Discover Your Inner Geek!

La Grande Finale

Here it is… La Grande Finale!

It’s been fun! Thanks again to Cheryl for putting this all together and to all of you for the stimulating discussions!  Here’s to the geeks!


UPDATE :: La Grande Finale

I have finished La Grande Finale – the last of my reflections for the Geek in Training course.  I gave our Geek in Residence a sneak peak at the product of my labours yesterday afternoon and we have decided to keep it a surprise until graduation.  I am so excited to show you all what this course has inspired me to create!

(No worries, La Grande Finale will be posted to the blog on Monday so that you can take a look if you missed its premier.)


Last kick at the can…


Decided to see what one of Hamlet’s soliloquy looked like tagged.   Used “O that this too, too sullied flexh would melt; thaw and resolve itself into a dew.” I think poor William is rolling over in his grave from the nightmare his masterpiece has been converted to.  Then again, with his awesome mind, tags might just provide him with a whole new way of conceptualizing the written word.


I’m almost sure (note the almost) that I already completed the RSS homework a long time ago but forgot to blab (oops!) I mean blog about it!  I have Google alrerts  on career development and employment trends coming straight to my inbox which meant that I set up an account with there.  Does that count?


Thanks Cheryl for a wonderful learning experience. Whether or not I get to graduate, it was time well spent (at least the little time I had to dedicate to this) Awesome!

Image of Egypt

Liked the ease search feature of Flickr.  Decided to search on Egypt and came up with a lovely postcard of “The Valley of the Kings”  in Luxor. Brought back memories of my 2008 visit.

I can imagine that images would also be useful in our work to showcase to employers the graduating class – put a face to the new/prospective employee and for organizations to also showcase themselves to students.

Super Catch Up

I hope there’s no word limit.

Catch Up Post – RSS

When I first learned about RSS feeds about two years ago (or some time around that), I thought it was the most brilliant idea ever because I was now able to see when my favorite web comics, and websites would be updated. I was one happy monkey. Fast-forward to the future. Today, I learned that I’ve been living the high life all along. A feed reader? Downloadable plugin? You mean not everyone has one built into their web browser like Safari? I just bookmark the RSS feeds, and tada! I can return to it at any time. If I put the bookmark in my bookmark bar, I can actually see the number of new postings change in real-time. (You might think is a shameless plug for Safari, because it is).

Anyways, I had a chance to do some testing on both Google Reader and Bloglines. Both are fairly easy to use, and are great for managing your feeds. I like how you can mark your feeds and view stats on your subscriptions. Having been on the google environment for a while (Google Docs, Spreadsheets, Groups, Calendar, etc.) I understand why people would love Google Reader.

After much pondering feed readers are STILL an extra step that can be much for seamless with the computer’s operating system. So instead of connecting to the web, have RSS options built into the computer’s web browser or mail client. Helps to prevent information overload. Which leads to the next part of this blurb.

Information overload and productivity optimization are things that I have been interested in for a long while. One of my favourite reads about this topic is “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. My strategy is to plan out all my tasks and identify steps I need to achieve them. If something is less than two steps on my part, I’ll act on them immediately. I also try to group things together so that I’m working on similar things at the same time. In the case of RSS feeds, it’s about picking out the specific feeds that are important. Many people are breaking down their feeds by topics or allowing users to pick out specific topics. So read those. Some may be just be interesting to look at, and that’s something you can do on a rainy weekend.


Catch Up Post – Tags.

Tag clouds have always been interesting to look at, but functionality-wise haven’t been very useful. It’s really hard to pick out the important stuff at a glance. For example using the TagCrowd generator for the U of T Mississauga website, big words that pop up aren’t necessarily useful categories that offer any meaningful distinction: academic, Mississauga, services, students, Toronto, and university. They’re very generic. Rather, I would think mid-range tags would be more important than the largest tags. One thing I’ve found is that tags aren’t always used properly, so it makes resources much harder to find.

I have a fun analogy for understanding tags (or explaining to someone what a tag cloud is for the first time). A tag cloud is like vomit after all you can eat sushi. The large clumps are popular goodies, and the little clumps are the not as popular items.  Okay, maybe not so appropriate for the blog.


Catch Up Post – Wikis!

I love wikis. It would be nice if U of T had a nice wiki where students could contribute. I’m just curious to find out what kinds of weird facts we might find i.e. asian truck food rankings (RW truck > Robarts > SS > Bahen) or increasing counter for the number of times students have sex and get caught in Robarts, or just the number of jaywalking incidents that happen on campus. 

On my exploration I found many wikis. There were some like Brown’s university who use wikis as course websites to exchange information and discuss projects, but also serve as a informational resource (i.e. tech assistance). Another cool thing I found was a research exchange network where researchers would exchange ideas about different topics of research and offer expertise from their own discipline. Pretty neat. 

But after some serious thought for student applications, maybe wikis might be harder to manage for a large population. I’m a little torn, because in my mind the type of interactions I’d like to see happen might not be scalable past classroom sizes. Still pondering…


Catch Up Post – Audio!

I kind of like audio podcasts, I have quite a few on my iPod from random tech suggestions to words of the week to random blabber. I have a feeling that as time progresses audio in my work may not be sufficient as a means of communicating with students. Students may listen to quick sound bites depending on the content, but a video is much more attractive. 

This reflection exercise reminds me of the time I went to a nice restaurant in montreal called Noir. What happens when you get there is that you order your meal, and you dine in complete darkness. Enhances the taste of the food and smell of food. Mmm… Anyways, I ended up listening to mission impossible and thinking about how we have grown accustomed to visuals. For example even when surfing a website our judgement is often clouded. Partially because of the information overload, and partially because of the time constraints we have. The result is that we rely on heuristics like past experiences and by flashy effects. I’m 100% sure that there’s research the shows that students are more likely to perceive something as credible if a) it looks lengthy and b) it looks fancy when in fact this has no correlation to actual credibility. Audio might be an alternative that might help us scrutinize the material we are presented with more carefully with the absence of visuals cues. 

But then again, video killed the radio star.


Catch Up Post – Video!

I’ve actually looked at quite a number of videos. Here are two that look pretty good. 

The first looks fairly professional, but it’s just a series of slideshows. The second is actually a whole group of really good videos with real people talking about the university. A combination of both would be something nice. Especially with all the good videos out there we shouldn’t just be satisfied by “youtube” quality (which is quite far down the scale imo). Information and how you package it is very important. Taking advantage available technologies (i.e. video + audio editing), and how you convey the information (concise + visual hooks) with different effects are what makes video to be attractive. 

The video has to kick ass like the opening scene for crazy 88. 

My personal stance is that your videos shouldn’t do all the talking for you. Content should be available somewhere and videos should add a layer of depth or interaction to your content. In some way enhancing the experience any not just repeating yourself.



Catch Up Post – Mashups

My mapping exercise was of an event on campus where students were able to post up blurbs, images, or video ideas and be able to tag a location on the campus map. Other students are able to post feedback or comments. A nice way to make this mashup more fun was if the creator incorporated a dynamic aspect to it where users can manipulate the terrain or the map. Maybe even see into the eyes of the student more. But it was great on the whole.

On a side note, iPhoto ’09 is an example of a brilliant mashup. Photos used to be grouped only in “albums” that you create and “events” where you participate in (automatically determined by the computer). But now, there’s face recognition which allows photos to be grouped/organized by person, and place recognition where your photos are mapped onto a world map. So if you’ve travelled around the world you’ll find photos that correspond directly to those places. It’s a pretty neat application.


Woo! I can finally get this off my chest. I hate starting something and not finishing it. Now to enjoy my weekend. 

Mashup and M*A*S*H

My first encounter with mashups was with music. My favourite is The Verve vs. Jay-Z – Brush Your Bittersweet Shoulders Off, which can be found at These types of mashups seem to get into all kinds of trouble because of copyright issues, which is a shame, because the good ones are pretty cool.

I just did a little search on mapping mashups, and of course the big one now is the one that tracks the swine flu. One of my favourite mapping tools is Map My Run, which allows you to plot out running routes, see the elevations of those routes, log your times, track your training and even figure out how many calories you burned!

Surfing around the net, I realized that the term can refer to anything that uses two more things to create one thing. So this goes wayyy beyond maps. Through the mashup feed link, I discovered Glue, which allows you to share your surfing habits with your friends and see what your friends have viewed, liked, and reviewed online. It’s a mashup of amazon, wikipedia, youtube and a whole bunch of other sites. It’s not for me, but it’s a great example of how far you can take mashups, and how much is actually out there.

It’s crazy. I have seen so many new social media products, I don’t know how to keep track of them. Of course, that’s the point. They’re media, plural, and they offer a lot of choice.

It would be easy to reject all of this – blogging, Second Life, twitter – who really uses these things anyway? But I think it’s really important to keep in mind that these represent more than just a bunch of new tools. Social media are reflective of a whole new attitude towards communication. I grew up in the TV age, when your choices were print or broadcast. “Professionals” somewhere out there produced the content, you waited for it, and consumed it. We worried about how TV was “dumbing down” the public discourse. Print was better, because it required more thought. But the truth is, both print and broadcast were passive media for the audience. Even the early web was just a clickable version of print. The rise of sites like Facebook shows that people have a new attitude towards media – they expect to co-create their experience. Isn’t that a good thing?

There is still room for those “traditional” media (I still laugh a little when I think of TV as traditional), but I think we have to keep abreast of how we communicate with each other, how students communicate with us and with each other, and what the best communication practices will be, given the expectation of co-creation.

Social media may not be “where the kids are”, at least right now. But it’s our responsibility to try as best we can to understand the change in communication we are experiencing, to participate in them, and to empower students to make use of them in transformative ways.


– Chris G

Bonus: ever since I started thinking about mashups, I couldn’t get the the old 70s show out of my head:

Mashups and my final post

So first of all, THANK YOU Cheryl for this great course. You’ve shown me so much and I can truly say that I have learned alot and enjoyed the experience. I think that bringing fun, meaning and learning to people is a great gift and you have given us all that with this course. I now have some new tools to play with that will contribute to and enrich my work with students.

Although this is not a map mashup, it does combine many of my favorite things: Audio – TEDTalks, Visuals – graphics with a wordle look and video all combined to produce a good message. Have a look.

Another application of mashups that I’d like to pursue is an idea from an earlier post about mashups that referred to timelines. I think about how often I’ve heard graduating students say “If only I had known this when I started!” So I thought, what if we put together a timeline mashup with lessons learned or words of wisdom of graduating students. Things that they wish they’d done in first year through to graduation. It could connect new students to activities, programs and services they could benefit from sooner rather than later. I’ll have to work on it!

Too shy for Second Life?

Okay, so I gave it a try. I downloaded the software at home, made an avatar and went to Newbie Island or whatever it’s called. My internet connection is not lightning-fast, so I spent a lot of time clicking arrows, then waiting to turn. In frustration, I clicked the arrows a few times and of course turned too far. I walked into a lot of walls. So I decided to fly. I clicked fly. Turns out I was inside a building and there was nowhere to fly to. But at least there were a lot of other newbies up there, looking kind of dazed, probably trying to find the “stop flying” button.

I had procrastinated on doing the virtual worlds thing because I was shy. I mean, I don’t like going to parties by myself, even when I know people there, so going to a whole second world with millions of strangers sounded awfully intimidating. When I got there, people kept trying to talk to me, but I just ignored them. This is some extreme social media. Maybe when I get more advanced I will be able to find a nice place by the ocean to hang out.

After about a half-hour of bumping into walls (and ceilings!) and not being able to figure out what to do next, I called it a night. So my Second Life experience was inconclusive. However, a few thoughts did come to mind:

  • Any educational application of virtual worlds will require education around how to get into and navigate the virtual world, or you may lose half your students off the bat.
  • Based on conversations I’ve had, it seems that most people on Second Life are on there with friends they already know. So maybe my mistake was joining the party alone.
  • There may be a future for virtual worlds in education, but let’s not assume that “all the kids are doing this” (see Deanne’s post on this subject).
  • At the same time, I do see tremendous potential for applying this to education. I think it will need to be a little more accessible and a little more user-friendly before it’s widespread.

– Chris G aka Rich Grantly

Map Mashups on the iPhone!

One of the greatest tools I have come across is the Locly application on the iPhone.  It is a mapping mashup that allows users to identify where they are and indicate what they are trying to find.  Need a mall, gas station, restaurant, or library?  It will tell you where all these are and the distance away in respect to your location.  AND once you have identified your destination, it will provide you turn by turn directions!

This is a great tool for all those iPhone users out there!  If a student owns an iPhone and has Locly, the city of Toronto seems a lot smaller and more manageable!

Chris inspired me to show you this video that came together within our UofT community, another “mashup” type video:  It blends art, video, advocacy, sound, and soul!  Enjoy!

Virtual Worlds

Until now, I was only aware of virtual worlds through video games and the ever popular “Sim City”.  Second Life is truly extraordinary.  After googling, “Second Life university orientation”, I came upon various post-secondary institution’s Second Life realms.  Most of them were dedicated to recreating the campus’ enviroment, and allowing students more access to various resources and opportunities.  An example of one Second Life that I found is,  This link provides Ohio University’s promotional video for their Second Life campus.

I suppose that my opinion on virtual worlds is twofold.  First, I think this is a great opportunity to provide another avenue of access to our students.  However, as I browse through some of these virtual worlds, I’m left feeling uncertain in these utopian type realms that lack human-to-human contact.  Although these spaces create more access, they lack the challenges, bumps, and rewards that one would receive in an actual situation.  They lack the chemistry that one would feel when they were to interact face-to-face with a new friend.

Although interesting, I’m not quite sure I’m sold on the effectiveness of virtual worlds…at least in my functional area.