Discovery Centre aims for innovative learning
There is a space on the fourth floor of the library at Carleton University with no bookshelves. No, it’s not a washroom. It’s the Discovery Centre, an interactive learning space open for all students where they can bring work, sit in one of the wheeled chairs and move around or study while walking on one of two treadmills. There are also 60-inch 3D gaming displays, 3D printers (which will soon be up and running) and circular couches that face laptop-connected projectors.
The Discovery Centre is helping Carleton’s library adapt to new ways of learning. Alan Steele, the centre’s director, says the technology and configurations will encourage students to think in ways static classrooms won’t necessarily allow.
But what do students think of the new options for studying? In one of the lounges in a nearby computer science building, student Georges Anktnmamm was surprised to learn it existed while student Andrew Bjuaki had just recently seen it and thought, “Wow, we finally have this.”
Anktnmamm says he will probably use the 3D printer to make a case for his tablet, as long as the cost is agreeable. Cost has not yet been determined. As for what can be printed, “the design is mostly limited by creativity,” said Anthony Dewar, a student who will be managing the printer.
In addition to helping students learn about an emerging technology, 3D printers—also available at Dalhousie University and the University of Waterloo—will give Carleton students reasons to brag. “I will never pass up an opportunity to tell the U. of Ottawa friends what we have,” says Bujaki.
Peter Ricketts, Carleton’s provost and vice-president academic, says keeping Carleton attractive is the part of the reason for the centre. “We wanted to do it because, like many universities, Carleton faces an issue of student retention,” he says. Students want to have learning experiences beyond just sitting in a classroom, he adds. “They want more engagement. They want to be active.”
While the 3D printers are already creating a buzz, the two treadmills are usually vacant. Steele says he thinks that might be partially because of self-consciousness.
The gaming displays are for academic work. For example, a gender studies student can look at the way women are portrayed in gaming. However, they might one day open up beyond classwork.
In the meantime, students can borrow video games from the university library, a fact that recently made gamers everywhere jealous when a Carleton student posted a photo on the social news website Reddit showing Zelda II: The Adventure of Link for Nintendo with the words, “My school library rents games.” Thousands of users showed their approval by “upvoting” the photo.
Martin Gingras says site is helping job hunt
TORONTO – It gets dropped without warning and can strike anywhere in the world, laying waste to rational arguments and leaving a trail of offended sensibilities in its wake.
But the linguistic threats posed by the f-bomb on Twitter pale in comparison to its entertainment value, according to a Canadian computer science student who has made it his mission to track the global prevalence of this word-based weapon on the social networking site.
Martin Gingras’s fascination with the popular profanity prompted him to create fbomb.co, a website that tracks the use of the word in real time.
By combining features from two of the web’s most widely used applications — Google Maps and Twitter — the site allows readers to observe where in the world f-bombs are falling and in exactly what context they are being used.
Gingras himself does not track the data for geographical trends, nor does he expect the site to be much more than a source of entertainment to its readers.
If students text too much, they don’t learn independence
On any given day, sociology professor Barbara Mitchell and her 22-year-old daughter, who lives at home while attending university, will trade multiple text messages. They may be “just checking in” with each other, says Mitchell, or confirming one another’s safe arrival someplace, arranging care for the family pets or sharing humorous bits of information. “We’re very, very close. And she encourages me to text her,” says Mitchell, who teaches at Simon Fraser University. “I remember when I first got my smartphone, I was texting her a couple of times a day, and I didn’t want to come across like I’m this controlling mother who has to be in her life all the time. And she was like, ‘No, text me more!’ I was so surprised. I think it gives [kids] a sense of security.”
Mitchell’s concern is understandable; moms have long had a reputation for hovering over their children—the very word “mothering” is synonymous with “keeping tabs on.” But as Mitchell’s story shows, the parent-child paradigm is shifting, with many kids in their late teens and 20s now actively engaging in, and even initiating, frequent contact with their folks about everything from new recipes and music to relationship and academic problems. It’s a phenomenon Barbara Hofer, a psychology professor at Middlebury College in Vermont, has coined “the digital tether.” The term came to her while observing many students on their cellphones: “I was eavesdropping on these conversations and realizing that they weren’t just talking to their friends, they were talking to their parents—on the way to class, on the way to the gym, [as] they’d walk out of the dorm,” she recalls. “And texting has just added an additional layer of conversation.”
The link between health and well-being and cellphone use
Madison Potter has a routine before bedtime. After she brushes her teeth and puts on her pyjamas, she’ll plug in her iPhone and put it right next to her pillow. Then she’ll turn off the lights and fall asleep with the phone six inches from her head. “It’s just habit now,” says the 20-year-old fine arts student at the Alberta College of Art and Design. “I’ve been doing it for four years.”
The vibration from incoming texts will occasionally wake her up, but her cellphone is there as an alarm clock. Also “in case there’s an important message in the middle of the night,” she says, “which is completely silly because there never has been.”
She’s not the only one snuggling up to her screen. Curt Wetmore, a 25-year-old grad student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, keeps his cell under his pillow because his small bedroom doesn’t allow for a bedside table and the outlet to recharge the battery is right by the head of the bed. “It’s more convenient, and maybe a little comforting to know that I have my phone by me,” he says. “I don’t why, but I definitely feel comfort for sure—which is sad.”
From the man behind Beach Party Winter Drunk Fest ’86
Dear high school student: Unless your science fair project was a flux capacitor, it’s unlikely you will be visited anytime soon by a Future Version of You, offering sage advice and grave warnings as you prepare for university.
That’s why I used Twitter to marshal the collective wisdom and regret of those who’ve survived higher education. I asked, “In a single tweet, what piece of advice do you wish you could give your former self as he/she begins university?” The tweeted guidance of your elders is below in bold. A compilation of all the advice can be found at macleans.ca/feschuk. Let’s get started.
Don’t be afraid of subjects you know nothing about. Those will be the most interesting classes.—@hellokaitlin
OK, but make sure you know something about the subject by mid-terms. In first year, I quickly realized my economics prof was lecturing directly out of the textbook. Cue the moment of insight: I can stop going to class and read the text myself! This was the PERFECT PLAN except for not ever doing the second part. To this day, I believe the x- and y-axis of the Laffer curve show the relationship between Jim Carrey and fart sounds.
Privacy commissioner says consult before opening to kids
TORONTO – Some privacy advocates were rankled when Facebook announced changes to its policies last week that allow teens to post public updates that can be viewed by anyone in the world.
But Facebook has contemplated another rule change that could prove even more controversial.
Facebook’s manager of privacy and safety says the social network has “thought a lot about” opening up the site to children under the age of 13.
Because despite the current rules stating that you have to reach your teens before signing up for Facebook, plenty of young kids are using the site anyway, often with the help of their parents.
Why even your career isn’t safe from automation
From our Future of Jobs report
Car buffs looking for information on the new BMW i3 electric car are being told to text the company’s U.K. sales department. What they may not realize is that they are kicking off a conversation with a computer. The artificial intelligence system, created by London Brand Management, is capable of making sense of natural language cues and learning as it goes along, allowing it to carry on a realistic back-and-forth conversation—at least to the extent that texting can be considered conversation.
It’s PR without people, and it’s the latest example of how machines are continuing to infiltrate the workplace. Three decades ago, robots took over the factory floor, displacing millions of blue-collar workers in the process. Now, they’re being tapped to do office work, sell insurance and feed hungry fast-food patrons. San Francisco’s Momentum Machines, for example, has built a burger-flipping robot that can dispense 360 sizzling burgers per hour, potentially saving restaurants up to $135,000 in annual labour costs. Other companies are turning to so-called Big Data to direct their marketing and advertising, relying on powerful computers to comb through huge databases of information about customers’ shopping and web-surfing habits.
Waterloo’s VeloCity and Ryerson’s DMZ nurture startups
From our Future of Jobs report
Last year, Hongwei Liu, 22, dropped out of school. At first, he didn’t tell his parents. Until he took the leap, Liu was studying engineering at the University of Waterloo, but he found that more and more of his time was wrapped up in a non-academic challenge. GPS technology in cars, and Google Maps on cellphones, among other services, point lost travellers in the right direction. But, Liu says, no one had created a service to help people navigate the great indoors. Three years after he and his co-founders launched MappedIn, which now builds interactive maps and apps that replace clunky, static boards in shopping malls, Liu’s team has grown to 13 employees (median age 23) and is worth millions.
Liu is part of a generation of young entrepreneurs who, inspired by success stories like Facebook’s, which famously emerged from a Harvard dorm room, aren’t waiting to earn degrees before launching businesses. Some drop out while they build their businesses, others take an extra year to wrap up their degrees, and still others simply do both at the same time. According to a CIBC report, a record half a million Canadians were starting their own businesses last year. The trend is not due to a lack of other employment opportunities, noted the report, but a growing culture of individualism and new opportunities driven by technology. Young entrepreneurs are also benefiting from the dozens of business incubators popping up on university campuses across the country that hope to transform keener students into the next generation of Canada’s entrepreneurial elite.
Awkward encounters reported at UBC Okanagan
“Hey babe, let’s meet up,” messages Brad after I swipe his hunk of a bod left across my iPhone screen. A few other hidden gems of Kelowna also received leftward swipes today on my new-found app. (Note: It’s absurd how many hicks and hockey players make up the local population.)
“Everyone has it,” insisted my roommate here at the University of British Columbia Okanagan. So, a couple of days ago, I got it too. Tinder is one of the fastest growing dating apps in the U.S and friends from UBC Vancouver to BCIT tell me they’ve had it for months (UBCO always seems a bit behind). It’s essentially Grindr for heterosexuals, with just locations, Facebook profile pictures, ages and first names. No hobbies, music or walks on the beach.
Publishers could take legal action: expert
After fees for the semester have been paid and school supplies have been bought, there’s one cost to Canadian university students that can often weigh heavy on their wallets.
The textbooks many have to buy for multiple courses can often cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, but some students have found a way to hold on to their cash.
Natalie Fasullo is one of them.
The 19-year-old University of Guelph student only spent $225 on all five of her textbooks, estimating she saved over $775.
Her savings were the result of obtaining four of her textbooks in a way that qualifies as copyright infringement — she downloaded one, bought two as digital copies for $15 and $10 each, and was given another digital copy for free by a friend.
Multitasking hurts learning in a surprising way
Laptops have replaced pen and paper for many post-secondary students but a Canadian study suggests using computers during lectures could be hurting their grades and lowering their classmates’ marks.
For the study, published earlier this year in the journal Computers & Education, research subjects in two experiments were asked to attend a university-level lecture and then complete a multiple-choice quiz based on what they learned.
In the first experiment, which was designed to gauge how multitasking affects learning, all the participants used laptops to take notes during a lecture on meteorology. But half were also asked to complete a series of unrelated tasks on their computers when they felt they could spare some time. Those tasks — which included online searches for information — were meant to mimic what distracted students might do during class.
Prof. Pettigrew on digital scapegoats
When you teach at Cape Breton University, as I do, you get used to a certain amount of (mostly undeserved) sneering from those at other larger or richer or older Nova Scotia universities—which is more or less all of them. So it is always a bit of a guilty pleasure for me to see those same universities embarrassed by their students.
I must confess to feeling a little bit of Freude at the Schaden suffered by Dalhousie University this week when a report emerged that not only were many of Dalhousie’s engineering students failing their courses, but that they had determined the nefarious cause behind the failures.
Yes, according to the CBC, “dozens” of such students are in danger of failing out of the program because, say the students, they have been unable to resist the siren song of social media. At least one student quoted in the story is trying to solve the problem by cancelling his Facebook account.
Poor marks for a new technology
Sometimes when I’m halfway through a pile of 40 essays, I get tired. At these moments, if I had a grading machine, I would probably be tempted to insert the remaining essays and watch them pop out all freshly marked.
However, after 20 years of grading university essays, I know this would be terribly misguided. I’m here to help my students learn how to thrive in university—and beyond. In order to do that, they need to have strong thinking, reading, and writing skills. Machine generated grades will not help them develop these skills. With this in mind, I pick up my pen and go back to providing the constructive human feedback that will help them.
Just to be clear, I am not some remote professor in an ivory tower above Lake Ontario. In fact, I am a non-tenured “gun-for-hire,” fighting hard in the trenches of the humanities. This past year alone I have taught 914 students in six classes in writing, literature, and film. I have graded hundreds of exercises and essays, some brilliant, some hard to understand. I have worked with 19 teaching assistants, generated over 20 evaluation rubrics, assigned 12 essays. Basically, I have been battling to keep my head up, to keep teaching as well as I am able, and to keep grading the many essays that come my way.
Students programming at university level
When Robert Arkiletian heard Google was interested in interviewing him for a computer programming job, he wasn’t interested.
He told the Google recruiter, who found Arkiletian’s work posted in online forums, that he wasn’t the type of person the company was looking for and that he already had a job he loved.
He’s known as “Mr. Ark” to the students he teaches computer programming to at Eric Hamber Secondary School, where programming prodigies are winning national competitions and 17-year-old whiz kids are confused with graduate-level computer scientists.
“I’ve got the best job in the world,” Arkiletian said. “When I get up in the morning and come to work, I’m going to work to have fun. In some ways I’m not that different from the kids. I’m still a kid at heart.
‘Only got a lil’ glucose in my pathway’
University of Ottawa student Wilson Lam’s chemistry-inspired rap video about turning carbohydrates into energy has been viewed more than 125,000 times on YouTube. The song is a parody of Thrift Shop by Macklemore with lyrics like “I’m gonna pop some carbs, only got a lil’ glucose in my pathway” replacing “I’m gonna pop some tags, only got twenty dollars in my pocket.” The video helps students remember the complex metabolic process glycolysis. Mary-Ellen Harper, Lam’s professor, told the Ottawa Citizen that she encourages musical devices among her students.
Facebook is king but Twitter, LinkedIn grow
One in three anglophone Canadians won’t let a single day go by without checking into their social media feeds, suggests a new report by the Media Technology Monitor.
The report is based on telephone surveys with 4,001 anglophone Canadians in the fall and found almost seven in 10 Internet users declared they were regular social media users, logging on at least once a month. That figure was up by about six per cent compared to 2011.
Those growing numbers didn’t surprise Aimée Morrison, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo, who researches digital culture.
“It’s becoming a mainstream part of how we get the business of life accomplished and you’re at a disadvantage increasingly if you don’t do it,” says Morrison.
StarCraft II tournament packs student pub
Let’s say I’m a basketball junkie who is absolutely in love with the game. Not only am I an avid spectator, but I also practice the game religiously to master the craft. Some of my training days consist of six hours of drills, workouts and exercises so that I can kick butt in my next match. This scenario probably doesn’t faze you at all, because this is what an athlete does, right?
But replace the orange ball with a video game controller, and suddenly I’ve gone from a dedicated athlete to a gamer with a problem.
On March 17, Dino’s pub near the University of Saskatchewan held an event called Barcraft for people who wanted to watch the Major League Gaming winter tournament for StarCraft II.
I don’t find myself gaming very much beyond the occasional Super Smash Bros and the newest Wii releases, so walking into Dino’s that day was a complete shock. The place was packed with fans watching a live stream from Dallas of head-to-head combat between two professional StarCraft players.
Educators have bigger things to worry about
Students looking to spill secrets about crushes or amusing campus escapades have a new outlet on Facebook. “Confessions” pages that post anonymous messages have been popping up at universities, colleges and high schools from Lakehead University to the University of Regina to Western University and as far away as Australia’s University of Adelaide.
The pages are being criticized by educators, who see them potentially leading to cyberbullying if the anonymity is broken. I don’t think they should worry. I think they’re fun, harmless and the risk of names getting out seems low. For the most part, these pages are a much-needed outlet for those wanting to vent or laugh, rather than viciously attack each other. Officials shouldn’t be so worried.
Confessions pages are reminiscent of Post Secret, a popular website that does the same thing. Both allow students to say things they wouldn’t post on personal pages or Twitter. The difference is that confessions pages are specific to certain schools, which may be why they’re getting scrutiny.
Prof. Pettigrew says he doesn’t want to know
One day, when I was a PhD student there was a gossipy buzz that went around the halls about a fellow grad student who had arrived to teach a class, found that none of the students had done the assigned reading, and then immediately and angrily sent them all home. We all admired the audacity of the move, and I was a bit disappointed to learn that he had been called to the Chair’s office and told never to do it again.
It was his responsibility, he was supposedly told, to conduct the class whether the students had done the reading or not.
Those events have always stuck with me, and I’ve thought of them often when I find myself in front of a room full of students who clearly have no idea what happens in the play I’m trying to help them analyze. And I thought about it again recently when my attention was drawn to yet another computer-based teaching innovation: e-textbooks that tell your prof whether you’ve read them or not.
According to this New York Times report, new technology from a company called CourseSmart allows instructors to keep track of a wide range of student reading habits. Has a student opened the book? Has she highlighted key passages? If not, according to at least one instructor in a pilot project, the professor can “reach out” to the student and discuss his study habits.
Prof. Pettigrew: grading is best left to real people
News broke last week of new software for grading essays that will, one supposes, revolutionize the way students are evaluated.
Let’s hope not.
The details so far are scant, but the idea is not new and typically machine grading involves algorithms that guess at the quality of the essay based on whether the essay looks like a good essay, not whether it really is or not. This is an enormous problem, of course, because it is quite common to see essays that are superficially strong — good grammar, rich vocabulary — but lack any real insight (this is common among first year students who, presumably, sailed through high school by bamboozling their teachers). Similarly some very strong essays—with striking originality and deep insight—have a surprising number of technical errors that would likely lead a computer algorithm to conclude it was bad.
A machine cannot recognize the more subtle aspects of writing well. Can the software recognize wit or daring? Can it tell when phrasing is especially apt or clever?