Your Personal Learning Environment – Presentation to JumpStart 2010

I just finished presenting a workshop on Personal Learning Environments to around 300 international students for UBC’s JumpStart international orientation. I think it went really well, but for anybody reading this that went to the lecture, don’t hesitate to comment below on how I could improve.

My story arc was as follows:

In order to create and effective personal learning environment you need to recursively go through the following process: Continue reading “Your Personal Learning Environment – Presentation to JumpStart 2010”

Are we fighting a war?

I just watched the movie “Idiocracy” as recommended by Brian and Joe. In the words of d’Arcy Norman“damn. that movie was depressing, funny, and awesome”. It tells the story of a distopian future, where due to the fact that smart people have less children than stupid people, by the year 2500, smart people have died out. Everyone is incredibly stupid. Those left spend their time drinking “Brawndo, The thirst mutilator. It’s got electrolytes!” and watching people get kicked in the balls on television. It’s a future where everyone behaves exactly as Kraft, Walmart, etc want us to behave. It’s a brilliant cautionary tale and I highly recommend watching it.

Idiocracy Poster
Idiocracy poster (via Wikipedia)

Will it happen though?
Is there a possibility that humanity is doomed to get dumber? I think yes. There are many different reasons why this may or may not be so (all of which better suited for a non-wee-hours-of-the-morning post), but I think the largest of those is that in a world of stupid people, the corporations win. Corporations are psychotic entities that would do anything to get us to behave as they want and they have a lot of power (as described in another thought-provoking move, the Corporation). The power is evident everywhere. They are doing their damndest to use all media at their disposal to dumb-down children and make them into perfect buying machines, doing their bidding.

How do we stop it? We fight back in the schools. If education can be revolutionized (and there are many smart people working on it) then we can teach the young how to take back the power from the corporations and to make them do our bidding instead. Eating healthy,  exercising, learning and being compassionate are what smart people do and we need to ensure that despite the corporation’s efforts, everyone is given the tools and motivation to do so.

This is a war, it’s humanity VS. the corporations.We are fighting to see who controls who. If we get real about being flexible and innovative enough to fix education and make it a place where people learn to become smart enough to take back power from our creations.

Kiva – 11 months later.

I joined kiva.org and gave my first loan 11 months ago. 1 Month later (almost a year ago) I wrote a blog post titled “Kiva: The Cheapest way to help poor people“. It described how Kiva is a great way to get your feet wet with giving, due to the fact that you loan money as opposed to giving it. It also goes into some depth as to the academic arguments surrounding micro-lending.

So after 11 months how do I feel? Continue reading “Kiva – 11 months later.”

Themes – A personal journey

Twenty hand

My site has gone through a lot of them changes over it’s history. Even though one of the bloggers that I admire most (at least before he went off the deep end) disagrees with theme changes, I feel that creating and changing my themes has allowed me to flesh out my ideas around aesthetics as well as my sense of self and personal style. I started university believing that I had no artistic talent whatsoever and have slowly come to realize that I just never spent any time developing it.  I treat my theme as a personal journey, it showcases my knowledge, ability and feelings at a given point in time and allows me to show everyone in a visual way when those things change by updating my theme.

So although I’ve lost a few of the steps along the way, here is a subset of the themes I’ve hacked along the way…

Learning through a narrative

Future of education

I just finished reading “The Future of Education – re-imagining our schools from the ground up” by Kieran Egan. It describes the idea of “Imaginative Education” (IE) and gives an example of a timeline in which this superior form of education could be the norm by 2050. I’m unsure of my opinion about most of IE and will spend a lot more time looking into it before I draw firm conclusion.

The one thing that really struck me about IE was the concentration on narratives. In the book students are given an arbitrary topic when they start school (for example “leaves” or “wind”) and work on a portfolio around that subject for their entire school school career). They are then guided by portfolio mentors to apply everything they learn to this topic. So for instance, when learning about metaphors, they are asked to find metaphors in literature involving leaves. When learning about area, they can find the best way to estimate the area of different kinds of leaves. This way of teaching serves the duel purpose of not only making students an expert in their topic, but also
gives them something tangible to relate their learning in all areas to. It forces them to develop a habit of applying the things they learn.

Now, I haven’t figured out how I feel about the idea of an “arbitrary” topic (I think students should at least have some influence in the choice of their topics). However, at a university level students like myself should have the power to choose their own topic and follow it through. I chose my topic of improving education (both in method and in distribution) a long time ago but can see many points in my education where I have failed to relate my learning back to that. For instance), why was I bored stiff in my databases class when I could have been finding ways to relate it to my passion? Boring as SQL may be, it can be seen as a powerful upgrade to parts of human language due to its exceptional clarity. The questions I should have been asking myself could have been as follows:

Should everyone learn how database queries work simply in order for them to understand the pure logic that it creates?

Is this type of logic necessary?

Does that kind of thinking make innovation more or less likely to happen?

So many questions could be formed from something as boring as SQL queries. I know that the ones above are very surface level, but that is precisely because I was not thinking deeply about this while they were being taught databases in depth. I have this feeling that I would have been able to draw many deep and meaningful connections.

From now on I intend to try my damnedest to relate everything I learn in school to my central topic and in order to test how powerful this way of thinking can be.

Multi-touch Collaborative Diagramming

This term I took Computer Science 444 – “Advanced Methods for Human-Computer Interaction”. The main outcome of the course was to go through the process of designing a user interface and evaluating it using formal experiments, producing a paper at the end.

I had the pleasure of working with 4 absolutely fantastic team-mates, Piam Kiarostami, Gabe Silk, alexandru Totolici, and Jre Sarenac. Each of us intuitively picked a role and we worked like a well-oiled machine.

The project we worked on was a collaborative, tabletop,  multi-touch diagramming tool that we dubbed “collabee”. We compared our interface to the more traditional ways of diagramming collaboratively (whiteboard and computer) then analysed our results. Below are the reports that we wrote, as well as a video on the project that we produced (it’s only 4 minutes and be sure to stick around for the surprise ending).

Continue reading “Multi-touch Collaborative Diagramming”

Personal Learning Network Presentations


My prize for best returning presentation

Over the last 6 months I have given two presentations on the ideas of Personal Learning Environments/Networks. The first one was in late August for UBC Jump Start,  a 2 week orientation program for students that I attended in my first year at UBC and that provided me with great friends and learning experiences. The second presentation was give at the 2010 UBC Student Leadership Conference, a conference that I have been heavily involved with over the past few years and this year was co-chaired by two good friends of mine, June Lam and Robert Winson. I had some technical difficulties with the first presentation, but the second one went really well, I even won the “best returning presenter” award for it.

Continue reading “Personal Learning Network Presentations”

Current Wordle

Clint Lalonde recently wrote about using Wordle as a reflective tool in order to decide whether the blog posts that he wrote for class were on topic. I like that idea a lot.  It also reminded me of thoughts that opened09 had circling in my head. Over time, a writer’s skill and focus changes, that is a given. But how to monitor this? I think Wordle provides a visual representation that is simple and powerful. I will try and take wordle snapshots of this blog every few months and compare them, mostly out of interest, but also as a way of reflecting on my own constantly changing passions and motivations.

So here it is, 17 August 2009, the Wordle for all my content is:

my Wordle
my Wordle

Gmail Pro Tip: List all unread mail.

I don’t know about you, but I am terrible at organizing my email. I didn’t realize that “archiving” was something that somebody should do with email until I had thousands of unarchived emails and decided to come up with a different way of doing things. This is what I do:

I treat unread email as to do items. When I check my email I respond to the things I have time to respond to and the rest I mark as unread so that I can respond to them later. This is a very hassle free system. Except, there is one big problem. Gmail does not have a default “show all unread mail” button. This means that it is hard for me to compare my unread mail (to do items) and prioritize this means that some big tasks end up being buried under pages and pages of emails. Of course, with Gmail’s new addons this is very easy to do. Here is how:

  1. Go to “settings” then “labs” on the top right menu bar.
  2. Scroll down and enable the quick links addon.

    enable the add links in settings
    enable the add links in settings
  3. in the search box type in the following: in:inbox in:unread. Click search mail

    search box
    search box
  4. In the quick links box (middle left of your screen) click “add quick link”.

    add quick link
    add quick link

And there we have it, now your Gmail is set up to list all of your unread mail without the interference of stuff that you have already dealt with.

Blackboard (and other closed LMS systems) make university a rip-off

Here is an anecdote (it happened to me today) outlining just one of the many things that is wrong with closed class websites and LMS in general:

I am currently working at a software company as an intern, writing a program. Now of course, as anybody who has taken Software Engineering knows (don’t worry readers who are not in Computer Science, I promise I will not lose you), when you make software you have to provide different types of documentation about it. Things like, why you made it, how it works, how to use it, who is going to use it… all these things and many more have to be written down formally and saved somewhere in order for your software to live a long and happy life.

Now, Software engineering (CPSC 310) is a class that in part teaches you how to write all of this essential documentation. I took this course with Meghan Allen, one of my favorite professors simply for the fact that she teaches like a human being and not an automaton. This is post is no reflection on her, just on the system that she is pushed into using by those above her . Anyway, in the course she would explain why this documentation was needed and how to do it. She would then provide us with careful examples of what it should look like. We were asked to use her examples as reference when creating our own documentation for our class project.

So far so good, pretty normal learning experience. But, we skip ahead to right now. My little program that I am writing for this big software company needs documentation. I remember why, but am very fuzzy on how. What to do? Of course, I can just go back to the example from class an… but wait. The examples were posted in Blackboard. I can’t see them anymore. They were a great resource… utterly useless as I have no way of applying it to a real life situation.

Ok, Well, not utterly useless. I still have the assignment that I handed in (thanks Google Docs for keeping it safe for me). I could still google the type of documentation and find other examples online, which works, although it takes time (less time of course than writing this post). The thing is, I know that the document is a fantastic resource, why should I have to go and search for others? Shouldn’t the university-provided example be better than most things I can find online anyway? Isn’t that the point of somone spending time writing it up in the first place? Money was used to create that example (mine and the government’s) so why should it be a one-time deal used only to help me complete an assignment? Can anybody come up with a sane reason why it should not be available to me always? I feel ripped off, because I had a resource and it was snatched away from me. If it had been given to me in good old-fashioned paper handouts, I would still have it.

This is just one example amongst a sea of them that I am sure most students experience often. I guess most don’t even realize that they are getting a raw deal for the time effort and money they put into the classroom. In three years of university I have taken well over 10 courses with Blackboard components. What do I have to show for it? See for yourself. Below is my list of blackboard courses. Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside doesn’t it?

My blackboard welcome screen
My blackboard welcome screen