Still Trending Down: Computing-related graduates in Alberta

If we’re serious about shifting the Alberta Advantage, I think we need to focus on technology. If we really want to be in the sweet spot of adding lots of value, participating in the economy of the future, and being globally competitive, we need smart people who can be creative and innovative in the appropriate sectors and industries. Technology is absolutely going to be at the heart of any sector or industry that will enable us to be world-class and trendsetting, there’s just no question about it.

That’s why this graph absolutely shocked me:

The data comes from the University of Alberta, but I think it is representative of the province as a whole.

The number of students graduating in the fields of Computing Science and Computer Engineering in Alberta is trending downward, with no correction in sight. How can we build the economy of the future when the picture looks like this?

Here’s a bit more detail – with the number of graduates broken out by degree/program:

I haven’t looked, but I suspect enrollment numbers would be similar (that is, I don’t think an incredible number of students register in computing-related programs and then switch out).

Bill Gates has been talking about the need for more students to take up computer science for years now. There’s more demand than supply, even when you factor in immigration. The need for us to stay competitive in this regard is well-documented. It looks like we’re falling further behind.

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know how we get more students interested in computer-related degrees. But I do think it is important to consider this data when we talk about the success of our provincial technology sectors, and indeed when we consider shifting the Alberta Advantage.

U-Pass Facts & Figures for 2008

Last month, the City of Edmonton’s Office of the City Auditor completed a review of the Universal Transit Pass (U-Pass) pilot program (PDF). They found that although costs for the program rose, ridership has increased. I took a look at the report, and thought I’d share some of the more interesting facts and figures from it.

For those of you new to U-Pass: it’s a partnership between Edmonton Transit (ETS), St. Albert Transit (StAT), and Strathcona County Transit to provide a universal transit pass to eligible students at the University of Alberta and MacEwan. The current pilot started in the fall of 2007 and will finish up in the fall of 2010.

A total of 84,954 students were eligible in 2008 (counting both the Fall & Winter terms). Here’s the breakdown:

Here’s the revenue that each municipality received in 2008 (the City of Edmonton receives 84%, and the other two each receive 8%):

As the report was created by and for the City of Edmonton, it’s not known what, if any, service changes were made by St. Albert Transit or Strathcona County Transit (unless they too have a report somewhere). ETS made the following changes:

  • 437 service hours were added
  • 3 new routes were added
  • 19 more buses were put into service

Again, we only know the costs for the City of Edmonton. Here are the key figures for 2008:

  • U-Pass Sticker Production costs were $14,500
  • U-Pass Advertising and Promotion costs were $2,928
  • The opportunity cost of the U-Pass program, which is the loss of other ETS fare revenue, was estimated at $10,480,846
  • The cost of providing extra bus service hours was $2,571,221

Add it all up, and you get a total cost of $13,069,495. For the U-Pass program to break even, a fee of $155 per student per term would be required (up from the current $94.50).

In the Edmonton Journal, Councillor Krushell said that ridership nearly doubled from 2006 to 2008, from 7.3 million trips to 13.9 million trips. I’m not exactly sure where she got those numbers, because they aren’t in the report. What is in the report are Campus Passenger Boardings:

As you can see, boardings increased by 21,353 or 12.7% from 2006 to 2008. The report notes that some of this increase may have been caused by factors other than the U-Pass. Other non-financial positives include:

  • An 8% decrease in student parking permits at the University of Alberta since 2006
  • A greater than 8% drop in monthly parking passes at MacEwan for 2007 over 2006

And of course, there has likely been a positive impact on the environment with fewer students driving.

What’s next for the U-Pass?

Although NAIT students initially rejected the program in 2007, a recent survey indicated that a majority would now be interested in joining. The NAIT Students Association hopes to hold a referendum on the issue early next year. The expansion of the LRT to NAIT will no doubt have an impact on interest. If approved, NAIT could join the program for the 2010-2011 school year.

I suspect the program will continue after the current agreement ends, though it is likely that U-Pass fees will rise. Watch for news on a new agreement early next year – the U of A will be holding a student referendum in March to approve new fees, according to The Journal.

Restricted Access

restricted access I’m rarely on the University of Alberta campus anymore, so I only heard about the SU’s Restricted Access campaign fairly recently. The main event takes place tomorrow morning at 7 AM, roughly an hour before the U of A Board of Governors’ meeting. Students will be gathering to send a message that access to education is an issue:

The cost of a full educational experience is rapidly increasing. Mounting financial burdens are preventing a growing number of hard-working, qualified students from completing or even starting their university education. Join the Restricted Access movement and protect the right to an education that all qualified students have earned.

If ratified at the meeting, tuition will increase 4.1% next year while residence rent rates will increase 8%. Dave Cournoyer, who may be live-blogging the meeting tomorrow, says that “residence rates at the U of A will have increased by $220 per month since 2006” when the increase is approved tomorrow. That’s quite a bit!

It sounds familiar. I remember all the students protesting tuition increases back when I attended the university. And yet tuition always seemed to go up anyway. The university isn’t immune to the current financial crisis either. By March, it is estimated that the U of A’s endowments will have declined by nearly $100 million.

The increases don’t affect me directly anymore, but I still find the issue important. I’m one of many former students trying to repay student loans to the federal government:

Investments in post-secondary education must be part of the federal government’s economic recovery plan, and it must help relieve massive student debt, which on Wednesday hit $13 billion, according to the Canadian Federation of Students.

According to CFS estimates, the average student graduates with a total debt load of $25,000 to $28,000. Big numbers, indeed.

Back to the campaign. The Students’ Union has distributed red scarves and handbills to students, hung posters, and manned information booths. They’ve also made use of social media tools to help spread the word. There are over 1900 members in the Restricted Access Facebook group, and nearly 400 have confirmed attendance at tomorrow morning’s event. The SU recently created a Twitter account, and they’ve been regularly updating their blog. The website also has a form that makes it easy to send letters to MLAs. Good stuff.

As this Gateway article notes, the campaign provides a platform for future discussions:

“This project is truly broader and deeper than the yearly tuition and rent increase debates that have happened. Access is a long-term project and it’s going to take a long-term push from a lot of students to make real, substantive, systematic changes,” [SU President Janelle Morin] explained.

They’re off to a good start, I think.

If you’re a student looking to participate tomorrow, meet at the tent in Celebration Plaza (outside the Admin building on the bus loop) at 7 AM for free hot chocolate and donuts, and don’t forget to wear your red scarf!

DreamSpark: Free developer tools for students from Microsoft

software DreamSpark is an awesome new program for students that Microsoft announced today. I wish they offered something like this while I was still a student. Heck, this might even be enough to sway some folks into going back to school for a semester or two! Here’s the description from Channel 8:

For once, something that sounds too good to be true really is this good and really is true. Starting today (or soon in some areas), students worldwide will be able to download our professional development and design tools for free! It’s called DreamSpark and it is upon us.

Nathan Weinberg sums it up nicely:

We’re talking over $2,000 in free software, just for being a college student. We’re talking a huge gift to students, letting classes teach this stuff without software costs, lettings students develop software without these costs, and letting any student pick up some stuff to play around with without a monetary commitment.

It’s important to stress that these are the professional versions of the software. You get Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition and Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition, for instance. You could quite conceivably start a company while in school using Microsoft technologies and not pay a cent.

Pretty darn cool!

The program is currently available in eleven countries: Belgium, China, Finland, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. I suspect the only reason China is on that list is because so many people there get pirated versions anyway.

Microsoft has always been really proactive about courting students. Other programs include Academic Alliance, Microsoft Student Partners, and the Imagine Cup.

Read: Channel 8 (includes a video introduction with Bill Gates)

US students get Office 2007 for teh cheap!

If you’re a student in the United States with an email address ending in .edu, you can get Office Ultimate 2007 for just $59.95 USD. That’s an incredible deal considering the ERP on that SKU is about $679 USD. They call it “the ultimate steal“:

Seize the deal! Get Microsoft® Office Ultimate 2007 for just $59.95. It’s a total steal: save time and money with this premium offer. Office Ultimate 2007’s brand new features and fresh look will help you organize and get all your work done in the blink of an eye. The Ultimate Steal is finally here, so grab it now!

It sucks that the offer is open only to students south of the border. I guess students here in Canada will have to “steal” it the old fashioned way.

The other interesting part of the promo is the blogging contest. Write a blog post explaining how to you plan to use Office for your academic studies, and you could win a spring break getaway, an American Express gift card, or an Xbox 360 Elite console. Again, open only to students in the USA.

Come on Microsoft Canada, how come we don’t have cool promos like this?!

UPDATE: Disregard everything about Canada in the above text! Apparently this offer is available in Canada, and a bunch of other countries too. Their website strategy is shitty though, because the .com site totally doesn’t make that clear. The press release clearly states Canada however. I should have tried this earlier, but here it is: Cost is $64 to buy, $22 to subscribe for a year.

UPDATE 2: Okay, either I was totally blind today, or they just added this sometime this afternoon, but there are little flag icons on the top of the website. Maybe their website strategy isn’t so shitty after all! I/O error I guess…anyway, wicked deal for students, and it lasts until April 30th, 2008.

Read: the ultimate steal

Imagine Cup goes green in 2008

Post ImageThe winners of Imagine Cup 2007 were announced yesterday in South Korea. The winning team in the Software Design invitational was from Thailand. The team members are: Prachaya Phaisanwiphatpong, Vasan Chienmaneetaweesin, Jatupon Sukkasem, Pathompol Saeng-Uraiporn.

Yeah, I don’t know how to say their names either! Imagine Cup is truly an international event. Dickson and I participated a few times, winning in Canada the first year back in 2003. The competition is for students, so I can’t compete anymore, but I still like to read about it.

Next year’s event will take place in Paris, France, and the theme is hardly surprising. Yep, you guessed it, Imagine Cup is going to tackle the environment in 2008: “imagine a world where technology enables a sustainable environment.”

Actually, that’s probably a fairly difficult theme for software development. It’s easy to come up with ideas for healthcare or education related software, but much more difficult to build something that helps the environment. Here’s a decent article on the topic.

Congrats to all the 2007 winners!

Read: Imagine Cup

Facebook, school expulsions, and stupid parents

Post ImageI watched Global National tonight and ended up laughing out loud when this story aired. Turns out that a grade eleven student in Abbotsford, B.C. created a Facebook group titled “If 200 people sign this, I’ll kick (teacher Pat Mullaney) in the box.” Obviously the school wasn’t too happy about that and they suspended the student, Amanda Bunn, for three weeks only to later change their minds and expel her completely. The school even contacted police, but they decided not to investigate (smart move).

I think the school went too far here, and reacted far too strongly. But that’s not what made me LOL. It was Amanda’s father, Wally, who just cracked me up. He said he took away Amanda’s Facebook account and was “closely monitoring” her Internet use. LOL! Seriously, does he have his eye on her 24 hours a day? I highly doubt it. I don’t know what he thinks he is going to accomplish, besides maybe damaging his relationship with his daughter. If she’s like 99% of her fellow teenagers, I am sure she still has access to Facebook.

A new group has been created, called Let Amanda Bunn Back into School. Almost 300 people have joined the group, and there are over 75 wall posts (including some from Amanda’s father who, strangely enough, is posting messages under her account). This is one of the great things about Facebook – it has enabled a dialogue to take place about an unfortunate incident. Imagine if Amanda had written what she did on a poster in the school instead of on Facebook. She’d likely still be expelled, but there wouldn’t be a conversation about it taking place now.

On the other hand, had the incident not taken place on Facebook, there probably wouldn’t have been a national news story about it.

Read: Global National

MTV buys

Post ImageIf you’re a college or university student you have probably heard about The site has been around since 1999 and now boasts almost 7 million ratings from over 6000 schools, making it pretty valuable to MTV:

RateMyProfessors will become a part of MTV Network’s, an online channel of job listings, philanthropy projects, campus news, music and videos for college students, as well as a campus television production company.

Unfortunately the article doesn’t mention how much the site was purchased for.

This deal could be a very good thing, so long as MTV doesn’t screw it up. The UI could be tweaked to make it a little more interesting, but I hope they don’t start changing the way it works.

Read: CNET

Education is about grading – and that sucks

Post ImageIt is no secret that I have a lot of issues with our education system. I think there are lots of things that could be done better, especially fixing this:

“All through school, from kindergarten up, you were taught that mistakes are a bad thing. You were downgraded for the mistakes that you made.

It is perfectly apparent from what [schools] do in examinations where errors are identified, [that] education is not about learning. It is about grading. Because if they were interested in learning, they would give you the same examination back a week later, to see if you had corrected your mistakes. But they’re not interested in that, they’re interested in giving you a grade.

So it is impressed on you, mistakes are a bad thing. [Ed: And learning by making mistakes is a bad thing.]”

Russell Ackoff Talk, ISSS Cancun 2005, 49th Meeting

Experience should confirm that some of the most important lessons you learn in life come after making a mistake. Too bad the education system doesn’t feel the same way.

Note that in the above quote he doesn’t mention teachers, just schools. I know there are a lot of teachers who would rather help students learn than simply assign them a grade, but their jobs depend on assigning marks. And unfortunately, I think too many teachers put this fact (that they need to produce good test scores) ahead of the educational well-being of their students. For more on this, you should definitely read the first chapter of the wonderful Freakonomics.

Read: Nivi

Students using Wikipedia

Post ImageWikipedia has become pretty popular in the last couple years, and I am sure that most students have at least seen the site, even if they don’t use it regularly. I think the online encyclopedia is an excellent resource, full of really great information. I also think it should be treated like any other resource, whether online or offline – with caution. That said, I don’t think there’s any reason students should not use it. An intern at CNET thinks otherwise:

Wikipedia is one of the Internet’s latest additions to the information revolution. More importantly, it’s the reason I was able to finish my massive second-semester AP English research final project in less than 45 minutes.

As the deadline loomed, I knew there was no way I would be able to sort through thousands of Google search results or go to the library to research while simultaneously performing other vital homework completion functions like talking online, reading celebrity gossip and downloading music. So I did what any desperate, procrastinating student would do–I logged on to Wikipedia, pulled up the entries on Renaissance literature and filled in the gaps until I had a presentable product.

Until recently, many kids in my high school, myself included, used Wikipedia without questioning the integrity of its content. Before Colbert highlighted the unreliability of the site’s information, I doubt many people even realized it isn’t an authoritative, credible source.

So please take my advice, students: Wikipedia is a great place to find out about local bands or start doing research. However, before including Wikipedia information in a term paper or using Wikipedia entries to study for exams, make sure you support your findings with more legitimate sources.

So let me get this straight – you’re an advanced placement English student, with a major research project, and you’re waiting until the last minute? Then you rely solely on Wikipedia entries and a few blanks you filled in? As one student to another, I hope you failed. And are you really so unable to think for yourself that you just assume Wikipedia is the be all end all of accurate information? Pretty sad it takes a comedian on television to teach you that it isn’t.

Wikipedia has been found to be just as accurate as Britannica (granted, I would like to see some additional studies back this up). The difference is that Britannica entries are shorter and contain a neutral perspective, while Wikipedia entries can be longer, include multiple perspectives, links to other resources, pictures and other multimedia, and much more. Wikipedia is also able to offer a much wider range of topics, including some very specific articles on niche subjects. There’s no reason to think that Wikipedia can’t be as comprehensive or accurate as traditional encyclopedias, though it varies from article to article. In fact, on average, I bet it is better.

I guess this really isn’t so much about whether students should use Wikipedia or not – to me, it’s clear they should. The point that needs to be made is that students always need to find multiple sources for information they want to use, and they’ve always got to add something extra. Even in a research paper, a little commentary and anaylsis will help your paper rise to the top of the pile when the time comes for it to be graded.

Don’t use only Wikipedia, but don’t be afraid to use it in addition to your other resources either.

Read: CNET