Friday, December 18, 2009


It's a little late but here is my reflections wrap-up. Throughout the semester as I was writing these reflections, I felt myself improving slowly. More so than my writing, I realized that I had changed my way of thinking. For the first couple of weeks, it was difficult for me to write enough on a topic. I had things to say, but they weren't conveyed properly. The depth was shallow and the connections were weak. Sometimes, it felt as though I was writing an essay to please someone rather than my own thoughts.

As the semester progressed, I was was able to organize my thoughts on paper before writing. I was also able to discuss more on topics by exploring them a little deeper and trying to connect them to my own experiences. It was easiest to write when I felt stronger with topics that personally related to me. I also tried to create new ideas and methods of organizing ideas so that I can effectively convey my message across. In conclusion, the four reflections that I picked were the ones that I put the most effort into. The topics connected and resonated within me.

1st Quarter - September: Establishing a Conversation
4th Quarter - December: On classes towards major
Choice - November: Opportunities to meet upperclassmen
Choice - October: Alignment

To be very honest, I had a difficult time choosing the four reflections that I did. There were different merits to each piece that I had written. From the beginning, I had chosen a very informal style of writing. This is actually something that I am unaccustomed to doing. I had chosen to write as though I were there physically speaking to someone in person. I feel that the best way to hold a conversation or to convey a message to maintain a familiar contact. Sure, there are times to be formal, however, daily conversation is exceedingly informal and yet very organized and informative.

Well, it is the end of the semester, but I don't think that it's goodbye just yet. I think that I will continue to keep this blog updated for a while. It is a fun way to speak your thoughts out loud and to clear your head by writing down everything that you're thinking of. I enjoyed the class this semester and felt that we accomplished quite a bit. I certainly learned a lot and changed my views on a lot of things.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On Cheating

This topic has come up several times in our classes this semester. It is certainly prevalent in all of our class to a degree and gradually becoming more popular. We mentioned Sange theories in connection with cheating that the spread is thanks to reinforcement. As more students cheat and get away scotch free, other student see and follow their example. This is certainly a problem that could be solved by designing for effective change. (Perhaps it could serve as the problem to solve in the next section of our class in the future.)

From the perspective of a student I can see it happening all around me. People are copying homework assignments at the last minute. Large portions of papers are plagiarized. Students are even cheating on exams. I remember once during my sophomore year when I walked into my professor's office hours just to ask a question when I found him, questioning a student who had cheated on his exam. I have heard other stories where due to the large size of the class, students are seated side by side. One just has to peak a little bit to see his neighbor's paper. Moreover, there are stories where the professor just sits at the front reading a newspaper or listening to his ipod.

To put is simply, there isn't an effective system in place which is a deterrence to cheating. Students feel safe enough that they will not get caught. The penalties are harsh if you happen to get caught, however the odds are very low. A few TAs find it too bothersome to check every homework assignment and then question the student to check to see if they had copied it or not. A professor of mine this semester started giving out group homework assignments. Since we are working together anyways, we might as turn in one assignment as a group rather than having someone copy it off others.

When I take an exam, there is one huge deterrence to me cheating. Other than the fact that cheating is wrong, I feel a deep fear from the pit of my stomach from the chance of being caught. This is true of many students. Every time, you raise you head from your paper, there is always a proctor watching you. His eyes seem to penetrate you and read your thoughts. However, there are students who do not feel this fear, or simply do not listen to their conscience. The most the proctor can do is to maintain the tension of an exam and keep everyone aware of the risks of being caught.

I recently had the chance to proctor an exam for a freshman class. I was advised by the professor to constantly be on the watch and pacing around for the entire length of the exam. This was the first time for me to be in this position and to monitor students. I came in with the idea that I will be sharp and immediately be able to spot cheaters with my student perspective. Yet, for the first time, I felt the challenges faced by the proctors. In a huge classroom, with around a hundred students spread around, it was impossible to keep an eye on all of them. I kept walking around the classroom, and realized that the most I could do was to keep the students aware of my presence. If they felt that I was always watching them, they might be deterred from cheating.

Apart from the idea proposed by professor in class, which was to change the questions on every examination, there isn't much more that the faculty can do. It is within each and every student whether to cheat or not to cheat. For someone very determined to cheat, there is nothing to stop them.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mutlimedia Connection

This is just a short post to connect my presentation to the course. From the start the objective of our course was "Designing for Effective Change", which is to say we are trying to bring change to the world.

To do so, we identify a problem and then propose a simple (ideally) and effective solution. I wanted to connect the presentation to the class project that we've been working on. Although we can identify the problem with class disengagement and we can propose a possible solution (peer mentoring), we still can't seem to completely solve the problem.

We understand that the mentoring plan could possibly be very effective and it can solve the problem, but there are problems in creating a mentoring program and carrying it through. There are still kinks that need to worked out.

Similarly, the solution to the Asian Carp problem is to kill them. However, there is no effective way to just take care of the carp alone. Poison is known solution and it has worked in the past in other places. Yet, this kind of solution still isn't perfect.

In our goal of Designing for Effective Change, we may often come across a problem where the solution is known and yet we can't do anything to make it work to the best efficiency.

I'm not quite sure how to make my connection more prominent, but everyone can take away a different connection from this presentation and our class. The invasive species could be compared to the spread of polio in Better. I also tried to make the message "sticky", a least a little memorable thanks to the jokes.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Mutlimedia Presentation: Asian Carp

So here is my video on Asian Carp. It's been in the news lately and I would just like to point out the issue and question the solution proposed.

This took a looooong time (hours...)to post. I would find a little mistake here and there between the transition from powerpoint to slideshare (especially with the fonts). I also had to figure everything out myself just by search through google.

Anyway, enjoy and please comment if it's too fast and whether I should make any changes.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On classes towards major

I'd like to talk about required classes that one has to take towards their major and whether they are necessary or not. I currently feel that the required classes are a good idea to maintain “roundness” but they shouldn't be enforced very strictly.

This is actually a topic near and dear to my heart. I feel that the current curriculum is restraining and enforced excessively strict. Electrical engineering is closely tied with computer engineering and they are both housed in the same department (ECE). This means that a lot of classes overlap between the two majors. This is convenient when someone actually has interests that cross over but for the others it is actually very difficult. As an electrical engineer, I am well aware that I may never again work with topics covered in the required classes.

It is really frustrating to be forced into a class in which you happen to have no interest. After all, I chose to be a EE not a CompE. I realized that my interests did not lie programming or otherwise and therefore chose a different major. Instead of forcing me into a class, I would at least prefer to chose one amongst many. It's not like I hate all the CompE classes; there was one that I thought was fun. However, that was only one class and I will be taking one more class in the future which I am dreading.

Now moving on to classes outside of our major that are still required. I value classes in the Physics and Chemistry department but we do not need to take so many. Thermal Physics has be the most useless class that I have ever taken. I have never used anything from that class nor do I expect to in the future. This is the same with the chemistry classes, apart from learning the basic knowledge there is no need for the extra classes. If a class happens require advanced knowledge the chemistry class could just be listed as a pre-requisite. At this point the student has the option to choose whether to take the class or not.

Next, I feel that the math classes required for engineers is actually very apt. Calc III is a required basic knowledge that everyone should know. DiffEq is also very important but we so not need three different first-level DiffEq classes in the math department. The ECE department requires us to DiffEQ plus which basically covers one more chapter as compared to the other DiffEq classes. This is very personal for me since I actually took a DiffEq class in a different university while still in high school. However, U of I is unwilling to give me credit for the plus class. There is only a minor difference between the two classes and I don't want to take the entire class again just for the sake of one chapter. Additionally, since I am a junior now I have already covered the difference in material in my other classes. I am confident in my knowledge of differential equations and I feel that I should get the credit that I deserve and not miss out on graduation thanks to a single chapter in a math book. I would be extremely happy if they just gave me a bye. After all, I did take the class (albeit in a different university) and I got an A. I know DiffEq enough to do well in all my current and future classes.

Finally, regarding free electives it's a good idea to have more available as a part of graduation. In addition, we really don't need all the categories like social sciences or humanities. Personally, I have little or no interest in social sciences and a lot in humanities. If I could replace all of my free electives with social sciences with humanities that would be great. Also, I noticed recently that there are classes that do not fit anywhere,notably CHP classes. Even if these classes do not fit in either social sciences or humanities, they should at the very least fulfill free electives. There are other classes that do not fit any category and become black holes in my schedule that suck up my time without giving me anything in return.

To summarize, I don't have any major problems with the current systems, but I would like a lot small changes to occur.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Opportunities to meet upperclassmen

I think there exist several opportunities for freshman to interact with upper level students but those exists primarily in the social setting. This is just my perspective, and it may be different elsewhere, but while it was not easy to meet upperclassmen, it was not overly difficult. In my situation, I was the only one from my high school to enter U of I. Therefore, with no friend base I tried to explore and reach to many other people by joining activities.

It was relatively easy to make friends with other freshman. Every freshman is required to live in university housing. You meet your floor mates even before school begins and tend form groups to eat together in the dining halls. From there, you meet their friends and then suddenly you happen to know a lot of people. Another thing that I did was to just walk onto a tennis court and request to join them. If our levels were close, we would meet again to play. Lastly, there are many freshman introductory courses in which you meet other freshman in the same major. You meet many people quickly and realize that you will be together with them until graduation.

As I have mentioned, it is very easy to meet other freshmen. It is much harder to meet upperclassman and generally people from other majors. You are herded along with other first years to take required introductory courses. Typically few or none of the upperclassman attend these courses. This is true especially for the classes in your major. Most of the seniors that I met freshman year were from classes outside of major like Physics or Gen Eds. These were also dependent on the credits the students came with to skip intro classes.

An option that I personally like to meet seniors was to join a club or RSO. The Quad Day is great idea in this respect to introduce incoming freshman to the many clubs available on campus. After joining a club you meet a variety of people of varying class standings. Bound together by a common interest, there is good chance to make good friends.

Now from the perspective of an upperclassman, I feel that I don't necessarily “mentor” the freshman that I know. Sure, I help them when they need it. I also give advice on classes and general campus life, but it's a different king of relationship than mentoring. As you have questioned, there is a transfer of knowledge, or wisdom if you will, but typically it's subconscious.

I have had the opportunity to be both a mentor and a mentee so far. My perspective has also varied vastly between the two positions. As a mentee, I look up to my mentor and I sometimes feel awkward establishing contact. As a mentor, I try my best to smooth things out for my mentee and perceive things from a different perspective. What I realize in the end is that each mentor-mentee relationship is different and everything comes down to compatibility. Similar to our class project, when two people are pushed into this kind of relationship, the outcome will vary across the population.

When someone meets an upperclassman in a more natural things also appear less forced or enforced so your relationship with them is more of a friend and than a mentor. In the end, most of the work falls onto the mentor to maintain the relationship. Mentoring programs are always a good idea and proving good results but, depending on how motivated the mentor is, there is a larger chance of our program to be a success.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Learning from Experience

Hey everyone, I'm finally back. Look forward to class on Monday.

The obvious answer would be Yes. Yes, I have learned from past experiences. Although courses are one good example of the situation, it does not cover everything. As we progress further into academia and college, we encounter material that we have faced before. Several classes often have required pre-requisites. Once we have taken a course we are expected to have learned the basics and then apply the knowledge towards the next level. This is a natural progression of learning through experience where the learning can be quantified.

However, more often than not, I notice that I learn from having more experience. For example, after repeated practice in tennis by body takes action in a game before my mind does. The learning come through a mass of experience either through practice or match experience. Another example on a smaller scale and that which is more personal: minesweeper. That's the game that is available on every pc with a Windows OS. In the beginning, I felt that they game was very hard and I couldn't understand some of the nuances. Later, I suddenly found myself playing the game at a rapid pace and defusing the mines using intuition rather than logical reasoning. I became familiar with certain arrangements so much so that I no longer need the reasoning process.

As seen from the previous example, I believe that “learning” does not posses “scale.” Learning can be “transformative” but it is not required to be so. The small things that we experience in life are as important to our learning experience as life-shattering incidents. Everything makes up for who we are. Although, I do not possess a definitive example, many story books often involve characters that have vastly different personalities even with the same background. However, I digress.

The question is whether we can introspectively recognize whether we have learned anything from an experience and consciously “use” your learning, even transfer it. I do not often notice whether I'm actively using a lesson that I have learned from past experience. I feel that it depends on at the point of learning whether I was active or passive. If I came in with the objective of learning, I actively participate in the experience. Then as I become aware of the knowledge gained, it is also easier to pass it on to others. I often help my friends in their class work and evidence of my learning is transfered to the professors through testing.

During passive learning, these are often the skills one refers to when they mention someone with many years of experience. When one collects experience with many years on the job, they sometimes may not be aware of the changes within themselves. In addition, they cannot easily pass on this knowledge to others since they did not amass it as one does in school. I can label this somewhat along with intuition similar to when I play video games. I often make decisions that others might consider as a waste of time simple because after many hours of playing the game I just know when and where to speed up/slow down or to buy/exchange weapons atc. The gaming knowledge is something I gained through experience and not everything is transferable since a mjor portion of it is intuition.

Lastly, I think that everyone judges learning differently. In the class setting, grades often lend themselves as a measure of student learning. However, some students are content with a B, others A and few who strive for the A+. Their standards do not match up amongst their peers. There are also the cases when an engineer in a history class does not desire to learn more that what's necessary to pass the class. The engineer and the history major have different objectives which changes their perspective on learning. So for an engineer simply knowing the year in which the Magna Carta was signed may be impressive, it would be unthinkable for a British history major to not know every detail regarding who signed it, when, why, etc.