Hogwarts is Here

Yesterday my friend Nick told me about Hogwarts is Here, an online space where students can enroll and take 9-week courses. The goal of the site is to “simulate a true academic Hogwarts experience” and you start as a first year, taking the same courses that Harry Potter did: Charms, Potions, History of Magic, Defense against the Dark Arts, Herbology, Astronomy, and Transfiguration.

Apparently, you can also join “dorms” and clubs, where you can engage with other users. According to their home page, there are currently 20,000+ students studying at Hogwarts.

I think the difference between this site and Pottermore is that Pottermore focuses mainly on people exploring new writing and scenes from the Hogwarts world, and that Hogwarts is Here is aiming to delve into more of the academic aspect of Hogwarts. As a huge HP geek, I think the fact that these fan sites exist are pretty neat. Even though Hogwarts is a fictional world, there are clearly many people who would like to delve into it and learn as if they were there. You can receive a Hogwarts education without all the dangers of dementors and evil wizards.

I decided to enroll out of curiosity.

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Not as cool as getting a physical acceptance letter but still pretty neat. You can choose your own house, which is different from the sorting on Pottermore. (Choosing is pretty hard because I consider myself a Gryffindor/Ravenclaw hybrid. But okay, Ravenclaw!)

So, once you’re in, you can see the courses you can take. You must complete all first-year courses before moving on to second year.

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I clicked on “Charms” and this is what I see:

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It looks like you can go through the lessons at your own pace. I can’t see any lesson other than lesson 1, as it seems each lesson must be completed before you can see the next one. The assignments for lesson 1 are a multiple choice quiz and an essay. The first “lesson” is all text, which is somewhat disappointing – it would be neat to see videos. Then again, I could see why it might be a large amount of work – the site seems to be run by volunteers who like Harry Potter. It’s not like they’re getting paid for this.

The concept seems similar to The Magical Circle School, which is an online space where users can enroll and learn about various paganism topics and practices. The courses are also run by volunteers who would like to share their knowledge. Your assignments are graded by the people who are “teaching” the classes. I put teaching in quotes because it’s mostly all text that they have written, and you’re basically reading it. I don’t feel there is as much interaction there. Then again, I could see why they may not want to do videos: in most places, identifying as Pagan or Wiccan or any other “non-traditional” religion could have negative consequences. They probably want to keep their identities anonymous by using pseudonyms as they currently are using.

Anyway, on The Magical Circle School, you go through courses and complete assignments based on what you learned in the text you read, or the outside sources professors link to. When you complete a course, you receive a certificate. There is also a forum where you can talk to other users enrolled in courses, which is pretty cool. (I was on the site for a while but apparently they delete your account if you don’t log in within a certain amount of days, and then you have to start over. Also, outside of personal religious curiosity, I didn’t really see how continuing these courses would benefit me. I don’t think “paganism history knowledge” on my resume is going to do much for me.)

Hogwarts is Here also has some social aspects. The “common rooms” are chatrooms where you can talk to other users who are in your house. There are also forums where you can talk about assignments and interact with other users in other houses. There are definitely some roleplaying aspects.

I don’t know how much time I will devote to this considering how many other priorities I have going on in my life right now. Learning more about a fictional world I am already somewhat obsessed with is probably not a good idea. If this had been around when I was a kid, though, I would be super into it.

It makes me wonder what the user demographics are. Are these younger kids who were introduced to HP by their teachers or parents? Or are they people like me who grew up on HP and are very attached to that world, even if it’s fictional?

What would completing/knowing this Hogwarts knowledge gain you, other than geek cred? Or does it not matter what you gain, as long as it’s something you enjoy?


Statistics and Fighting Against the Odds

I suppose you could consider this an expansion of my previous post about where I come from, and the experiences that led me to HGSE.

My experiences have shaped who I am and drive a lot of the work I do. They are what propel me to continue moving toward the future.

It really hits home when I read or hear about the low college completion rates for minorities. According to a report by Excelencia in Education, only 20% of Latino adults in the US have attained an Associate’s degree or higher in 2011-2012. Furthermore, in most states, there is a huge gap between the number of Latinos who have a degree compared to the rest of the population. Below is a screenshot but I highly recommend you check out the report to interact with the map to learn about specific states.

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In my home state, California, only 16% of Latinos had an Associate’s degree or higher, compared to 38% of all adults.

This really gets to me because I could have very easily fallen into the percentage of those Latinos who didn’t attain a degree at all. It’s very easy for statistics to make certain behaviors or actions acceptable. Not everyone does this, and I don’t mean to generalize, but I know from experience that some people don’t have as high expectations from minorities. We lower the bar for our minority students because we don’t always believe they can be academically successful. There was a recent article about this in the Huffington Post about a study that suggested teachers expect less from Black and Latino students.

A quote from the article:

Teachers thought a college degree was 47 percent less likely for African-American students than for white peers, and 53 percent less likely for low-income students than for students from more affluent families. Teachers thought Hispanic students were 42 percent less likely than white students to graduate from college, the study found.

This may not be deliberate. On some level, perhaps the statistics have painted a certain picture, and it’s just become a norm.
That’s the challenge, I feel. As a minority, the world perceives you differently. The odds are against you. I can see why so many students may feel that college or academic success is not an attainable goal for them. If no one believes in you, why should you believe in yourself?

What can make a difference? Challenging the statistics. When I think back to my schooling experience, I realize that the best teachers I had were those who had high expectations for all students, regardless of race or background. The teachers who pushed their students even when they failed, and told students they could do better even if they were doing okay.

On the other hand, if you have a teacher who easily gives up on you or lowers their expectations when you are struggling, you start lowering expectations of yourself. You stop trying as much. You become a victim to stereotype threat, something we read about in Whistling Vivaldi this summer.
The other set of statistics that shocks me are those that surround victims of childhood sexual abuse. I don’t think I mentioned this in my previous post because I wasn’t sure if that was too much information to share. The more I think about it, though, is that if I’m not talking about these things, then I’m contributing to the problem because these are things that need to be discussed.
Trigger warning: the rest of this post contains information that may be sensitive to others.

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A Remix Project

One of our assignments for our T550 class was to create a remix. There weren’t many parameters around it so I just decided to make something fun and wacky using Popcorn Maker, a web app that allows you to combine content from across the web.

I made a music video for 1-800-Zombie’s “I’m a Unicorn” song. I thought the following video was their original music video, but it looks like it’s actually a fan made video:

It’s not yet possible (that I know of) to embed Popcorn Maker content into wordpress, but this is the link to my remix.

I learned how to make gifs the other day at my internship, which was super awesome. I’m kind of obsessed now. I made some gifs from parts of the existing fan video:


To those back home: Yes, I am actually at Harvard.

UpTell: Reach Outside Your Bubble

A few people were asking me about our Hackathon pitch so I thought I would share some more details about it.

As I had mentioned in earlier posts, we decided to tackle the issue of re-segregation in schools. Students who lived close by weren’t actually interacting with each other.

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The solution we proposed was a multimedia storytelling web-based tool for middle schoolers. Students could create stories by composing music, recording their voice, drawing, writing, using video, or making with a friend. We wanted the tools to be accessible for all learners. We decided on the name UpTell because you are telling a story and uploading it. Bigger picture we thought these stories might uplift communities and foster better communication.

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We struggled with whether this would be an open or closed network. Ideally, it would be an open and safe environment, but the reality is that this creates the potential for there to be negative comments or abuse (i.e. YouTube). We thought about making it anonymous, but then we wanted there to be some accountability in case there was some abuse. We also thought that if it were completely anonymous, it might not allow others to make connections and see you as a person. So, we decided it would be a private network – students would need a code from their school to join. However, they could choose whether to use their real image or avatars as their icon.

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When you log in, you can either build an UpTell or explore other UpTells.


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This is what the Build my UpTell dashboard would look like:

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You could also explore other UpTells. Each UpTell would be tagged and categorized, and these stories would be connected. The idea was that completely different people who might not have otherwise connected might find they share a similar story. Users could explore their interests and also see what is trending in their community, filtered through their specific interests:

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The other interaction we added was the ability to comment on each UpTell. This way, students could begin to have conversations around their stories and make connections.

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We also had other concepts, such as connecting different schools in an area and calling it a “neighborhood.” This way, schools could potentially foster activities beyond the website.

In case anyone is interested in looking at the PDF, here it is:

UpTell Pitch-Desktop

HGSE Hackathon Demo Day and EdTech Showcase

This was my first Hackathon experience ever, and I have to say it was really fun. Throughout the entire event I found myself riding this high energy wave. After it was over, though, I found myself crashing and feeling the exhaustion. I came home yesterday and collapsed on my bed for hours. This wasn’t even an all night Hackathon event – from what I heard, most run for 24/7 and people are up all night hacking and coding away at their projects. I can’t even imagine what those must be like.

For me, the event was like all the concepts from the courses I’m taking were thrown into a weekend. There was design thinking and the iterative process, which is something I’m learning about in T522, Dockterman’s class. There were elements of constructionism, which is what I’m learning about in T550. There was some data visualization, which is what I’m learning about in T510s. There was also the overall challenge – how do you create something that has a massive reach – which is something I’m learning about in T509 Massive. It was pretty neat, though, being able to apply what I’m learning in my classes to our product at that Hackathon.

Yesterday all 11 teams demo-ed their pitches/products in front of the judges. I thought it was so neat how different everyone’s idea was, even though we were all working around the same challenges.

The pitches themselves can be kind of intimidating. We all had 5 minutes to relay our idea/product and the work we did. Trying to synthesize everything you’ve created into 5 minutes is incredibly challenging, but it really forces you to think about the essence of your idea. We had spent a large chunk of Saturday practicing our pitch over and over again, and getting feedback from all the mentors.

My team actually ended up winning the Impact badge award, which was super exciting and awesome. Even though our product didn’t exist, the fact that the judges thought our idea had potential for a big impact was really humbling.

The badges are being delivered through Credly, which is a digital badge achievement recognition platform. From my understanding, different organizations can give credit for participation in events via digital badges and credentials. I had always thought of badges as just images, but apparently these badges are loaded with data about the details of the event as well as whatever documents that verify your participation in said events. So, if you presented at some conference, you could get a badge for that and it would link to your presentation. Then you can share these badges on various social networks, including your LinkedIn profile, and people can see what you’ve done. I think it’s cool that Credly is trying to provide a platform to spread recognition of the various ways people participate in learning and skill-building.

I remember reading something in our readings this week about one of the recommendations for MIT, and one was to look into badges and other forms of recognition. I think that would be an added bonus for completing MOOCs – having a badge that you could put on your LinkedIn profile. At least I know I would like that!

Speaking of LinkedIn, here’s my profile.

Also, today was the Educational Technology showcase. There were various vendors set up on the third floor of Gutman talking about their products and the work they’re doing. Google was there and they had Google Glasses that you could try on, which was pretty cool. There was a reception at the end where they showcased the Hackathon event via pictures and a video, which was awesome, too. I hope they post that later!

I’d really like to participate in more of these types of events. There’s actually a few coming up but due to prior commitments I won’t be able to attend.

For anyone who is interested, though, this weekend there’s the StartUp Scramble at the Harvard iLab. HIVE (Harvard GSE Innovation and Ventures in Education), formerly Bridge, is also going to have HIVE nights every Thursday night. Each night will center around an education entrepreneurship area. It’s an open space for people to work and get feedback on their ideas and connect with others. These nights are going to be held at the new LaunchPad (formerly the media lab in Gutman), which is a really neat space to work in.

HGSE Hackathon

Today was the first full day of the HGSE Hackathon. Yesterday was about ideation (coming up with different ideas) and today was about iteration – testing out those ideas, revising them, and repeating the process until we came up with something we liked.


I’m in a group of 7 and we gathered around the idea of creating some type of multimedia storytelling platform to connect different communities together.

We are addressing the challenge HGSE presented at the kickoff yesterday:

  • Addresses the re-segregation of public schools
  • Presents the need for positive and productive encounters across race, socioeconomic class, language background, political affiliation, disability
  • Poses the challenge of fostering positive and productive connections between schools

It has been incredibly invigorating to work with such an extremely diverse group of people. We all have incredibly unique backgrounds and skills, and we have been able to find a way to utilize our experiences to come up with a solution for that challenge.

It was really great to practice pitching our idea to the various Google and edX mentors floating around and getting concrete feedback, which we would then use to revise our pitch.

Tomorrow we are going to present our ideas in front of a panel. This is the rubric our idea is being assessed on:

This entire experience so far is really giving me an idea of the types of things to keep in mind when coming up with ed tech solutions. I feel like I have a much better grounding on the guiding principles for all my other projects.

I also feel I am getting a much better idea of the type of environment and industry I would love to work in after HGSE. I really enjoy this process of working with other people and coming up with solutions together. From what I have learned in my other courses, it can take years to have a fully functional product. However, leading up to that, there are many iteration cycles where ideas are constantly being tested and revised. I am really interested in doing this type of work, and I hope that over the course of this year I will be able to identify some possible employers.

Overwhelmed in a Good Way

I’ve always been the kind of person who loves a challenge. I tend to take on many tasks/projects. I guess I’ve become used to “keeping busy.” As I mentioned in an earlier post, keeping busy was my way of dealing with emotional trauma as a kid. Now as an adult, I’m in a much better place, but I still haven’t really gotten out of the habit. Whenever I’m not doing something, I get restless. I feel like I should always be doing something. At the same time, however, when I’m doing too much, I start getting overwhelmed.

Right now I would say I’m overwhelmed in a good way. I have enough on my plate to keep me busy, but not so much that it’s making me anxious. At the same time, I’m really struggling to strike a balance while I’m here. Yes, it’s great to be involved in projects and network. Yes, it’s great to socialize. But, for me, I feel like it’s also important to find time to just be, breathe, and relax.

Another thing I’m finding is that it’s hard to take advantage of all the opportunities that arise. I feel there is always something – an event, a speaker, screening, outing, etc. Sometimes these things overlap, and you’re forced to choose between many amazing options.

One of the events I’m taking advantage of this weekend is the HGSE Hackathon. Google, edX, and HGSE are presenting challenges in education and students are getting together to come up with solutions that leverage the power of technology. I’ve never really participated in a Hackathon before so I’m really looking forward to it.

Another thing I am finding is that as a Harvard student you have access to so many learning resources and trying to find time to use them all is overwhelming.

One way I’m trying to prioritize my options is determining what can wait and what can’t. Most MOOCs, for example, can be taken at your own pace and at any time. So while I’m enrolled in some, I’m not too worried about completing them while I’m here because I can always do these later.

On the other hand, I recently found out that if you’re a Harvard student, you get a year’s worth of access to Lynda.com for free. I would rather do these while I’m here so I can avoid paying $25-40 a month. (I’ve got loans and stuff to pay, you know?) I plan on completing some Lynda tutorials on my downtime during weekends and plan on spending some of my winter break learning new things.

I found some really neat looking courses on game making:

I feel these will complement some of the skills I’m learning in CS50.

On a side note, I really like how Lynda tutorials lists how much time their whole course takes, or at least how long all the video portions are. As a learner, I really appreciate that because I can make decisions about how to fit a course into my schedule.

The other thing I really want to take advantage of while I’m here are going to the various museums and events around the city. One thing I really regret about my undergrad years is that I didn’t really explore the area I was living in. I would really like to explore Boston and Cambridge, and get to know the area I’m living in a bit better.

Time is flying by so quickly and I don’t know where I’ll be going after I graduate, so for now I’m just going to make the most of my time here.