Judging a Science Contest

On Wednesday the 27th, I volunteered as a judge for an 8th grace science contest at Imago Dei Middle School. There were three groups for whom my input was particularly important. One involved people's fear of robots, another involved human-powered electricity generation, and the last involved crown gall, a bacterial infection of plants. I also talked with two girls who did a presentation on aromatherapy (lavender and peppermint) and relaxation.

All the kids did a good job, and I enjoyed judging. It was interesting to see what the students put on their posters versus what they had to say about their projects.

This project, Your Own Electricity, was done by a group of three young men who went through five different generators in an attempt to charge a cellphone.

"Your Own Electricity" Science Project

This project, Crown Gall, was about a bacterial infection of plants and was a solo project. Unfortunately for the student, someone who had a collection of crown gall-infected roses never delivered them to her, so she wasn’t able to perform her experiments.

"Crown Gall" Science Contest

The final project, Robotics, mainly involved building and programming two kit robots, but the two young men who did this researched who fears their possible future robot overlords.

"Robotics" Science Contest

Everyone did a good job, but I regret that I didn't spend more time at others' presentations.

Taking a Course through Udemy

Toward the end of the past semester and through Christmas and New Year's, I purchased a couple of Udemy courses in response to some discount price campaigns. Everything I purchased is of a technical bent, such as VHDL or digital signal processing, with the possible exception of one on Excel 2013. At $10~12 for each course, I felt there was little to lose, but the direct out-of-pocket cost would add incentive. Most of the courses I chose were not offered at IUPUI or Ivy Tech Community College, at least not when I wanted to take them.

Udemy was not my first experience with online learning. I have used YouTube lectures, industrial firms' lectures and training videos, and Khan Academy. As an IUPUI student, I have unlimited access to Lynda.com courses, a few of which I have registered, one or two of which I have begun, and none of which I have completed. YouTube lessons have been good for specific topics, not for sustained study. With Lynda, I forget I have it once engineering classes start. When engineering courses get rolling, I lose the time for Lynda courses.

After logging into Udemy, I choose my course, which is currently Digital Signal Processing with MATLAB. This opens the Course Dashboard window with two functional columns. The course name is at the top left, beneath which is a column with, from top to bottom:

  1. A clickable area for the current lecture's video, which includes its name and the time remaining for the lecture.
  2. An overall course progress bar with a trophy at the end to dignify completion.
  3. A list of course section, inside each of which are the lectures. Each lecture is shown with its title (e.g., "Lecture 3: Convolution"), completion status, lecture length, and icons for whether you have taken notes or asked questions.

Exactly where you are in the course--what percentage you have completed--is very clear.

On the right are three options: Discussions, Announcements, and the number of students (currently 373). The Discussions are questions asked by students; replies are links to be clicked to read. To date, I have asked just two questions. The first, on a weekday, was answered by the next day, and was polite and clear. The second question, asked on a weekend, will perhaps take a bit longer. The Announcements come from the course author(s). Clicking on the number of students reveals a roster, and students can be clicked on to see what they choose to reveal about themselves.

When you choose a particular lecture, you get a window similar to that below, which shows the video lecture screen and the right column, which I will discuss below. At the top left of the video is the Course Dashboard button, which returns you there. In addition to the video's progress bar below it, moving the cursor over the screen brings up the three grey buttons that let you back up 15 seconds, play (or pause), and move ahead 15 seconds. I have found the 15 second repeat to be quite handy for taking notes. At the bottom left, you can opt, as I have, not to immediately load and play the next lecture when you complete the current one. The checkmark at the bottom right turns white on a green background when you complete a lecture.


The right column has four tabs at the top. The leftmost tab lists the course sections and their lectures. The next tab allows the download of relevant lecture material, if any is provided. There is a comment tab, although posting a comment apparently does not automatically provide the section and lecture information, so provide it yourself. The rightmost tab is for notes, which are timestamped by section in the video. The notes can be downloaded, though I have yet to do so. Notes can be edited and deleted, but they cannot be moved around; for example, if you back up in the video to 1:01 to make a note after a note made at 2:13, the notes' times will be out of sequence. Clicking on a note's time takes you to that point in the video lecture.