Reflections

I just turned in my final project of the spring semester.

I can’t believe how fast my time at HGSE went by. I can’t believe it’s already spring weather!

Overall, I have to say I’ve had a pretty amazing experience here and have learned so much. The courses I’ve taken have pushed me to expand my thinking, as well as develop new skills. I’ve learned how to build websites in bootstrap HTML. I’ve learned how to program augmented reality games. I know how to come up with an idea for a product, build a prototype, write a business plan, and pitch it to a panel. These are all skills that are going to help me move forward in my career, and I’m very happy with that.

There was one course that didn’t turn out as great as I had hoped, and I’m somewhat disappointed about that. It was very disorganized, and I never really had a clear idea of how I was doing or what was happening. It was a frustrating experience, and even more so when the professor announced on the last day of class that they had been burned out, and that they didn’t think they would be returning. The professor said that regardless of whether they had showed up to teach, we would “be fine.” While I appreciated the honesty, it felt dismissive of the work and effort we had been putting into the course and our projects. Not to mention the amount of time and money we are spending to be here and take these classes.

However, even though that particular course wasn’t what I was expecting, I still learned from the experience. I’ve learned that regardless of what one pursues in life, it’s important to have passion, leadership, and vision. I really feel those are key to success.

Another thing I’ve learned is how important it is to network and build connections. The people I have met – in my cohort, in my classes, at my internships – are phenomenal. I’ve learned so much from just interacting with others and working on projects. So many opportunities have come up from just talking. Even though this is only a 9 month program, you end up getting to know people really well because of all the time you spend together.

I’m feeling a mixed range of emotions as I approach graduation. I’m incredibly happy and excited, but I’m also a little sad about having to say bye to all the new friends I have made as we all go off to start the new chapters in our lives. In just a couple of weeks I will be moving back to California, where I will be starting my new job.

I’m really excited for my next big adventure.

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Snow Woes

It’s the second week of classes, and we’re experiencing yet another snow storm. I can definitely say the novelty has worn off for me after having had to dig out our car last week, only to wake up this morning and see it completely buried in snow again.

As a kid, snow seems really fun and magical. It totally is. Until it gets brown, slushy, and gross. Or when you have to shovel it out of the way. I was originally open to working anywhere after HGSE, but now I’m definitely looking at living somewhere warmer, preferably closer to home.

Most of my classes last week were focused on getting to know each other and forming project teams. I’m really excited to see how our work develops over the semester. Today we had a virtual class meeting for T561 (so thankful I didn’t have to trek in the snow to class) and started diving into some of the course topics. I’m really intrigued by the prospects of virtual and augmented reality in education. We still haven’t found out what our project team assignments are, but I’m really hoping I get my first choice of working with EcoMobile and augmented reality.

In other news, I’ve joined the Team Fitness Challenge with some other HGSE students. It starts next week, and it’s basically a competition to see which team accrues the most workout minutes. I’ve been doing a pretty good job of consistently going to the gym these last couple of weeks. I’m hoping being part of a team will keep me motivated throughout the cold weather and busy grad school projects.

Our First Friendsgiving

Classes are over, final projects are winding down, and the holidays are upon us. I can’t believe how quickly time has passed.

Holidays can get a little lonely when you’re used to huge family gatherings. It’s simply not within our budget to fly home for the holidays. Also, it’s hard to travel with pets and find sitters. So, needless to say, this is our first time celebrating the holidays on our own.

I’m very grateful for the community and camaraderie I’ve encountered at HGSE.  Even though we’re far from home, we’ve been able to get together with friends and feel like we’re with family.

Today was our first Friendsgiving, and it was amazing. Pretty much everything was made from scratch and quite delicious. It was our friends’ first Thanksgiving and first time hosting, and I’d say it was a success.

(I would have taken more pictures of the food but I was eager to eat it.)

When we drove home, it started snowing. We were reflecting on how crazy it is that we are here. It still feels very surreal.

I’m thankful for our family back home, but also for the family I’ve found here. I’m thankful to be with someone who supports me and my crazy dreams, and doesn’t think twice about leaving everything we know in search of a grand adventure. Even more important, that he doesn’t think twice about staying when things don’t go as planned. I’m thankful for my fuzzbutts as well, even if they sometimes chew up my favorite things. I’m grateful to be alive and to be able to have these experiences.


(that’s not a pimple on his nose, by the way! I’m not sure what that is because there’s nothing on his nose!)

Hope you all had happy holidays as well!


(My brother got me this awesome cat sweater and I love it.)

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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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.

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.