Collaborative Tools Used at Work

I am currently taking a graduate course online called “Computers, problem solving, and cooperative learning.” We use collaborative tools to work together remotely, since we never have any in class sessions. We use a motley crew of sites to collaborate, including wiki’s and websites like flickr and; and our main tool for communication is the discussion forums on the education management platform, Blackboard. I find that our collaboration is very poor and the tools we use are not ideal for collaboration, which is pretty unfortunate given the title of the class.

It is also slightly frustrating to use these tools because I work at a company that allows employees to work remotely. We need collaborative online tools that allow remote employees to connect with the rest of us. I find the tools we use for work are much more effective than the ones we use in class, and if we started using these tools we might have an easier time communicating with each other.  Here are a few our favorite company-wide tools for collaboration. Most of these tools are free or almost free, and you’ve probably heard of all of them.

1. Gmail and Google Apps: Most collaborative documentation in our organization is shared via Google Docs, Slideshows or Spreadsheets. With Gmail for business you automatically have all of your companies employees as contacts when you first join with company. Google Calendar is also such an important tool for planning and keeping everyone connected.

2. Skype: If someone is working from home or working remotely when we have a scheduled meeting, we always Skype them in to the conversation. We have tried Google Hangouts, but we’ve had better luck with Skype.

3. Trello: To collaborate on a project you need to have some sort of  task manager. bitly is an online tool, so our boards have topics like, “Bugs” for problems with the site,  “Current Development” for things that are being worked on currently. Underneath the title are columns that represent different stages of the process, for example a “Next Up” column for things that are prioritized next in the production pipeline. This allows you to see what your coworkers are doing, and you can share the progress you have made on your projects.


4. HipChat: We use HipChat as our instant messaging service at work. I think having a group instant message service is key to strong communication. You can quickly grab someones attention when you need it, and for people who have desks far apart that may rarely talk to each other, it allows them to connect in an online chat room. HipChat is $2.00 per user per month, and free for teams of up to 5 users. You can also include a variety of emoticons and gifs, but that’s just a perk.

We try to use as few tools as possible to ensure each tool is actually used efficiently. What tools do you find useful for collaboration with others?

The President using Social Media

Most of the country underestimates the influence of social media, which is understandable. Twitter can just as easily be a place to share a photo of your sandwich as it can be a place to engage in educated discourse. On December 3rd Obama took a small amount of time to head to Twitter to answer various questions that Twitter users (and American citizens) had about Obama’s proposed plan to extend middle-class tax cuts while ending them for those with $250,000+/yr incomes. See an overview of the conversation here.

Photo from the White House blog

A great thing about Twitter is that with hardly any time, effort, or money, you can reach a very large audience. You can also reach a young audience that doesn’t always have cable or a newspaper subscription. I applaud Obama, and his team who suggested this idea to him, for taking the time to use social media to engage an audience that may otherwise ignore this issue all together.

It’s one thing to use AMA on Reddit to answer questions before the election (which I also thought was a cool idea) but it’s even better that Obama has continued to use social media in an attempt to keep the country informed on his ideas and proposed policies.  I’m happy that our President recognizes the potential impact that social media can have, and  understands how to use it in an effective way.

Focusing on my “Passion Project”

I started volunteering for NY Creative Interns in June. I discovered the organization in January while rather franticly trying to get a job and make something of myself. Soon after that I started at ShowMe and stopped attending events but continued to followed them online. In April I saw all the photographs and recaps from their large Find and Follow Your Passion conference, and I decided it was time again to get involved. For purely financial reasons it seemed to more practical to volunteer my time than my money to attend the events. I volunteered to write recap blog posts from their events and now I also get my name attributed to their weekly opportunities post. (Which is skillful copy and pasting at the most- but it’s something!) But I’ve also had the chance to attend many different events and get to know a handful of really nice, motivated people that volunteer as well. It was a great decision.

A large chunk of the volunteers. Photo by Yael Malka 

Last Saturday, November 10th, NY Creative Interns held their second Find and Follow Your Passion conference at Pratt Institute. There were talks about all sorts of things like navigating a new job, finding your self-worth, social Media tools to help you network ‘IRL’ (in real life) and more. I lucked out and was given the task of managing a session room- so I got to sit my butt down and hear four great talks. I loved all four discussions I sat in on but the one that stuck with me most was called ‘Creative Alchemy: Convert Opportunities into Career Gold‘ and was lead by  Monica Lo, Senior Art Director at kbs+ and Megan Nuttall, Senior Writer at kbs+. I’ll be honest I was skeptical of this talk before it started due to the name, but the talk was perfect for me. Unlike a lot of the conference attendees I’m fortunate to currently hold a job I really enjoy, and I’m working towards a degree that should hopefully lead to a “dream” job in the future. I feel like I’m already headed in the right direct to successfully find and follow my passion. So the one thing that these ladies said that really stuck with me was that you need to find your Passion Project.

Monica maintains a food blog and Meagan loves to craft. These aren’t just their interests- these were the first things they shared with us when they introduced themselves at the beginning of their talk, they were passionate about these things. These were two girls who seem to really enjoy their job and have an awesome opportunity to work together as a team at their agency. And while they both enjoy their positions, they still spent a large portion of their discussion talking about the importance of finding your passions and doing what you love outside of the workplace.

So my #1 take-away from the conference was a motivation to begin working on more things I love, like crafting and beauty.  And I’m even contemplating starting a beauty, fashion and crafting blog next year. It sounds a little silly but this blog Merrick’s Art is one of my favorite things on the internet. I wake up every morning and hope she wrote something on her blog  about refashioning a dress, or copying a craft from pinterest, that I can read with coffee. I have a few other blogs I love but hers is my favorite. Is it deep? Not really. Will it drastically change the word for the better? Most likely not. Does it make me happy? YES. And if I work on things that make me happy that I’m passionate about I’ll perform better at work, do well in school, and I’ll better off all around. So while many attendees  were looking for career advice at this conference, I was able to take away something non-career related, but equally as valuable towards helping my find my passion.

Research Questions

I recently started grad school at the Teachers College at Columbia. I am going to be studying Instructional Technology and Media, and I plan on learning how to effectively assess the impact of technology in schools.

I’m going to grad school super part time (4 credits currently!) for a few different reasons.

  1. I was flustered around this time last year, wondering what I was doing with my life, and figured I’d apply to only one grad school. One was enough!
  2. I need to get a Masters degree at some point if I still have dreams of one day being a teacher.
  3. I think this program will provide useful skills if I want to go back into the classroom (we’ll discuss current policies, theories, and strategies for educational research and implementation) or if I want to stay in technology or start-ups. (I’ll learn research skills that are applicable anywhere, and I have a few required Javascript courses I’ll have to take. I might even learn some basic programing.)
  4. If you go to grad school super part-time you have a lot more time to earn the $$$ to go there. 😉

One burning question I’d love to help research and answer is: How Effective is Teacher lead Professional Development? When I worked at ShowMe I went to ISTE and TEDxNYED and edCamp. These are all teacher lead professional development events (Well, ISTE is a lot of things) and I’ve participated in #edchat and other education twitter chats. The teachers that participate were engaged and excited to share what they’ve done in their classrooms.Obviously these teachers are the early adaptors, the mavens, the innovators. Most teachers are not like them. But I’m interested to see more mandatory, well-structured, teacher-lead professional development in schools.

Think of it as after school show and tell; the teachers share any PD they’ve recently attended and what they found useful. They can also share any failures or successes they’ve experienced trying a different tool, policy or strategy in the classroom. Everyone loves talking about “bad” teachers these days, but I think very few teachers are actually “bad.” Many are  just not innovative and stuck in their old ways. Teaching is a rather independent profession and you can get stuck in a bubble believing that what you do is working, simply because students are passing a test or sitting quietly. If all teachers heard what more adventurous, innovative, teachers are doing in the classroom it could at least give them the inspiration and opportunity to change their classroom as well.

But for now this is a complete hypothesis. I can chat all I want, but I’ll need some data to back this up. So perhaps this is a research question I’ll be working on for the rest of my time at Columbia. Or maybe I’ll change my mind tomorrow. Either way I’ll keep you updated.

City Living

I moved into my first NYC apartment on August 4th. A year and one week ago I started my internship at foursquare, so it’s been almost an entire year (minus a break in the late fall) that I’ve been commuting to the city 5 days per week.

This morning I woke up at 5:45am. At 6:00 I looked at the clock and realized I wasn’t going to fall back to sleep. The day was nice so I decided I would go for a run in Central Park. I live two avenues away from the park but I hadn’t visited yet since I moved in. The run was lovely as I ran past a large pond (I’m sure it has an official name), weeping willows, dog owners, and other runners of all ages and sizes.  Running is actually easier in the city than at home where everything is so hilly!

It’s been nice to easily stay after at work to do something with coworkers or go to an event. I never have to drive or worry about train times.

So although I’ve sort of been in the city for over a year, I’m excited to finally be here full time. I’ll build stronger relationships, meet more people, do more things and really making the most of those 3 hours I’m not spending on a train everyday. And my back appreciates it!

My response to “Why Every Social Media Manager Should be Under 25”

I am blown away by how seriously people have taken this post “Why Every Social Media Manager Should be Under 25” by Cathryn Sloane, a recent college graduate who writes part time for NextGen and has even had her work featured in USA TODAY.

In short Sloane argues that her generation (my generation) understands social media better than any other generation, because we grew up with it and used it before anyone else for social purposes.

That argument is okay, if she had put in any effort at all to make it compelling. The article uses no facts, and instead makes  judgements and assumptions the whole way through. Kat French makes a great point in her rebuttal post, that it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid using hyperbole and absolutes in journalism. Sloane uses absolutes a few times throughout the piece.

“incorporating comforting social aspects into professional usage seems to go over several companies’ heads”

“Several” is the key word here. There are a few companies that have bombed social media, but it’s not a huge gaping problem in America. Adults are not running wild ruining social media for the youth as they spew corporate, non-social stuff into our Facebook and Twitter feeds.

When I read this article I read something that appeared to be quickly put together, proof read for typos, and posted online. It’s not horrendous by any means, it just…not very good. This girl has written dozens of other articles for NextGen, most receiving 2 comments max. Maybe she even wrote the post because she wanted to spice things up and start some conversation and debate in the comments. She was not expecting a huge backlash from adults.

I read the comments and some of them are just plain stupid. I understand why people generalize my entire generation in the comments- look at the article they are commenting on. But it still peeves me. This girl wrote a stupid article, so please don’t associate the rest of my age group with this article, and don’t claim that my generation is “entitled.”

Entitled people come from all walks of life and are of all ages. In some ways my generation has it very cushy. But you also have to remember that some people ages 20-25 are up to their eyeballs in student loan debt and are working minimum wage jobs to cover the interest payments. We are the same generation that is working 40 hours per week in unpaid internships. And I’m not just talking about those of us who majored in Classical Roman Studies: I’m talking about those of us who majored in education, finance, business, communications, political science, etc. Majors that others had told us would lead to jobs. I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m just equally frustrated by misunderstandings, the same way these adults are annoyed at this stupid article by Sloane.

As for my personal opinion on the actual topic of the article? I’ve had an interest in social media since 8th grade. I do think it’s an advantage that I had my high school years to waste away hours on my xanga blog, photobucket account and myspace page. Social Media comes easily to me, I pick it up fast and understand the pro’s and con’s of different platforms. It comes so easily that sometimes I’m blown away that I get paid to use it at work. But it has certainly helped me to work with adults (mostly young adults, I have to admit) that have a background in customer service and marketing, to learn how to most efficiently use these platforms in a work environment. I still have weak points in many areas, and it’s been great to practice using social media both for personal branding (yuck, I hate saying that) and as a way to help build engaged communities around a product. I think my co-workers appreciate how young I am, and I appreciate the mature demeanor and experience they show me daily.

In a time where the CEO of facebook just turned 28, it’s pretty obvious that we can’t assume any position should be filled with people above or below a certain age. I know this, and most 22 year olds know this. So please don’t assume we are all entitled idiots because of one silly piece of unconvincing writing.

Last May

I graduated from college May 2011 and it is now July 2012. This past month has been weird because I’ve been saying “I graduated last May” for over a year… and just recently this became a false statement. I’m still a “recent” graduate, but not as recent as I used to be and it’s getting harder and harder to use that as a security blanket to hide behind when things aren’t going my way.

Friday was my last day at ShowMe, where I’ve worked since March and interned since the winter. I have one week off before I start a new job (I’ll talk more about it later) next Monday.

In the past year I’ve had 4 internships and 3 jobs, two of which were just to make $$. (Lifeguarding, Retail). I applied and was accepted to one Grad school that I’ll start attending part-time in September. I signed one lease for an apartment on the Upper West Side this past Thursday. I’ve met dozens of new people, some important, some not so much. I now actually have a few “connections” I met on my own.

When it comes to my family and friends I feel very comfortable, hardly nothing has changed in that department except I’ve gained a few new friends this year. I’m happy to say I’ve kept in good contact with my college friends and my friends from home too. My family is the same and even after living at home for a year after college they still like me and I still like them, haha.

Sometimes I can get so stressed out about career minded things. Am I working in a place I want to be? What will I do in the future? Am I working efficiently?  Can I please stay in the same place for longer than 4 months?! I’ll compare myself to other people. (you shouldn’t do it- but most people do) Sometimes I just have to take a step back and say- You know what? Things are good. They aren’t perfect but they never will be, and at 22 years old I’d say things are working out OK.


Volunteering for NY Creative Interns

Last month I decided I would start volunteering for NY Creative Interns. I found out about the organization right before I landed two internships this January. I went to one mixer and enjoyed myself. I wanted to keep attending the events, but I thought a volunteer position would actually allow me to grow closer to the community and I could offer my time instead of my money to go to the events. I’ve volunteered to blog (surprise, surprise) recaps of events that I attend. So far I’ve gone to two events and gained some writing publicity in the process!

Here I just wanted to share my two posts:

#RecentGradHustle: The Art of Hustle And Making Your Dreams a Reality!
The June 12th Skillshare class Hustle 101: Networking for Recent College Grads was a fun way to learn how to take advantage of opportunities around us by attending interesting events and connecting with awesome new people after graduation. Here are some key take-aways I had from our class on Tuesday.

Become an “Intrepreneur”: How to Make an Impact in Your Workplace 
On Wednesday June 7th at the NY Creative Interns June Mixer, Blair Cobb, AOL’s Senior Director of Cause Marketing, shared her inspiring story of creating great change in an already existing company when she began the Cause Marketing program at AOL in 2010.

Book Review: How To Be Black

After reading The Hunger Games in March I got on a large reading kick, so i think I’m going to post a few book reviews in the upcoming days about the books I’ve read recently.

First up, “How To Be Black” by Baratunde Thurston. I decided to read the book after I watched this talk he gave at the Skillshare Penny Conference in April. (watch it!)

Until a few weeks ago Thurston was the director of digital at The Onion, and there definitely a lot of satire to this piece. Obviously no one can actually tell you how to be black but throughout this book you see that is exactally what all people, black/white/other,  do to black people constantly in our society. Thurston himself actually comes from a really interesting background; he grew up in a bad area of DC and his father was murdered when he was young. During middle school his mother decided to move to a nicer area and sent him to the same private school Chelsea Clinton and the Obama girls both attend(ed). His mother also gave him a Nigerian name (he is not Nigerian) and made him go to African Culture classes on the weekends. Finally, he went to Harvard, worked for The Crimson (the collegiate paper at Harvard) and eventually became the director of digital at The Onion and helped start the Jack & Jill Politics blog. He beholds a really nice mix of several different stereotypical qualities  you might attribute to what black people are like (whatever that means).

In the book Thurston also interviews other prominent comedians, authors, and political activists who are black and tend to discuss their race in writings/speaking. While I greatly enjoyed Thurstons personal stories in the book, the anecdotes from other people did nothing for me. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t know who they were so they all kind of jumbled into one or two people for me.  (It’s on my to-do list to look of their work, especially the stand up comedians he interviewed.) Near the end of the book the content focuses a lot more on the people he’s interviewed and less on him, and I guess I just really wanted to read about him most of the time.

This book is funny and honest, a quick read, and for most of the book it is very entertaining. I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested. I still struggle with the issues of race and what it means for me, a white middle class girl in this country- I have no answers for you now. But I enjoyed reading about Baratunde’s experiences, and I appreciate him sharing them with us.

Student Loan Debt

Student loan debt is a hot topic these days. Recent graduates have a lot of debt but not a lot of job prospects. The average debt in 2011 was $23,300. Roughly 54% of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. I was in that category until recently, and many of my friends are struggling to find a job. Last Friday the NY Times released a short video interviewing three recent New Paltz graduates that were drowning in debt.  That obviously hit close to home.

I am so lucky and fortunate for several reasons. My family was able to pay for my education and I don’t have any loans to pay.  I really wanted to go to Bucknell University in high school. I did well and a lot of my friends were heading off to big name state schools or private schools. Bucknell had a great campus and a $40,000 per year tuition price tag. I remember my parents telling me they would try as hard as they could to pay for me to go if I got in. In hindsight I am happy to say I was rejected, so I never had to decide whether to go to a prestigious private school or a SUNY. Four years of New Paltz tuition was less than a year at Bucknell.

Who’s to blame for all this college debt? Well first, it does no good to place blame on anyone since these recent graduates are stuck with this regardless. Because they are stuck with this it is easy to place blame on them. When I was watching the New Paltz video the NY Times posted even I thought “Why did you spend $60,000 for an Art History degree? C’mon now!” But I started college in 2007, a year before the recession started. We had been bred since middle school to become college students. Adults gave us this idea that college was the golden ticket to the sweet life, we just had to get a decent SAT score, pass our finals and join a sport or club. Once we were accepted to college we would therefore be guaranteed a job upon graduation and we would be quickly reaping up those millions of additional dollars you earn over the course of your lifetime thanks to our degrees. And the better the college we attended, the better our lives would turn out. Any price tag was worth it!

This might sound suspicious for you, an adult, who has learned that adults can often be incorrect and misguided, just like kids. However, at 16 and 17 years old this can sound like a completely logical game plan. Senior year of high school is all about comparing your SAT scores to colleges in your range. You have “reach” schools, “good fits” and finally, “safety” schools. Getting into a reach school was amazing, being stuck with a safety schools seemed like failure. (At my high school most of our safety schools were state schools and community colleges, the ones with a lower price tag! But we didn’t see it that way.)

After we found out our fate, our parents often had good sense and helped us make a decision based on a combination of school fit and price tag. After time and consideration I decided that New Paltz was worth the bang for its considerably smaller buck, it had a decent education program and four years later I graduated with a degree and great friends and memories.

Sometimes I think about what I would have done if I had to pay for college myself. At 17 years old I worked at a West Point gift shop on the weekends and I made an average of about $100 every two weeks. I can’t imagine how overwhelming it must have been to take out loans. The actual weight of amounts like $23,000 are foreign to the average 17 year old. We had been told our whole lives that we should go to good schools, the schools most have heard of often cost upwards of $40,000 or more. If that’s their price than you would assume it is reasonable- maybe it’s not as much money as your 17 year old self seems to think it is. One year on the job after college and this will all be paid off…

After the economy sank we can now see that this student loan debt really can’t work. I want us to change this ridiculous mindset. The average cost of a private school in the 2011-2012 school year was $27,340. The average starting salary for 2011 graduates was $41,701. I don’t see why you would pay more to go to college than what you make in your first year on the job.

The United States is a free country, and if you want to and can pay $30k per year tuition, it should be an option. But this should not be the norm by any means. It shouldn’t matter the name of the school but the worth of the student who attended it. With all of the publicity going towards student loan debt, I hope it has helped high school graduates and their parents realize what a disaster large amounts of student loans are. I hope strong students are attending schools within their financial means and that this is the norm, not the exception. State schools are great. Community Colleges are a valuable and necessary option for many. Going to school part time while working is commendable. Working a few years before going to college should be valued as well. We need to stop allowing our high schoolers to be so jaded and help them see that college can be their first big financial investment. A lot of the same students that took out student loans would never buy a car without having an income, yet they thought they were doing the right thing to buy their college education without one.

Just some food for thought. I’m a little sad because I feel like my generation was somehow tricked, and I hope all these kids are able to stay afloat.