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.

Spring Updates

It feels like it’s been forever since I wrote here, and I apologize to any readers who follow this blog.

Truth be told, the semester was off to a very slow start due to the snow days, and I felt there was not much to share.

I’m happy to report that we haven’t had a major snowstorm in a few weeks, and things are starting to pick up. I’m currently on spring break, and it seems a little insane to me that I’m basically at the halfway point in the semester. Time is passing so quickly!

Here’s what I’ve been working on:

T560: I’m working in a team of three to further develop the UpTell project I had worked on in the HGSE Hackathon. It is a perfect project for the Universal Design for Learning framework. We’re still in the very early prototyping stages, but it’s exciting nonetheless to be going from a Keynote prototype to building out a website. My particular role in the project is media, which means I will be working on marketing materials that encompass our overall brand and mission.

T561: I’m working on the EcoMOBILE research team. My particular project is building out games in ARIS, an open-source platform for creating mobile learning games and experiences. I’m working with Nick again (I believe this is our 4th or 5th project together) to translate their current games into the new platform. We’ve ran into some tech issues here and there, but overall it’s been a fun learning experience.

T565: In this class, I’m working with someone from my cohort on a business plan for a digital K-3 math curriculum that generates content personally geared toward student interests. We are currently in the market sizing and research phase. I’m excited to see how it turns out!

T581: I’ve learned so much in this class, from furthering my HTML and CSS skills and learning jQuery. I’m working in a team of 5 to develop a social media site that connects teachers and technologists in order to improve the quality of educational content. We had originally started out as a social media site connecting STEAM educators, but felt that was too limiting. We’re in the wireframing stage, and will soon be building out our site.

In addition to class projects, I’m also doing an internship as a curriculum designer for the U.S. Department of State’s Resilient, Entrepreneurial, And Dynamic Youth (READY) Initiative. I’m working in an interdisciplinary team to co-design ten gender-progressive, professional development and global citizenship modules. We’ve only recently had our first meeting, but I’m eager to see how our work develops.

I really can’t believe classes are over on April 30th. That’s a little over a month away!

T550 Madness

Today we presented our projects for T550. I was a little curious about how it would turn out, as there were over 100+ presentations. It all went really smoothly, though! Mad props to Karen Brennan and the TFs for helping to facilitate that.

The presentations were done Pecha Kucha style, where each person or group had 40 seconds to give an overview of their project. (Karen did an amazing job of putting all those presentations together into one giant auto advancing presentation.)

It was really awesome to get a flavor of what everyone ended up doing for their project. Then we had an exhibition where people had the opportunity to explore the projects more in depth.

I worked with a fellow classmate on a project. Our project was a component of a bigger T522 project – some of you may be familiar with my previous posts about our boat game level that we user tested at TEDxBeaconStreet. Emily and I decided to work on the STEAM Lab component of our game for T550. The STEAM Lab is a constructionist space within our platform where students build their next mode of transportation.

Here’s a website that details our process and other design aspects.

(By the way, if anyone has ideas for a new name, we’re all ears! Apparently Full STEAM Ahead, Inc. is a Fire, Water, and Mold Restoration company.)

It’s amazing how quickly time has passed and how far we’ve come in our projects. I’ve really enjoyed T550, as it’s been a space where I’ve seen project-based learning take place with a group of over 100 people. I was able to learn more about and find theories that back up what I was always trying to do in my own classroom. Constructionism is something I would like to further explore, especially in terms of how it can be used to create digital tools and spaces in education.

I can’t believe my first semester is essentially over. I just need to submit some final papers, but other than that, I’m pretty much done.

T509 Project: EdTechTeacher Self-Paced Course on Formative Assessment Tools

It was so great seeing people’s projects at the T509 Project Faire! I wasn’t able to see everyone’s but the ones I did see were amazing!

In case you weren’t able to make it to ours, I wanted to post an update. Additionally, if you’re a teacher, it would be great to get your feedback! For those of you who gave us feedback today, thank you so much!

Here’s a link to our project. 

In an earlier post, I mentioned a bit about our project challenge. We (Bobbi, Valerie, and me) were working with EdTechTeacher to create an online self-paced learning experience using their existing assets. The challenge was we had to create something that would be self-sustaining and would require no moderation. We had the freedom to choose the topic, and decided on formative assessment. We looked through their assets and compiled a list of free tools that were accessible on any device, and then surveyed teachers about which ones they would be most interested in. Socrative, Google Forms, and InfuseLearning were the top three.

Most of the feedback we received from teachers were that they wanted to be able to skip to what was relevant to them. They wanted to be able to learn something and immediately be able to try it in their classrooms. They also wanted a space where they could get guidance or feedback.

The biggest challenge we faced was trying to create that collaborative space that would require no moderation from ETT. While many teachers are on Twitter, it’s very difficult to archive all activity. With Facebook, while things are archived, you get that endless scrolling. Someone would also have to moderate that. We thought about Pinterest but we didn’t see how we could create an open board that anybody could pin to. While an open Google+ community is something we are thinking about pursuing, some initial moderation may be needed.

So, our solution was Reddit. We were initially thinking about creating a separate subreddit for each tool, but ended up creating an EdTechTeacher subreddit. On reddit, you can create it so anyone can add content and users can upvote/downvote it. You can also search for specific topics within a subreddit. This platform could be used and require little to no moderation on ETT’s part. Users could just upvote/downvote. If there were really active users on the subreddit, they could be promoted to moderators. Additionally, you can create a wiki for a subreddit, or set it so that anyone who adds to the subreddit can add onto a wiki based on conditions, either that they have a specific amount of points or that their account is at least x days old:

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We’re not sure how ETT feels about Reddit, but I think it’s an avenue worth exploring. There was some concern about teachers not using Reddit – but there’s actually a pretty active Reddit teacher community.

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There’s over 22,000 readers and plenty of recent content.

Additionally, there are plenty of other educator subreddit communities:

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I think tapping into this existing space could be really neat. These teachers are already active on Reddit, and if they were to take our course, they would probably post on Reddit. There’s also many spaces within the subreddits to promote ETT.

Anyways, that’s where we’re at. Based on the feedback we receive, we’re going to make some changes to our site and give some recommendations for ETT.

User Testing at TEDxBeaconStreet

I previously mentioned a game concept I was working on with my group in T550 and T522. We are trying to address the STEM gap by creating STEAM learning games for kids. Our project presentation for T522 (Innovation by Design: Projects in Educational Technology) is this Friday. While we were getting great feedback from our peers, we really wanted to get feedback from our target users – kids.

We were able to user test this past weekend at TEDxBeaconStreet.

It was a little hard at first because we were competing for their attention. There were so many awesome booths near us – legos, interactive sand boxes, art materials – and we didn’t want to take away from their experiences with those things.

We were able to get feedback from about 15 kids ranging from ages 5-11, so that was good. We had put together a portfolio folder with each screen, and had kids tell us what they thought as we flipped through the pages.

Overall, the response we received was positive. They really liked the concept of being able to upgrade and customize their ship after each level. For the most part, they thought the interface and gameplay was intuitive.

They also gave us some pointers, such as how some of our designs didn’t make sense. In our STEAM lab, we had a screws icon but no screwdriver. They also said it would be cool to get to “choose their own monster” that they battle. We came away with a lot of neat ideas for more advanced levels.

We also learned a lot from hearing their thought processes as they looked at each screen. For one, it seemed no one was really paying attention to the menu bar. They also thought they had to use all the crates on the dock. Things like this give us a better idea of how to change our designs.

Another thing I learned from this experience is the importance of user test survey tools. Ours wasn’t the best. One of our goals with these games is to teach kids about math and science concepts, so we wanted to get a feel for where kids were at.

Most of the user testing was done with one of us asking kids questions, and the other taking notes. We originally started by showing the kids a happy/sad face scale and asking the following questions:

  • How do you feel about science?
  • How do you feel about math?

The first few kids we asked picked the happiest face each time, and we were starting to wonder if we were getting accurate feedback as some were taking a while to respond. We thought maybe they felt like they are supposed to love math and science, and felt like they should feel the happy face no matter what.

We decided to experiment and change our technique. This time, we asked the questions first before showing them the scale. Then we showed them the scale. We got much different results. I think this method allowed students to think about their feelings first, and then that made it easier to choose a face.

The other thing we realized is that we should user test with other student demographics. While there was some diversity in the user demographics at this event, the majority of students there seemed to come from more affluent communities and their parents were very educated. Most of the students we talked to felt confident with STEM subjects and had no trouble figuring out our game play.

Based on the research we did for our project, minority students typically struggle with STEM subjects and we would like to get feedback from them, since those are the students we are trying to help.

This is a pretty fun project and we’re going to try and pitch it to the i-Lab or HIVE.

Projects Galore

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Karen Brennan, our T550 professor, sent us an email with notes about our final project. This was the section at the end, which I really appreciated. While I am starting to feel exhausted, I’m trying to tap into my excitement about learning new things.

There are only a few weeks left of classes, and project deadlines are fast approaching. These are the projects I’m working on:

  • T510s: creating a data report or visualization with my own personal data from the course. I don’t really know what specific question to answer, and I’m still in the process of trying to identify relationships in my data.
  • T522: creating a game level that teaches STEM concepts in Unity where the user drags and drops crates on a boat, and triggering different animations based on how they arrange those crates
  • T550: creating another part of that game level where users build a boat, dragging and dropping various tools and shapes together
  • T509: creating a self-paced online learning experience around formative assessment tools

Here are the things I’ve been working on and learning:

  • Coding and making games in Unity
  • Visualizing data using various online tools, like Infoactive
  • Using Photoshop to create 2D artwork and sprites

Even though this is a project-intensive semester, I’m looking forward to having finished products that I can build a portfolio with.

In addition to all these academic projects, I have personal projects I’m working on, too.

One is finishing this ripple crochet blanket (pattern here). I started it a few weeks ago, and it’s neat to see how far I’ve come along. I work on it when I have free time, and it’s one of the ways I relax and de-stress.

Another project is getting little wedding planning details out of the way. David and I are getting married next September, and we’ve got the most important things settled away (guest list, venue, dress, our awesome stop motion Save the Date video). Now it’s just things like finding and bookmarking craft project tutorials, and compiling a music playlist. We’re having a black and rainbow 90s themed wedding – music suggestions appreciated!

I’m really glad we got the big things taken care of before we moved here, as now I can completely focus on my studies. It’s still fun to work on little side projects now and then, though!

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.