I will not pay to access my assignments!

Post ImageI have three classes this term – one on MWF, one on TR, and an evening class on Wednesdays. It’s a pretty sweet schedule actually, because my weekday classes are at 3 PM and 3:30 PM which means I have most of the day to work or sleep. My first class was today, and it was ASTRO 122. It did not go so well. Here’s a rundown:

  1. The professor introduces himself. Here’s his website, and here he is on ratemyprofessors.com.
  2. While going through the course outline, he comes to the point about assignments. He says they are done completely online, using webassign.net. I’m thinking “wicked!” I hate paper.
  3. Then he says we only have access to webassign for two weeks. After that we need an access code. Apparently the code comes with the textbook or can be purchased separately for $11.

At this point, I stuck up my hand.

Me: “Are you saying that I need to pay to get access to my assignments?”
Him (hesitating): “Yeah, that’s right.”
Me: “Well that’s kind of dumb.”
Some of my classmates chuckled…

At the end of the lecture I went up to talk to him. I said that I thought it was ridiculous that I had to pay to get access to my assignments, and that this had to be against some kind of university regulation. He really didn’t say much so I went on and on and on and finally he asked if we could take this up in his office later. I said sure, and left.

The only time he really spoke as I was complaining was to disagree with me about the textbook. He said it was required, so it was assumed that I should have the code. My argument is that you are NOT required to purchase a textbook simply because a professor says it is required for the course (I have searched the Calendar and have found no such regulation). Furthermore, you are NOT required to purchase a new textbook, which would be necessary to get the access code in question.

Here is the message that the webassign website shows after I log in:

According to our records you have not entered an access code for this class. The grace period will end Monday, January 15, 2007 at 12:00 AM GMT. After that date you will no longer be able to see your WebAssign assignments or grades. After you enter an access code, you will again have access to your assignments and grades.

The assignments are worth 20% of the grade in this course. I don’t believe I should have to pay anything beyond the registration for the course in order to get access to the assignments. If there is optional material that requires an extra expense, that’s one thing. There’s absolutely no way however, that I should have to pay extra for something that counts towards my grade.

I’m going to do something about this, I’m just not sure what yet.

I almost feel like I should try to do something beyond just this single issue. The root problem here is that professors are free to use any system they like for course materials, or no system at all. What the U of A needs is a campus-wide system for courses. Something like WebCT, but better. And all professors should be required to use it. In my time at the U of A I have used WebCT, Moodle, ulearn, and many other “systems” that a professor has hacked together. It’s a truly sad state of affairs.

Feds invest $15 million in TEC Centre

Post ImageWestern Economic Diversification Canada (WD) announced today that it has invested $15 million in the TEC Centre at the University of Alberta’s Enterprise Square (for more on Enterprise Square and the TEC Centre, see my October 11th post). It is unclear just what, exactly, the money will be spent on:

This $15-million investment in TEC Edmonton and Enterprise Square is just the latest example of the “spectacular” support the university has received from all levels of government, said U of A Vice-President (Research) Dr. Gary Kachanoski, who is also chair of TEC Edmonton’s board of directors. That money comes with expectations, he said.

“We are rightly asked to do more and we simply must do more to ensure this investment translates into economic and social benefits for our community.”

I wish he could have given an example of what “doing more” entails. I expect we’ll find out more over the course of the next year. The TEC Centre will open for business in the summer of 2007.

Read: ExpressNews

Maclean's sucks up to the U of A

Post ImageI don’t know about you, but today I lost all remaining respect that I had for Maclean’s magazine. The annual ranking of Canadian universities came out, and the University of Alberta placed first in the reputational ranking. Kind of suspect, don’t you think, considering the U of A led the charge to boycott the rankings due to suspect methodologies. If there was any doubt about why the U of A and 26 other universities chose to boycott the ranking, I think it’s gone now. Nothing says guilty like sucking up.

If you’d like to see past results, the University of Waterloo has a handy page with all the data – not surprising considering they have ranked first in 13 out of 16 years the rankings have been produced.

For its part, the University of Alberta stands by the earlier decision, though Provost and Vice President (Academic) Carl Amrhein said placing first “certainly feels good.” I guess that’s a fairly diplomatic answer.

Read: Maclean’s

TEC Connector 2006

Post ImageThis afternoon was TEC Edmonton’s annual TEC Connector networking event, and for the second year in a row, Dickson and I decided to go. We were actually invited to setup a booth for Paramagnus, but we opted to just mingle instead. The TEC Connector is kind of an important event for me, because I consider it the start of our adventure with VenturePrize.

There seemed to be more people this year, and also unlike last year, we actually knew a few of them this time! It was nice to reconnect with some of the very smart and very interesting people we have met over the last year. These kinds of networking events are funny in a way, because you can meet some great people, but they also show just how small Edmonton can be. There are more familiar faces than unfamiliar ones.

There was some talk today about VenturePrize and the new student category that has been launched. I think it’s great that the program is expanding! Dickson and I will be one of the featured presenters in this year’s VenturePrize seminar series, an opportunity I am really looking forward to. We’ll be sharing our story with this year’s participants on November 1st.

Read: TEC Edmonton

Some details on Enterprise Square

Post ImageI attended an information session put on by TEC Edmonton today, where I learned some more details about the recently named Enterprise Square. TEC Edmonton will be the largest tenant in the new building, and while the session today was geared more towards their Research Transition Facility (RTF) clients, I still learned a lot. First and foremost, the name RTF will cease to exist when TEC Edmonton moves downtown in August of 2007. The new name will simply be “TEC Centre”.

One of the more interesting aspects of the presentation was that they shared artist drawings and some preliminary floorplans for the building. I unfortunately don’t have any pictures of the floorplans, but I do have scans of the drawings – here’s the outside of the building, and here’s part of the inside. If you look really closely, you might notice the following:

  • They have added a lot of windows to the second and third floors to try and bring in some more daylight.
  • A completely new fourth floor is currently being added. It will be constructed of steel on top of the existing concrete structure, and the sides will be completely covered in glass.
  • Instead of a skylight on the roof, they are building 13-foot high glass structures to allow daylight to flow into the building.
  • New elevators will be completely enclosed in glass, and existing escalators are being refurbished.

You’ll note the number of times I mentioned daylight. The existing Bay building was meant to be a department store, and so the focus was entirely retail. As a result, very few windows were built. Actually, I learned some interesting things about the building itself too. It is entirely built of concrete, and was constructed in two parts. The southern half was built in 1939, and the northern half was added in 1952. The familiar “coat of arms” on the southeast corner of the building will be preserved, along with a number of other features in order to meet the City of Edmonton’s restrictions for historic buildings.

Enterprise Square will offer about 350,000 square feet of space when complete, which should free up at least 150,000 square feet of space on the main university campus (which is good considering more academic space is badly needed). Here is the tenant list:

  • TEC Centre tenants & TEC Edmonton
  • U of A Faculty of Extension (completely moving downtown)
  • U of A School of Business Executive Education Program and the Alberta Business Family Institute
  • U of A Design Gallery, Arts Faculty
  • U of A Advancement Services
  • Art Gallery of Alberta (temporary, until the new Art Gallery is complete)
  • CHUM (Citytv and The Bounce, which already occupy space in the building)

As you can guess from the list, there will be at least some classroom space in Enterprise Square, used by the Faculty of Extension and the School of Business. Whether it will be available for use like space on the main campus remains to be seen.

President Samarasekera fast-tracked the project a while ago, and has made a number of her own requests (such as open spaces for lots of “hustle and bustle” on the main floor). The construction schedule really is aggresive, with blueprints for the interior to be completed in November and construction to begin in January (Stantec is handling the project). Tenants will start moving in over the summer. Dr. Samarasekera sure knows how to crack the whip it seems!

At this stage of the game, nothing is perfectly set in stone, but it’s getting closer. I expect in January you’ll really start to notice a difference if you pass by the building. And hopefully by August we’ll be able to take a good look at one of the newest additions to the University of Alberta!

University of Alberta unveils Enterprise Square

Post ImageJust over a year ago, I posted that the University of Alberta had officially purchased the Hudson’s Bay building in downtown Edmonton. At the time, officials said the first tenants would be able to move in within 12 to 18 months. It appears things are more or less on track:

At a downtown ceremony Thursday, the University of Alberta unveiled the new name for its downtown building with a flourish.

A large sign was lowered from the second level of Commerce Place above the rotunda, bearing the name “Enterprise Square.”

The name was chosen to reflect a bunch of things, including academic enterprise working alongside the private, and the enterprising spirit of Edmonton.

Renovations at the historic site continue, and are expected to be complete in the summer of 2007 with tenants moving in shortly thereafter. Once finished, roughly 430,000 square feet of space will have been renovated and made available in just 24 months. The project is definitely impressive.

On October 11th, TEC Edmonton (which will be the building’s largest tenant) is hosting an information session at their current location on the university campus. I am registered and planning to attend. For more information or to register for the event, click here.

Read: ExpressNews

My final school year begins

Post ImageI started what had better be my final year of University yesterday. Three classes on Monday/Wednesday/Friday, and one on Tuesday/Thursday. In every single one, the first class was just a review of the course outline and nothing else. In a way that was good, because we got to leave early, but in a way it was bad too – I had lots of time to kill yesterday. Here are some notes about the “back to school” experience thus far:

  • This year is going to be great: I can walk from my house (remember, I just moved) to class in Tory (northernmost part of campus) in under 20 minutes.
  • I am always amused by the first years running around like crazy people, worried because they don’t know where their class is. I was probably like that too, I know. I think part of the problem is orientation – the University itself should offer a simple, no-frills orientation that is a tour of campus and getting your ID card and nothing else. The SU puts a lot of work into their orientation events, but I skipped mine because there was too much “lets all be friends and sing songs and dance and play games and wear stickers all day.” I wonder if lots of students skip orientation?
  • Wireless in CAB seems much faster than it used to be. Maybe it’s just that hardly anyone was using it on the first day?
  • Also on the topic of CAB (I had to stop there, for old times sake) I found out you can buy stuff from the cafeteria using your OneCard now! Apparently this isn’t a brand new development…but it’s not like I was really on campus last year to know that 🙂
  • I met Andrew, Megan and Renee for lunch at the PowerPlant. It was good to see them and we had a good time, but the service was absolutely horrible. The Plant has a “new look” and stuff this year, but they apparently chose to ignore how impossibly slow their service is. I remember now why I stopped going there. Next time we’re gonna try the new Hudson’s (where Scholars used to be).
  • Construction on the new Sciences building is moving along! Well sort of, the are still demolishing the old buildings, but still, it was a very busy and active place.

Now that the “course outline classes” are finished, the real lectures will begin tomorrow. I am taking two 300-level economics courses this term, a first year astronomy course, and a 200-level EAS course (as you can probably tell I am filling in the gaps for my program requirements). So far it’s a tossup between the astronomy course and the environmental economics course for which one looks most interesting. Astronomy is the clear winner in terms of scenery though 😉

Featured in ExpressNews

Post ImageDickson did an interview recently with a reporter from the University of Alberta’s ExpressNews, and the article featuring Paramagnus and our business plan competition success is now up:

A couple of University of Alberta students are starting to hear the sweet sounds of success.

The business world has been tuning in to Mack Male and Dickson Wong ever since the duo’s innovative podcast technology earned a place in the VenturePrize finals.

The article borrows heavily from the recent Journal and Sun articles, but is still very well written. And to be honest, it’s nice to be recognized by your school!

Read: ExpressNews

Breakfast with Indira

If you’re a student at the University of Alberta and you’ve been itching to share something with the woman in charge, you may be in luck! University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera is inviting all students to a special breakfast event:

I’m writing you today with an invitation. I am planning a Breakfast Roundtable meeting just for students on Tuesday, April 18th from 7:30-8:30 a.m. in the Saskatchewan Room of the Faculty Club. Please come, if you are able. Over a continental breakfast, we can discuss some of the issues and challenges you face, and I can hear your bright and creative ideas for enriching the student experience.

Please RSVP by e-mail to jackie.wright@ualberta.ca or by phone at 492-1525.

I wonder how many students will actually end up attending this event. I am tempted to go simply to suggest that she not ever have a roundtable like this so early in the morning ever again! I mean, 7:30 AM? I might as well not go to sleep the night before if I am going to attend! On second thought, that’s probably why it is so early, so that there are fewer students willing to get up and go.

Read: UAlberta

U of A ExpressNews Podcast

Post ImageAs Dickson mentioned yesterday, the University of Alberta has decided to get more involved with podcasting, joining many other universities like Duke, Princeton, UBC, and the University of Western Ontario. The brand new ExpressNews podcast is a project of the UofA’s Office of Public Affairs:

Stories in the inaugural newscast include a fascinating interview with forestry researcher Dr. Mel Tyree, complete with the sound of trees drinking; a Parkland Institute report calling for a five-year moratorium on new oilsands projects, a reading by former U of A writer-in-residence David Adams Richards, and more.

The coming weeks will see a greater expansion of the podcast, with the development of a web page dedicated to audio and video files.

This podcast will probably become the U of A’s most well known, but it was not the first. Our ever-ahead-of-the-game Library has been experimenting with podcasting since September of 2005, and the Library site is full of links to other podcasts from around the world.

I’m really happy that my school has seen the light and will start podcasting. I only wish that Paramagnus could have helped them do it!

Read: U of A ExpressNews