Category Archives: education

University of Phoenix Commencement Speech

It’s really not nice to make fun of University of Phoenix like this, but I can’t help it:

Tosh.0 Thurs, 10pm / 9c
Congrats, Phoenix Online Graduates
www.comedycentral.com
Daniel Tosh Miss Teen South Carolina Demi Moore Picture

Disclaimer: I actually know a really smart and talented engineer who, after so many years in the industry, but no official degree, did his undergraduate degree through them so he could move on to a Master’s and I can’t blame him. Good for him.

Helicopter Parents and Gender-Neutral Housing

Here’s an unfortunate situation: Karin Morin, a Stanford student’s mother, goes to the helicopter parent extreme, writing a National Review article, complaining about her daughter’s gender neutral housing assignment. Sadly, as her daughter Daisy Morin comments herself in this New York Times blog comment and covered in this Daily article, a family argument has turned into national news. Interestingly, although gender-neutral housing is a new housing option introduced to several campus residences, gender neutral room assignments have been a part of co-op life for decades through the consensus decision-making process practiced in these houses– one of which is Columbae, where Daisy lived in a quad with another female and two males (FYI, the quad is a very large, but single room). Daisy was completely aware going into the house (or even submitting the house as a choice during the housing draw process) that a co-ed rooming situation was a possibility and knowing this, was comfortable not only living in the house, but being assigned such a room even though she was not even present at the meeting where the decision was made.

Here’s one of the most troubling paragraphs from the National Review article:

By its own terms, Stanford is failing to live up to its housing contract. As parents, Stanford holds us responsible for payment of our daughter’s bill. We, in turn, expected Stanford to enforce the terms of its own housing contract. It should not be acceptable for any group of students to alter the conditions of that contract. Furthermore, it should not be up to individual students to determine whether to protest a housing arrangement which so obviously violates this contract. There would clearly be social difficulties for any student who protested. Thus, it is Stanford that should rectify the situation.

In reality, Stanford holds the student responsible for payment of her bill, not her parents. And why shouldn’t it be up the individual student to make a complaint? If a student is unhappy with her housing assignment or feels that the housing contract has been violated, it’s up to that student to speak up. Social difficulties are a part of life and especially part of speaking your voice– if you’re not willing to endure the possible social difficulties, then you’re saying the issue is not important enough to you.

In any case, the article is riddled with unfortunate comments– when you read Daisy’s various responses to the article and if you know anything about co-op housing, which I’m sure Daisy did before choosing to live in Columbae– you’ll see that this is a parent blaming Stanford for the differences between her daughter and herself. Karin didn’t even find out about the rooming situation until the end (during winter break) and makes it sound like her daughter was unhappy with the room assignment, saying “she didn’t ask for this room arrangement” and that “she doesn’t want to upset everyone’s consensus arrangements.” She didn’t even get the reason why her daughter wasn’t at the meeting right (she appointed a proxy because she was on a plane, not because she had a friend visiting). In general, Karin expresses a sense of entitlement, that she had the right to know everything about her daughter’s life at Stanford. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works– while FERPA provides students with access and control over their education records, it also specifically limits to what parents have access. Specifically, when the child turns eighteen, the child takes responsibility of her education records and schools are not required to notify parents of general information that does not directly apply to the student or even answer questions about the student. At the end of the day, it is a rights and privacy act, with the student at the center.

Karin, in response to her daughter’s decision to live in the co-ed room during fall and winter quarter, pulled financial support for her daughter’s final quarter at Stanford, making Daisy take $3,000 in loans (in addition to the loans her original financial aid package included). Given that her daughter is, being well over eighteen, an adult, that’s certainly Karin’s prerogative, but at the same time– again, as an adult– Daisy should be free to make her own decisions. In the course of a lifetime, those few thousand dollars is a small price for Daisy to pay for her freedom and an ultimately trivial amount over which her mother is making a gesture simply to prove a point. (Ironically, her parents pulled financial support for the current spring quarter during which Daisy is actually living in a single-gender room. Co-ops often switch around room assignments each quarter as part of the consensus decision-making process.) I completely empathize and sympathize with Daisy as a member of a sometimes overbearing family and while I hope she works out this disagreement with her parents, I also hope she stays confident that she had and has the right to make her own choices.

Another Amusing Google Search: “How to Get into Stanford”

Once again, I’ve made it to the top of an interesting Google search: if you search for “getting into Stanford,” one of the top list of results is my 2005 post on How to Get into Stanford. Makes sense, given the handful emails I’ve gotten from prospective students asking for tips, especially from an alumna. I always point people to the Undergraduate Admissions website and especially to the very helpful FAQ, but I hope my post gives people some helpful advice.

(And of course, I’m still one of the top hits for “ragtotes.” w00t!)

The Stanford Copyright Integrity Initiative

If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I’ve commented often on file-sharing, copyright, and universities certainly more than a few times and while my blogging has been sparse lately, today’s announcement of “The Stanford Copyright Integrity Initiative” deserved spending some time on a blog post. The initiative was apparently “introduced by Stanford University to demonstrate the university’s leadership in efforts to strengthen the integrity of copyrights and intellectual property.” As early as a little before 10am this morning, my department (Student Computing/Residential Computing) received an email from a worried student– after reading the announcement on the front page of The Daily, the University’s student newspaper, the student visited riaa.stanford.edu (as directed in the article) and after entering his name, found that Stanford “has likely reported” his name to the RIAA, MPAA, or ESA. The student was both confused and worried– you see, after receiving his first copyright complaint a little while back, he hasn’t illegally downloaded a single song, movie or anything else! Has his computer been hacked? Did file-sharing somehow get accidentally enabled on his computer?

This truth is that this clever little stunt was part of the annual fake Daily published by the Stanford Chaparral (or the “Chappie” as it’s affectionately called), Stanford’s student humor magazine. The article is actually quite well-researched and well-written, including references to actual facts, such as the highly publicized “three strikes” policy” in which students not only face increasingly severe disciplinary actions for repeated DMCA violations and complaints, but are also charged increasing amounts of money through associated “reconnection fees.” The article also says that over thirty students have reached their third strike in the past year with settlements with the complaining record companies totaling over $100,000. While the numbers are about right– over thirty students and settlements totaling about $100,000 in the past year– they actually apply to the results of the record companies’ “pre-litigation letter” campaign that started in 2007 and in which they target college students all over the country with the threat of lawsuits. As part of the new “integrity initiative,” the article explains, Stanford is now scanning its network for DMCA violations and actively reports the culprits to the “RIAA and other appropriate authorities.” In the first day alone, the article continues, “78 unnamed students” have already been reported and the University’s IT organization “predicts that approximately 34% of Stanford undergraduates will be contacted by the end of Wednesday.” (That’s approximately 2,274 students.) The article goes on to direct students on how to find out if they’ve been flagged (via riaa.stanford.edu) and in turn, find legal help (the EFF gets a nod).

The article itself was pretty funny– Stanford, like other universities, has been spending increasing amounts of resources dealing with illegal file-sharing and copyright and personally, I think it was a good jab at how ludicrous the effects of the DMCA and intimidation tactics of the entertainment industry have become.* Just last week, I was summarizing the results from the annual undergraduate computing survey and many students commented on their dissatisfaction with the University’s handling of file-sharing and copyright issues, wishing Stanford would take a stronger stance against the RIAA and the MPAA’s efforts.

The website though… I don’t want to be a spoilsport, but aside from probably breaking some basic network usage policies (for setting up riaa.stanford.edu, use of the Stanford seal, etc.), the website took it a little too far. The reality is that since the first lawsuits targeting students (circa 2003), the University really has been stepping up their efforts to stop illegal file-sharing and punish repeat offenders and something like this initiative isn’t completely impossible. The reality is that over thirty Stanford students– peers and perhaps even friends of the Chappie staff members– really have been sent pre-litigation letters and really have had to pay approximately $100,000 in settlement deals. The reality is that the entertainment industry really is targeting college students– people who have little knowledge of their legal options and/or resources to defend themselves. When you enter your name and hit submit at riaa.stanford.edu, it looks like they use your name to randomly** give you either a thumbs up (you haven’t been reported) or thumbs down (you’ve already been reported and look forward to a letter in the next three to four weeks). I would hate to think that a student who’s already paid out thousands of dollars because of a pre-litigation letter was tricked into going to the website and got a thumbs down.

I don’t know how long the site will stay up and working, so if you’re curious, here are some screenshots, etc.:

Notes:

* If you’re curious about Stanford’s actual policies on file-sharing and copyright, check out my department’s FAQ on File-Sharing & Copyright (also used by the General Counsel’s Office as well as the Information Security Office as the University’s “official” FAQ on the issue).

** It’s pseudorandom– the algorithm they’re using is deterministic. Unfortunately, no matter what Leland Stanford, Jr. does, he will always show up reported to the authorities.

Stanford Facebook Class: 10 Million in 10 Weeks


Stanford Facebook Course Final – Stanford World Domination
Originally uploaded by sindy

I’ve been working somewhat with, among others, the instructors (especially BJ Fogg and Dan Ackerman Greenberg) for the Stanford Facebook class CS377W: Creating Engaging Facebook Apps, figuring out how to use Facebook and its application development platform to encourage development of apps to promote student life, aid in teaching and learning, reach out to alumni, and more. (My department, Student Computing, is currently running an app contest to encourage development of just those kinds of apps.) Wednesday night, I attended the class final– a full-blown presentation on the class (including the journey from the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab exploring how to computerize persuasion in 1993 to the development of the class itself), aims of the course, lessons learned, and, most importantly, the apps produced by the class’ 25 student teams.

The class has gotten a lot of hype, especially in the blogosphere, and much of it has been about how students were looking to find the secret to building the next big app and, in turn, making big money from it (check out this WREX-TV, NBC11.com video and try not to be distracted by the dumbed-down and sometimes nonsensical tech imagery for the narration). Much of the class focused on metrics and taking advantage of the viral nature of social networking sites like Facebook– aiming, for each app, a high number of users (especially daily active users) and high engagement (number of page views and time spent with the app). The apps developed, as you can tell from the phrase “10 million in 10 weeks,” were largely successful in achieving these goals with over 10 million installs, over one miliion daily active users, and a handful ranking in Facebook’s top 100 apps (out of over 10,000): Perfect Match, Send Hotness, Hugs, and KissMe (originally based on the Full Moon on the Quad tradition at Stanford). (Sorry if I missed any that reached the top 100.)

However, focusing on getting the largest number of users doesn’t always result in developing the “deepest” or most “socially meaningful” applications– as one commenter put it, even the “Stanford intellectual elite [can be] devoted to producing such monumental drivel.” (Before the Stanford-developed KissMe app, just think of the success of the unbelievably simple Zombies app.) So, instead of focusing on the apps that had the highest number of users, I want to point out two apps that are particularly socially conscious and show how to take advantage of the power of the Facebook network:

  • The Giving Tree – the developers of this app partnered with Kiva to piggy-back on the growing awareness of the power of microlending. Facebook users don’t even need to pony up their own money– instead, once 50 people have added one of the selected businesses to their profile, $25 is pushed to the business using money donated from companies.
  • Save the Rainforest – here, the developers partnered with The Nature Conservancy to take advantage of some of the time Facebook users are spending on the site everyday. Users play a vocabulary game and for every six correct answers, one square foot of the rainforest will be adopted through The Nature Conservancy’s Adopt an Acre program. As of the class’s final presentation night (December 12, 2007), 5,000 square feet had already been saved!

You, like me, are probably trying to reduce the app clutter on your Facebook profile, but if you’re going to use apps, I think these two are certainly worth it.

And with that, I leave you with a short video of Dave McClure leading the audience in The Wave to get them psyched up for the presentations:


Weirdest SWAG Ever: Ragtotes Tampon Holder


Ragtotes Tampon Holder
Originally uploaded by sindy

In the bag full of stuff at GHC, from Northwestern University Female Researchers in EECS– “At the Bleeding Edge.” We jokingly said it was a tampon holder, then we thought it was a pencil holder and then… we realized it’s right there on the box. It really is a tampon holder.

Wow.

At first I thought, a) “what corporate gift catalog do you find that in?” and b) “isn’t there collective agreement that we shouldn’t be referring to menstruation as ‘the rag’? Or is this some kind of female empowerment thing where we’re trying to claim that word back?”

Anyway, check it out: ragtotes.com.

Virtual Goods Summit 2007: Recap & Recovery



DSC_0019
Originally uploaded by jspepper

I’m slowly recovering from helping to put on the Virtual Goods Summit yesterday– got up at 5am and was running around all day, helping with everything from printing badges and registration lists, configuring and setting up computers and networking support, checking in attendees, and, most difficult of all, trying to steer a ridiculously heavy media cart with only two out of four pivoting wheels around campus and narrow building hallways. I finally got home around 7pm and went straight to make sure I drank my beer for the day (a story for another time).

But to recap on the conference itself, I didn’t get to sit in most of the sessions because of all the running around, but from what I did get to attend and from what I overheard, the very first Virtual Goods Summit seems to have been a success– all of the sessions were panels focused around a particular topic and included three to four speakers and a moderator directing the discussion. Whether it’s because virtual goods and economies are such an emerging technology and market or it’s because it was such a humble setting– the 350-person capacity basement auditorium of the Cummings Art Building on the Stanford campus (I don’t think it’s ever seen so many laptops and the network slowed to a crawl as 300+ people did God knows what during the breaks)– but as I overheard one attendee put it, unlike most conferences, there was less grandstanding (regardless of what the grandiose term “summit” might imply) and more open, honest discussion among key players in this space. Rather than what many conferences have degenerated into– simple vendor fairs and opportunities for companies to advertise and sell their products and services– it really felt like a summit: some of the most important and interesting companies and people involved in virtual goods coming together to talk about the present and future of the space.

On one hand, there was plain old valuable information– explanation of what virtual goods and economies are and how they work in their various settings, both in terms of technology (gaming, social networks, etc.) and geography/culture (especially the US and the West versus Korea and the East). On the other hand, there was also interesting discussion around current hot topics, such as the effects of money moving through and back and forth between the virtual and real worlds. These are issues that are becoming increasingly relevant to not just gamers accruing arsenals of virtual weapons or teenagers exchanging virtual gifts on social networks, but to everyone in the real world. Why? Because, as one speaker mentioned in kind of an overblown example of a Venn diagram, the virtual and real worlds are not separate and they don’t intersect per se, but rather, the virtual world is completely encompassed by the real one. In one way, the virtual world is a subset of the real world, but more simply, the better way to think of it is that they are inexorably connected– we spend real time playing games in virtual worlds and we spend real money buying virtual goods. In the end, they are all real choices with real consequences and when you realize and accept that, the line between virtual and real becomes blurred, perhaps even erased, and the discussion becomes that much more important. I look forward to much more growth in this space, much more discussion, and hopefully, another exciting summit next year.

Check out: vgsummit2007 on Flickr