  • Marketplace (goodbye Craigslist)
  • Picture sharing (no more Flicker)
  • Forums (in the form of groups)
  • Users (it is becoming nearly universal on some university campuses)

Most Facebook users don’t even know that some of the technologies that Facebook replaces exist. Well done Facebook (now if only you could get rid of useless apps… I suppose nothing is perfect).

Cheers,
Andre.

Facebook… you’re dead to me.

Keep coming back to LEAP to see all the great new stuff that is happening (and if you can, take time to comment on what you think is good or bad). It’s funny, I never thought that my comments mattered on websites, but now that I’m working on one, it’s clear just how important they can be. Most webmasters are really good at reacting and replying (by the way, Zoho’s team is the best I’ve ever seen!) and I have promised myself that I will be doing a lot more online commenting (P.S. bloggers love to have comments… some of them live for it!)

One place that commenting isn’t that effective is Facebook! Unless your comment is exactly the same as that of the masses… you’re not going to get a thing done (and even then Facebook tends to ignore the masses). My new pet hate (the thing that I dearly wish my comments would have an effect on) is Facebook apps! It was the worst move that Facebook could ever have made. It has turned Facebook into mySpace (and we all know how much we hate mySpace). It has shifted the focus of Facebook… it has fundamentally changed what Facebook is about. Facebook used to be a Social Networking tool. Time on facebook was spent solidifying or making connections with people. We looked at each others photos, kept abreast of our friend’s news… all that good stuff. Time “wasted” on Facebook was less wasted than we thought it was… it brought us closer to people. Now however, time on Facebook for many people has become turning others into werewolves or zombies or vampires. People now spend their Facebook time playing with apps… and forgetting about the people. It has also lowered the maturity of the site. It makes me angry because Facebook really should have seen this coming. There are two things that they could have done if they really wanted to add apps… without killing Facebook:

  1. Rigorously screen apps and only include the very best (probably only keeping those offered by legitimate providers like picnik and iLike).
  2. Put apps in a separate place. Instead of having them on the wall… and making them an intricate part of a user’s profile… they could have easily made a separate page where apps go… thus keeping the clean and crisp (so different to mySpace) interface that Facebook has always had.

Now I know you’re questioning the academic context of this entry… I mean as far as academics go… who cares about Facebook? Not true. With web 2.0 and the explosion of social software, social networking tools could become an essential part of a student’s success. “Knowing who” is becoming more and more important and Facebook was helping to streamline that process. Just check out Diana Oblinger’s presentation from the UBC e-Learning conference or the brilliant commoncraft show below.

Cheers,
Andre