Another year, another shift

And another round of classes begin in SJMSOM. In fact, they began last week itself (22nd July). This semester is filled with elective courses, and I’ve opted for Systems, Marketing and General Management courses. I’m also doing the Photo Communication course offered by the IDC, and it should be a useful learning. We’ve also kick-started our club sessions this week with experience sharing sessions from my batch. SOM11 has also joined, and they outnumbered my batch by almost a score. In fact the freshers’ party is scheduled this Sunday.

As for the shift that I mentioned, it was the hostel shift. The entire SOM senior batch was transferred from Hostel-1 to Hostel-13. So, all of us now have single rooms. I was one of the few to have enjoyed a single room in Hostel-1. This was due to a roof leak during the monsoons last year when my side of the roof started dripping and I moved out to another leak-free room. It is quite a coincidence that I once again ended up with a room closest to the bathroom. It does have its advantages I suppose. Hostel-13 is a pretty good place to be in though it is at the fag end of the campus. The bus passes come in handy over here and the mess (shared with Hostel-12) is also pretty good.

There are quite a few things lined up this semester other than the academics. We had the Finance and Marketing Continuum a couple of weeks ago. There’ll also be industry interaction sessions over the course of the semester along with the usual club meets. The big event will be AVENUES 09, our annual fest at the end of October. As of now, I’m helping out with the IT work and the IT event (HarIT). We’ve also started a twitter stream for our school that’s gaining traction gradually and we’re chalking out the policy and publicity strategy for it. It will definitely help us open up a new and more interactive channel for both the SJMSOM members and the external world. Let’s see how that goes.

University 2.0 ideas

In the last few weeks, I’ve come across quite a few presentations regarding University 2.0 (links: 1 2). They seek to make use of several Web 2.0 technologies, that have become popular in the last 2-3 years, for educational institutions. This idea seems quite interesting to me, especially because I was trying to get some of those technologies like wikis and blogs implemented for our b-school. I have another year and a half of my course remaining, and I hope to implement as many of them as I can with help of my classmates and others from the school.

So, here’s a a basic outline of the ideas:

LinkedIn profiles

LinkedIn has become a standard in professional social networks, and it is quite important for professionals to have an up to date LinkedIn profile. My idea is to get everyone to set up their profiles and put the links on our school student profile pages.

Student & Faculty introduction videos

This will make the profiles richer, and should definitely look better than having just static photographs. There are several online video sharing sites, and any of them could be used for this purpose. It could be done initially for the students who are part of different committees, and later expanded for the others depending on the response.

Social network groups

There are several social networks out there like orkut, facebook etc, and our school has a group on each of them. They need to be streamlined a bit and kept up to date. The links to the groups could also be placed on the official school site to gain better visibility.

Online magazine

We have a school magazine L!VE that is published both physically and electronically. However, the electronic version is in a pdf form with only a few of the articles being published in html form. My intention is to make use of  a blogging platform to publish our magazine online. This will not only increase the visibility of the magazine, but also facilitate interaction on the articles and get the content indexed on search engines. WordPress seems to be an ideal platform for this purpose, and there are quite a lot of magazine themes for this purpose.

School blog

Currently we do not have a blog for our school. However, we do make use of blogs during our annual b-school fest like we did for AVENUES 08 this time. The idea here is to make blogging a continuous phenomenon. This should again facilitate interaction, increase visibility, and keeps notifications up to date.

Wiki

I had already started a wiki some time back, and did manage to put up some content on it. Over time, it can become a very important knowledge repository with different kinds of information on our school.

Once set up, these avenues should definitely help the school from different aspects. Moreover, most of these services can be setup or for free. There are of course several other services that can be used in addition to the ones mentioned here like photo sharing, social bookmarking etc. So, the main investment required will be time, which is quite an important commodity in management courses :-).

However, there are several challenges and constraints to be overcome before these become a reality, the biggest of which is going to be getting participation and garnering critical mass from the various stakeholders so that this initiative can be sustained in the long run.

Do education institutes need wikis?

Now that many companies have adopted wikis internally and are beginning to understand their power, why should education institutes be left behind. After all, the knowledge density in education institutes is bound to be as high as, if not higher, than in most companies. Moreover, content creation is part of any education process, and a wiki is an ideal medium for refining the content and making it available to a wide audience. So, what are the stumbling blocks in the widespread adoption of wiki or any knowledge/content management system for that matter?

Challenges

IBM has WikiCentral, an internal deployment of the Confluence wiki, and I was one of its 125,000+ users. We had wikis for our project, our team and various initiatives. In fact most of the documentation, FAQs etc of our project were on the wiki. So, we could easily refer to them and keep them up to date at the same time.

However, I have found a couple of limitations in wikis during my stint with IBM. Firstly, a wiki (barring wikipedia) is not the reference source (no prizes for guess the first) which means that even if we manage to aggregate a wealth of information, not too many people are going to actually refer to it. This can be tackled in some ways through publicity, which is precisely what was done in IBM. The second and biggest problem is the content creation part which is due to the lack sufficient contributors. Even wikipedia faces this problem (different scales though). I have ended up being one of the handful of contributors to quite a few wikis.

Wiki for SJMSOM

Finding the critical mass of contributors to sustain a wiki is the toughest challenge, and it gets even tougher with a tiny user base. However, I have not yet given up on wikis :-), and now that I am back to being a student, I find that a wiki is an ideal fit for this environment. There is a lot of information that is exchanged among students, and most of this would be of value in the future too. However, this information in the form of emails and verbal communication which makes the persistence quite low. So, a wiki with its persistence and ease of editing is an ideal medium to store all this information.

I did some exploration of different wiki options on the internet, and found two that were well suited: Wikia and Zoho. In fact, Wikia already has a section for students. However, Zoho has better access control (supports domain level access control), and I chose it as the platform for my b-school wiki. Of course an internal wiki deployment would have been ideal, but I’m just doing this as an experiment to see if it works out.

I have been doing some work on it, and the support for HTML embeds is quite handy for adding different widgets on pages. I have currently kept the wiki visible to the public with the ability to add comments. However, editing is restricted to students from SJMSOM (my b-school). It is currently a work in progress, and I am still trying to find the tipping point of contributors 🙂 . So, if you have any comments or suggestions, do share them with me.

P.S. My father has blogged on a similar topic “How Important Is Technology For Knowledge Management?”, and it doesn’t seem to be very encouraging for my experiment 🙂

Settling down at SOM – I

The last one and a half months since the orientation programme for the new entrants to the PG courses in IIT Bombay have been very eventful and really hectic. In fact, the first term is almost over and the end term examinations are scheduled to begin within a week (the management course divides each semester into two terms of around 7 weeks each). I guess it is about time I posted my experiences during this period.

Hostel – from one room to another

The hostels were allotted on the day of the orientation itself. However, the increase in student intake for the IITs seems to be straining the infrastructure quite hard as we got rooms on a shared basis, i.e., single rooms with double occupancy. Then again, construction is underway for a new hostel (scheduled for completion in 2010, so won’t be of much use to us) and there are talks of expanding some of the existing hostels.

One of the interesting aspects of our hostel accommodation is that our entire batch was accommodated in the same hostel, thanks to our HOD and seniors, which is indeed a bonus considering the fact that we have numerous groups activities. In the initial room that I was allotted, I had a local resident for a roommate, and things were going fine till the roof started leaking after 4 consecutive days of rainfall. I subsequently moved to another room in the same wing, and now both my former roommate and I have individual rooms :-). So, I guess roof leaks are not that bad after all.

The first room that I got also had its share of peculiarities other than the roof leak. The former resident had decided to generously leave behind his philosophies in life on the various surfaces that he could find. Here’s a sample:

Hostel Room

In fact, the new room I got also had some philosophy on the walls, but fortunately in pencil. So, I put my eraser to good use.

LAN connections

With double occupancy of single rooms comes the problem of LAN connectivity, as there is only one port per room. However, one of the advantages of being a management student is that you’ll be using a laptop rather than a desktop. This is where network bridges and wireless ad hoc networks come in handy. To get two or more laptops connected to the LAN through a singe hub, just do the following on the machine connected to the LAN:

  1. Create a network bridge using the LAN and wireless connections
  2. Provide the TCP settings (IP, gateway, DNS servers etc) for the LAN in the network bridge if required
  3. Create an ad hoc wireless network, and connect to this. This step is very easy in Windows Vista, but a bit tricky under XP (steps provided in this article). Also note that some of the security and encryption settings provided for the ad hoc network may not be supported on older OSes, so you might need to opt for an open network

Once this network is setup, the TCP settings (same as the LAN settings) need to be configured in the other machines before connecting to the network. Once connected, the LAN should be accessible.

I made a small screencast too (for Windows Vista)

(You can also check it out directly on viddler)

Incidentally, I got myself a Lenovo Ideapad Y510 on my first weekend in the hostel (can’t live for long without a computer I guess). Not only did it get me connected to the internet after almost a week without connectivity, but also provided my first encounter with Vista. And I must say that I like Vista over XP, especially the search.