Saturday, July 29, 2006

An Inside Look Into Our University Portal

To the outside world, our University Portal looks like the following:

Once a graduate student enters, it's a whole different world:

This is my classroom inside the comfort of my San Francisco flat, where I spend many hours in class, connected to our University Portal in NYC, well into the wee hours of the early morning:

And following is a sampling of our class threads for the summer course I'm taking that ends next week: The New New Media: Weblogs, Wikis, & Emerging Social Media. Inside each class thread, which is posted on a weekly basis by our professor, Robert Berkman, is where our classroom discussions occur--all of which I've found to be academically stimulating, intelligent, and thought-provoking. I've found that unlike a traditional classroom, I have time to really think about how I will respond to our Professor's questions and to posts made by other students. I think I get a lot more out of my educational experience in this regard than I would in a traditional classroom. And there's a written record of the entire discussion in contrast to being in a traditional class where I am mostly busily taking "notes" so I don't miss what's said, which places me in a position of not having the time to really think thoughtfully about what I'd like to contribute. As in any situation, there are advantages and shortcomings to learning in either medium, but I've found the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages based on my first-hand experience with the new medium at The New School. I'll delve deeper into these differences in my next post.

Insights Into Taking an Online Production Course

I thought I'd post this question from my colleague, Liz, because it's an important one and I didn't want it lost in a comment section.

We are wrapping up our 8th week and starting our 9th and last week in our summer graduate class, The New New Media: Weblogs, Wikis & Emerging Social Media, when Liz approached me in our class blog and asked the following question:


I'm not sure if you've taken any production classes online, but I was wondering what your experience was with those types of classes online.

This is the first online class I have taken and though I like it, it has definitely been a struggle for me to adapt to this medium academically, and I would imagine it would be even harder with a production class.

Let me know your thoughts.


Hi, Liz!

Thanks so much for visiting my blog! It's been a great summer while in Professor Berkman's class, no? I'm learning so much about Web 2.0.

As to your question, yes, I took Web Design & Production with Joerg Muller, who resides in Spain. He is absolutely the best. If you decide you wish to take a production class online, take the class with him. He has a Web site he uses for all of his lessons. Each lesson is well planned and he provides great examples of code you can follow to create a Web site. Make sure you've taken Digital Design and Foundations of Media Design which you can take online or on campus. Both courses, as you probably already know, are taught both online and on campus. I was lucky that I was able to take Foundations of Media Design with William Crow. He's absolutely the greatest professor! Now he only teaches Photography & Social Change in the Spring semester and his class fills up immediately. I may stay one semester just to take this class...he is so good and the class subject is worth it and something I'm very interested in. Social issues are important to me and I am recently getting into digital photography, so the class would be perfect for me and definitely will prove useful and valuable in so many ways.

If you run into any problems or you have questions should you take Web Design & Production with Joerg, he will respond right away, even though he lives in Spain! Other students in the class with more technical knowledge will help as well. And he may have a T.A. in the Fall semester, hopefully someone as great as Derek in our current summer course, The New New Media.

I highly recommend you purchase the book, "HTML 4 for the World Wide Web, Fourth Edition: Visual QuickStart Guide (4th Edition) (Paperback)" by Elizabeth Casto. Software you'll need to know and have installed on your computer are Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and an FTP program. I like Photoshop to optimize photographs but for Web graphic design, I prefer Fireworks. I do not use Dreamweaver as I prefer Homesite, since it's the tool I've been using professional as a Web Developer since 1998. Prior to Homesite, I used notepad to code my Web sites while an undergrad at Cal Poly. Looking back, I can't believe I hand coded HTML with what is now like a stone age tool--notepad. However, it was instrumental in learning how to write HTML code from scratch, and to write very clean code without a lot of nested tags. You'll learn all of this from Joerg. I highly recommend taking him as the online instructor for this class.

Overall, I felt it was a great experience to take Web Design & Production online, but going into the class, I also have a strong technical background, particularly with regard to Web Development. However, I found that helping other students was rewarding, and I helped out many students who were in unfamiliar territory and had many of the basic questions I had when I first learned to develop a Web site in HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) back in 1997 as an English undergrad. Except in my case, I was in the computer lab asking the lab asisstants questions while I was on campus, and then I'd go come and code my little mini Web sites at home the rest of the time well into the wee hours of the morning--not much different than you would experience in an online production course, except you'll have the advantage of asking questions and getting it answered in the online medium--sometimes right away--from Joerg, another student, or the class T.A. All without leaving the comfort of your home. The way the Internet has changed the way we communicate makes this all possible, as you well know.

A friend and colleague who moved to NYC from San Antonio, Texas, was recounting last winter when the subway system went down completely right before the end of the semester. She said she lived in upper Manhattan and it was at least a half hour ride if she took a cab to make it to campus, which she couldn't afford, and she ended up not sleeping and spending all her time in the Knowledge Union to complete her production projects, and found a place to shower nearby. The labs stay open 24 hours for the last two weeks of the semester.

Tell me what you find difficult about adjusting to the new medium of an online class and maybe I can provide you with some insights that may prove useful. Since I've had the benefit of a completely online experience in the M.A. program, I can take this experience and compare and contrast it to my undergraduate on campus only experience while at Cal Poly. I think the main differences are the social and classroom experiences are very different. An online classroom is virtual and occurs asynchronously, while a traditional on campus classroom physically occurs is in person in real time at set times of the day to which everyone in class adheres to. An asynchronous class on the other hand, occurs in your own real time, and class is conducted when you are in the portal, whether the other students are attending at the same time or not...usually not because everyone attends at anytime. Online-only students tend to be autonomous, work full-time, and some may have families to take care of at night, which makes physically attending class on campus difficult if not impossible due to time constraints. I am immediately reminded of Tom's post in our class Wiki:

"I have done the Master's entirely online. It has allowed me to continue working full-time and raising my family. In addition, my job takes me on frequent overseas trips, but I have been able to continue to participate in classes through the online "Portal" from locations as diverse as India, Kenya, Botswana, Jamaica, and the Singapore, London, Amsterdam and Dubai airports!"

And now with wireless community networks growing all over the country, we can take our classrooms with us anywhere we happen to be. I think this is one of the greatest things about the online M.A. in Media Studies at the New School. If you think you want the best of both worlds, you can combine the online and on campus courses, which many students residing in Manhattan already do.

I'll have more on these differences in another post. You can syndicate my blog's feed URL to your RSS Reader if you want to keep up-to-date with all future posts.

I hope this helps and best of luck in all your future courses at The New School!

Graduate Student-Insider

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Day in the Life of A Graduate Student

Good morning! I thought I'd share some insights into a day in my life as a graduate student in the M.A. in Media Studies. I am taking a great course from Professor Robert Berkman: The New New Media: Weblogs, Wikis & Emerging Social Media. I am so busy every day! I post in our official class portal, check our class blog, check my own project blog which is the blog you're reading this post on as I write this, and I check our class Wiki for updates and any new additions I can make. This week, we've started a new thread to learn about RSS feeds, so I got all my reading done last night and discovered I already use this technology through my own Google Reader while doing some research about 3 weeks ago. Imagine that! Last night when I was up well past midnight (3:00 a.m. NYC time), posting busily in our class thread on RSS feeds, a light bulb went on in my head and everything clicked.

5:30 a.m. This morning, I awoke early and couldn't get back to sleep, so I thought I'd use this as class time while everything is quiet and logged into our University Portal to attend class. To my surprise, there was already feedback on my class post last night from our T.A., Derek, who's leading the class discussion this week on RSS. I responded to his suggestions and decided I want to add an RSS feed to my own blog so others can get linked to all my new blog posts. Very exciting!

6:30 a.m. More posts. I decide I'm hungry so I made some breakfast, some peppermint tea, and continued on with the Feedburner instructions on creating an RSS feed for my blog.

7:30 a.m. I've been at it with to get my RSS feed to work and modifying the HTML code into this blog's template. The code I received from Feedburner wasn't working to my great frustration. Parsing Error. So I decided to try to manually link to the RSS URL they provided. Still same issue: Parsing Error. Bleh! After 4 posts for Derek's help in our class blog, I looked more closely at the code and it appears the parsing error is on Feedburner's end. I send them an email.

9:30 a.m. Checked my emails and responded to those who have written. Not much is new, except I got one from a good friend and awesome lawyer who practices in SF. Yes, he's more than happy to let me use him as a referral for my job hunting which is going on full speed this week! I received a confirmation email from Feedburner, but no word yet on how they're going to address the parsing error on their end. Bleh.

9:50 a.m. I'm going to "throw in the towel" for now and do some other research, check if Derek's responded to my inquiries in our class blog for help on the RSS issue (sorry for the many frantic posts, Derek!). New emails streamed in...checking those now. It's no wonder I opted not to sign up for an email notification each time someone posts something new in our class blog. My inbox can get so inundated. Instead, I added the RSS feed to our class blog into my Google Reader.

10:05 a.m. Time to strength train this morning then get showered and ready for the rest of the day. Checked our class thread and class blog one last time before I go...

12:00 Noon Preparing for an interview with a very prestigious communications and media company. I'm doing research on both Wikipedia and the company's Web site and found plenty of interesting information about the company.

1:00 p.m. Talking to my good friend Alexa about lunch tomorrow in the City and she wishes me good luck on the interview. When she found out the name of this company, she was flabbergasted...she recognized the name and reputation of the company, and exclaimed, "Wow!!! They are HUGE...HUGE!!!" The name is certainly prestigious, highly respected, and very well-known to many people in the Bay Area or what was formerly known as The Silicon Valley. Big name. I'm excited. Time to get dressed and ready for the big interview. In the meantime, I get an email from another well-known company (one of the major search engine companies for bloggers) and was invited in to meet with the project manager for a contract project. I know her from 2 jobs ago. She wants to set me up with their paperwork to do intermitten contract work. When it rains, it pours!

2:30 p.m. Headed for my interview in Belmont. I'm really looking forward...very prestigious and well-known company (I'm getting redundant--sorry!)--so well known, they could call Bill Gates with a phone call and he will answer the call.

3:10 p.m. Found the company with a little difficulty. Called the Editor-in-Chief to ask where the building was. Found it, and entered. Saw a very simple sign on the door--no visible company name on the building. They like operating in "stealth mode." Cute. Ha.

3:30 p.m. Started my interview and spoke with 4 people.

6:30 p.m. Ended my interview. Woa! Didn't realize it ended up being a 3-hour interview...probably partially because I asked so many questions!

7:20 p.m. Arrived home. Forgot what traffic is like on the 280 during the afternon rush hour.

7:45 p.m. Ate dinner quickly...I have a lot of homework to do for class.

8:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m. I'm in the University Portal in class and also in our class blog and checked out any updates to our class Wiki project. Whew! This summer course, The New New Media: Weblogs, Wikis & Emerging Social Media, is intense! It is remarkably project-driven! I'm rethinking about whether or not I want to do an optional paper! Why did I volunteer that to my professor?! He's now expecting a 20 - 40 page double-spaced paper on finding ways to research the credibility of bloggers! ACK!

11:00 p.m. Worked on the RSS feed to my class blog project. I'm still getting parsing errors. Arghhh!

12:00 a.m. I'm going to hang in the towel because I'm so tired I can't see straight. I'll look at my code again on my blog project in the morning...with fresh eyes.

2:00 a.m. Well...I thought I was going to hang up the towel but here I still am--bleary-eyed but still working away furiously. More like sleuthing furiously. Finding bugs in HTML is unique experience. It requires dedication, a lot of time, resistance to frustration, patience, and occasional bursts of "Aha's!" The effort is worth the payoff when you finally find the problem.

So here I still am. I decided to keep working on getting my RSS feed to work and the extra effort was well worth it. I finally figured out how to get erroneous code off my first blog post that was throwing the parsing error. Since it's not visible, it was hard to remove! What finally took the invisible codes that WORD makes (never, never use WORD to check your spelling and then cut and paste it back into your blog's editor) was when I took the post's HTML code out of the "Edit HTML" window and pasted into the "Compose window." This process deleted the invisible code. Then I saved, republished, then clicked on the orange chicklet (see Syndicate link on the far right column) to go to my RSS feed page generated by Feedburner. It finally worked! What a relief! I'm going to call it a night...or early morning.

I'd say good night to all but I know the Internet never sleeps!

We live in exciting times -- a High Tech Information Age where the rapid evolution of technology is barely keeping up with the need for instant gratification for information and constant upgrades of electronic gadgets to make life easier. Exciting times!

Not all my days are like this, nor should you expect that yours will be this hectic. I do find time for leisure and rest on many other days. I was scolded very recently by my Chiropractor who's been treating me for stress for the last year to slow down and keep a good balance. He said, "I don't think you realize how broken you are." He was talking health-wise as regards to stress. He told me to go to a spa. I'm going to take his advice. Ha! It is so important to balance your life between graduate school, work, and a personal life in order to succeed. Staying healthy and fit is key to your success, along with hard work and a lot of motivation. It's not easy being a graduate student, especially when you are remote from the safety and support of the University. More on staying healthy as a graduate student at The New School in another post. We aren't always 100% computer nerds/intellectual thinkers! We also like to do fun things.

Friday, July 21, 2006

M.A. in Media Studies: On Campus, Online, or Any Combination Thereof

The New School: After a summer rain, August 2005

Several classmates, who I've kept in touch with since first starting the graduate program in 2004, have moved to NYC to complete their last year on campus. They have very mixed feelings about their experiences from going to an online-only status to being an on campus student. I'll go in-depth on the experiences of these students in another post.

On campus students residing in NYC also take the online courses as a combination because of the utter convenience of taking the course at any time or any place with Internet accesss, or simply because a particular course is only offered online and not on campus. I heard rumors of some on campus students commenting, "How come only the online students get to choose Visual Storytelling." For students not familiar with this course, it is taught by Shari Kessler, a graduate of the M.A. in Media Studies program, with a remarkable resume as an editorial photographer and visual media consultant. On campus students in NYC who also take online classes, find time to log into class online and participate during the day while during their lunches or breaks, or late at night after tucking their children into bed, even in the wee hours of the morning for students who are night owls. Students who reside in New York State but not in NYC also take the courses on an online-only basis, just as would an out-of-state or overseas student.

When I took the course, "Web Design and Production," my professor, Joerg Muller, taught this class through the University portal in NYC while residing in Spain. Students attended class all over the U.S. and also overseas. Imagine a course with students logging in from Bangkok, London, Rome, Vienna, Tokyo, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, and even New York City! The possibilities are endless. The program brings students together from all over the world. Thanks to the Internet, this global cyber classroom is possible. The future of education is happening now.

I am currently taking a summer graduate course with Professor Robert Berkman, "The New New Media: Weblogs, Wikis, & Emerging Social Media," and we started a class Wiki which we hope will continue to evolve and eventually become a staple to the M.A. in Media Studies program so that new and current students may contribute their knowledge and experiences of the program. The class Wiki is a living document, subject to change at any time. There are plans in the near future to integrate our class Wiki into Wikipedia.

Following is what was written about the online aspect of the M.A. in Media Studies program in our class Wiki. As with any Wiki entry, it is subject to change and therefore evolution. I thought I'd share the current entry:

"The Internet is changing the future of education and revolutionizing the classroom. Imagine a unique cyber-classroom with students from all over the U.S. and the world.

The Media Studies and Film Department offers the option of an online program of study to students who wish to complete their graduate degree in its entirety online. Online students attend classes from their home on their own schedule, or anywhere in the world where they can access the Internet and participate in class discussions via the New School Online University "Portal." This option is well-suited for students who reside in other states, live outside of the United States, are not able to move to NYC to complete the graduate degree on campus, work full-time, or have children. Many students who reside in New York state but not in NYC take the courses. Online courses are also open to students attending the regular program on the New School's campus. Many on campus students take the online courses to augment their regular schedules because of its utter convenience. The flexibility of the online courses enable students who work full-time during the day or have families to take care of at night to easily take courses at times suited for their busy schedule because the online courses are taught asynchronously. Thus, students can "attend" their virtual classroom at any time of the day or night. The online courses are the same courses taught on campus. The only difference is the "experience."

Many students who reside outside of NY state will do a combination of online work during the school year and attend a summer session on campus to complete the required production sequence. This is especially crucial for those students who choose a film, video, or audio production sequence."

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Building a Rapport With Other Online Graduate Students

What is it like to develop a rapport with a fellow graduate student in the M.A. in Media Studies program through the online medium? The classes and class discussions are the same classes taught on campus at The New School for many years. The cyber class discussions are held in a very similar manner as traditional classes except there is more depth to the online discussions. Students have more time to get their bearings, really think about the discussion topic, and post a thoughtful reply. In a traditional classroom, there isn't as much time to really think about what you want to say. At least in my experience, this has been the case. I was also busily writing everything down so I wouldn't "forget" what was discussed and I would sometimes miss what other students have said in class because I was either busy writing or I didn't hear what was said. These issues are nonexistent in an online classroom at The New School.

Definitely there will be more to discussions to follow regarding the differences between a traditional classroom and a "cyber" classroom, and I will go in depth on my thoughts as well as what information I've garnered from other Media Studies graduate studies who have experienced both. More on this in another post...

Going back to my topic on building a rapport, it starts in class with your colleagues. This happens easiest with students who contribute and therefore post frequently, and also to students who make it a point to thoughtfully respond to comments made by other students. This is inevitable and required in most, if not all, class discussions. I recall one conversation that really stands out in my mind. It was about 10:30 p.m. Californiatime and I was busily posting in a class thread. When I went back to clear my cache, I discovered another student had just posted, a colleague, Jedd, who at the time resided in San Diego. I was in San Francisco so I said hello and replied to his post. I wrote something smart and thought-provoking, relevant to the class discussion. He was glad to have a fellow classmate on the same time schedule and we volleyed a few more times regarding the class topic. Had this been in a traditional classroom, the same scenario would likely have occurred outside before entering the classroom, as a conversation while waiting for class to start, as a quiet aside during class (though less likely), or after class. The greatest part is we were able to do it real time in cyberspace as part of the class, but removed from it while NYC slept.

Sometimes I'll have similar conversations with students during my lunch hour at work, or at home in the wee hours of the morning. It can happen at any time of the day or night. The discussions can become even more insightful and thought-provoking when other students chime in and thoughts are taken to other tangents where we end up in great discussions about other issues and possibilities, much like a brainstorming session. Other times students do not chime in but I do know they read the conversations as we've had many discussions on whether or not a student is "participating" when just reading posts and not responding. We decided in one class that it is a form of participation where the student is actively engaged but not actually physically participating. I disagreed with the validity of this argument at first until I had this great discussion with another student, Shannon, who helped to change my mind. Such multiple perspectives coupled with the permanence of the online discussions, help to inscribe and inspire new ideas in all our online classes. And they are instrumental to helping you build rapport with other graduate students.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Proactive Networking Works

Arnold Hall Building From Across The Street

One of the first things I did when I entered the program was I decided to be proactive and start networking with other students immediately. While in NYC at the graduate orientation, I met with other new students and exchanged email addresses. I've emailed these students to stay connected and it helps to form a sense of community. I also introduced myself to all the Professors who attended the orientation, met the Chair, Carol Wilder, and also met Tony Laing, the Graduate Coordinator for the Department of Media Studies and Film. Tony will be one of your greatest allies while in the program. He is a gem. He is a key person who will help you with any questions or problems you may have. If it's not something he can take care of because it's out of his jurisdiction, he will route you to the right person. I have since corresponded with Tony many times and each time, he responds immediately and in a gracious and professional manner to all my email inquiries. For all new students in the program, particularly those that will be online-only students, I highly recommend attending graduating orientation to start feeling connected. You can also obtain your student ID while you're in town. Ask Tony for a student planner as well. And make sure you introduce yourself to Tony as well. He will remember you.

While in my courses, I built rapports with several key students, particularly those that had similar views -- they tended to be the students who responded to my posts. With these students, I've maintained contact via email, even after completion of the course. I also sought out the students who live in California and was surprised to find two in San Francisco. I set up a meeting with these two students who seemed excited to meet a fellow colleague. It was great meeting in person after having shared a couple of classes and knowing each other online. It's an interesting phenomenon to have that familiarity with a person from knowing them academically and meeting them for the first time. The familiarity is there but the newness of placing a face to the knowledge of "knowing" that person in an online class is a very different experience. It's like knowing someone for a long time but meeting them for the first time combined because the face and the personal contact is all new. I think those who do online dating experience the same phenomenon. It's very similar to the dating tactics of the older generation where prospects answered personal ads and communication and getting to know one other before meeting was via telephone. Today it's online personal ads via the Internet, emails and instant messaging to get to know the other person. The Web is really changing the way we communicate and meet other people.

So for me, building relationships with other students starts with a proactive mindset and action will get you there. Start networking with other students while in your classes. Find students in your class that live in or near your city or state so you can set up to meet in person. Network with students who live outside of your state as well and arrange to meet if you're ever in their state or country for that matter! I have several students I've made plans to meet during commencement next May. It will be a new experience coupled with the familiarity and history of being in class together. If anything, it is an exciting prospect! So go out and be proactive and seek out other grad students. They will be just as excited to network and connect with you.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Welcome to the Graduate Student - Insider Blog

The New School: Arnold Hall Building
Well hello and welcome to the Graduate Student - Insider blog. I created this blog to share my insights and experiences as a graduate student in the M.A. in Media Studies at The New School in New York City and to hopefully provide enlightenment to new and future students. Also I hope that any existing students who are in the program would share their insights as well.

I've been in the program since Fall Semester, 2004, and I have been very happy with the program. I must say I couldn't have picked a better suited graduate degree that will help me move forward in my professional career. Not only that, but the program helps us think about the social impacts of the New Media and how it is changing the way we communicate worldwide. It's very exciting.

I originally planned to move to NYC to be an on campus student but decided to stay in San Francisco where I currently reside to complete the program. After seeing the cost of living in NYC, I thought I would stay where I was at and complete the program 100% remotely, as many existing students form all over the U.S.and worldwide are currently doing. Some are doing a combination of attending classes on campus and onsite; some are strictly on campus or strictly online, while others complete the program primarily online but complete the production sequence during the summer semester onsite which is another option, which is necessary for students interested in film, video, and audio production. It was easy for me stay remote since I chose the Web/Multimedia sequence to fulfill the required production sequence. There is remarkable versatility to what The New School offers in that regard and I must say this University is light years ahead of the traditional universities in making available an advanced portal system to provide a very high quality and esteemed graduate education. Saying it is "light years ahead" is truly an understatement.

One of the first I things I did as an online-only graduate student to feel connected was I flew to NYC to attend the graduate orientation in person in 2004. That single first act has made all the difference while I’ve been in the graduate program. It was extremely helpful to meet my professors and fellow graduate students and instrumental in helping me feel connected to the University these past two years. I've met many other online-only students from all over the U.S.and worldwide in my courses who felt removed and distant from the program, from the professors, and from other students for the simple reason that they physically are not on campus taking the courses. But what helped me was I decided at the onset to be proactive and over the course of two years in the program, I stayed connected by doing a number of things which I will share in my next post.