Oct 01

3 ways to make the math labs actually useful to you!

These are the notes from a Periscope video I did on 2015-10-01.  Follow me on Periscope to be able to watch future videos!

3 ways to make the math labs actually useful to you!


  1. Actually show up
    1. We made these courses to NEED labs.
    2. By not showing up, you have no chance of using them
  2. Cooperate with me to make them great
    1. Imagine you own a pizza restaurant
      1. You hire employees and train them the best you can, but they are really not doing what the customers want (but you don’t know)
      2. But then you have an audience with the customers and you ask them and no one says anything bad about them!
    2. Let me ask you this: could you IMAGINE A LAB where someone really good at math was doing something that was really valuable to you?  Can you envision such a thing?
      2. I can do something about the labs not meeting your needs now.  Talk to me!  Tell me!
    3. I’ve had people in my office (3 or 4 now) where I initiated the conversation about the labs, and they tell me the TA is doing this or that which is not helpful!
      1. You do know I’m the BOSS right?
      2. I can HIRE, I can FIRE, I can MAKE them do things as I want them to!
      3. But I need to know there is a problem.
  3. Take personal responsibility
    1. If they do something you don’t understand, STOP THEM
      1. It could be math
      2. It could be english!
      3. It doesn’t matter
      4. If you are going to get the most out of the labs, make sure you SAY SOMETHING.

Sep 29

3 steps to make good quality study goals

Welcome to the notes from my first Math SCOPE! Depending on how this goes in the future I may make these more detailed. If people like this set up, who knows where this will go next week/month/year. For now, this is just the notes I used to speak today.

SMART Study Goals

– Specific. Goals like “STUDY” are horrible.
– Measurable. Be clear if you’ve done it or not
– Actionable. Start with a action verb like “DO” or “TRY” or “CALCULATE”
– Realistic. But outside your comfort zone. Start with crazy and dial it back.
– Time Bound. Always have a due date.

Examples of bad goals

– I will study tonight
– I will learn 1.1

Examples of good goals

– I will do 20 questions from the worksheet posted that covers 1.1 content, checking whether I got them right or wrong 5 at a time, and I will do this before midnight tonight.
– I will attempt to write solutions for questions 19-25 in section 1.1 before class with Rob on Thursday so that I can ask him how I did on them when I see him.

3 Steps to make good quality goals for studying

  1. Write out your schedule for the days until the exam (or next milestone – midterm, assignment due, whatever)
  2. Write high level SMART goals for what you will do each day until then
  3. Choose a small time interval (maybe from now until your next class) and then write more specific SMART goals for those days (today, tomorrow maybe)

Good luck!


Jul 04

Changing parts of already existing commands and environments in LaTeX

In using the exam document class, I thought it would be nice to be able to include a new page at the end of every solution. The solutions I had in this particular document were long, and to separate the solutions from the next questions, I thought this would be nice. The nicest way would be to redefine the solution environment to include a \newpage at the end…but then wouldn’t I have to know the entire definition of the solution enviroment and do it exactly the same? Seems there should be a better way…and there is.


Nice and short and easy. \endsolution is a command that returns what is in the end of the solution environment.  It seems that this works with any environment, that is, if you define a new environment \newenvironment{NAME}{START}{END} then \endNAME will return END.  Similarly, using the name of the environment as a command gets the beginning: \NAME will return START.

Similarly, you can define a command that uses itself. This is referred to as “patching exiting commands” in the UK List of TeX Frequently Asked Questions. It’s pretty easy for basic commands, but using the exam documentclass, lets say you wanted to add the words “THIS ONE IS HARD” to every question on an exam. Apparently (as explained in the above link) due to the fact that the question command has an optional parameter, you must do the following: first, in your preamble, type


Then, put this code inside your question environment:

{\oldquestion[{#1}] \textbf{THIS ONE IS HARD!}}


Here is a sample tex file showing how to do this in a more general context:

\newenvironment{test}{\begin{center}\bfseries %
\parindent 0in
Here is test environment number 1:
This is the first test environment
Here is \verb"\test": \fbox{\meaning\test}
Here is \verb"\endtest": \fbox{\meaning\endtest}
I will redefine the test environment to finish with some text.
\def\endtest{\textit{\Large ...and this is at the end!}\oldendtest}
Here is test environment number 2:
This is the second test environment
Here is \verb"\test": \fbox{\meaning\test} (unchanged)
Here is \verb"\endtest": \fbox{\meaning\endtest}
Here is \verb"\oldendtest": \fbox{\meaning\oldendtest}
Lets update the section break command...
\renewcommand{\mysectionbreak}{\oldsectionbreak[1cm] \oldsectionbreak[1in] \oldsectionbreak[1cm]}
Done. Let's do it..
Here is \verb"\mysectionbreak": \fbox{\meaning\mysectionbreak}
Here is \verb"\oldsectionbreak": \fbox{\meaning\oldsectionbreak}
Now lets make the environment enclosed in a box and add some spacing before and after it.
Here is test environment number 3:
This is the third test environment
Here is \verb"\test": \fbox{\meaning\test}
Here is \verb"\endtest": \fbox{\meaning\endtest}

Enjoy and keep learning! -Rob

Jun 07

Some very cool news!

The Office of the Vice-President (Research and International) here at the University of Manitoba publishes ResearchLIFE magazine. ResearchLIFE was launched in January 2009. Two issues are published per year (January & July). This year, they decided to do a special issue called TeachingLIFE, focusing on teaching at the UofM. They decided to write an article about me, and later decided to put me on the cover! Was blown away – absolutely amazing. Hope you enjoy!

Please comment on what you think of the article! -Rob

Mar 22

Google Keep VS Evernote

While reading a LifeHacker article today, came across a reference to something new called “Google Keep“.  Having never heard of it, I thought I would check it out.  I love Google as a company, and take every piece of software they come out with automatically as a serious contender.

But then I found out what it was – it is essentially “Evernote by Google”.  Oh oh.  There’s  a battle brewing now.  If you don’t know, I’m an Evernote fanboy.  I absolutely love Evernote, and pay for the premium membership.  I would even say that I’m at a point in my life now where having my Evernote account has made my life MUCH better and I wouldn’t want to live without it.

If you’re not familiar, Evernote is not a to do list, but it is. It’s not a hard drive, or a cloud Drive, but it is. Evernote’s tagline is “remember everything”, and surely this is what it is done for me.  I have Evernote right on my android phone main page. Specifically, I have a widget on my  phones main page that allows me to create a new note, a new photo note, a new audio note, search my notes,  annotate an image, or just enter Evernote, at the touch of a button,  and I use this widget all the time.

Evernote has slowly become indispensable to me. I keep a good chunk of my life in their, and I love being able to access so many things at the touch of a button. For instance, I just recently made a note that contains links and photos of all my insurance information.  It was very useful the other day, when I took my son to his first dentist appointment, and I needed my Blue Cross information. I looked, and I did not have the card in my wallet, but no worries since I had scanned it into Evernote. I was able to access it quickly and provide the receptionist with the required information smoothly and easily.

Could Google Keep be this useful? I don’t know. In Evernote, I can:

  • create a note that includes text (with formatting of that text)
  • checklists
  • images
  • audio attachments, and
  • attachments of any type (pdf, exe, whatever).

One common thing I do in Evernote’s is store PDFs of all my bills. Looking at Google Keep, I see:

  • the ability to make notes [but interestingly enough, I don’t see how to format the text in the notes, not that that’s a terribly useful feature in my opinion],
  • to make checklists,
  • audio notes,
  • add images to notes, and
  • make your notes colorful.

And that’s all I can see right now. More than this, it looks like Google Keep is much simpler – no notebooks or tags like Evernote has: just one “active notes” section, and an archive.  This could be a plus or a minus, depending on who you are and how you use it.  So certainly it’s not an entire Evernote replacement, but it is competition.

It seems like from the video that Google made to advertise this, that it may be more like a GTD Capture tool?  But Evernote is that for me too, so I’m not sure where it would sit in my life.  Here’s the intro video Google released:

Looking through the app (which has a slick android interface, by the way), it looks to me like Evernote blows it away for me.  For instance, being able to attach arbitrary attachments (including PDFs – a necessity for me), and tagging / categorizing notes for long term storage are both pretty important to me.  But, like I said, when Google comes out with something, I automatically take it seriously: in my experience and opinion, they are not in the habit of creating crap…but this also means I have high expectations.

Here are some other reviews/comparisons I found in case you need more details:

How do you use Evernote?  Do you use Google Keep, and if so, how? What do you think about it? Leave a note in the comments below!  Thanks! -Rob

Jan 08

Sad at the loss of Google Appointment Slots? Use YouCanBook.Me!

Hey everyone,

Heard today that Google has gotten rid of their Calendar Appointment Slots…and this was a shock to me, but not because I love them, but because I had never heard of them!!  Oh wow, these could have been cool to use!  However, because I didn’t know they existed, and I wanted the functionality, I had to find something else that would do the job…and I did.

Enter YouCanBook.me (http://www.youcanbook.me).  YouCanBook.me (YCB.me) connects with your google calendar, and allows anyone with the link to make an appointment with you that will appear directly into your calendar (and theirs if they use google calendar too).  The service started completely free, but they have added some “pro” features lately.  However, even with just the free stuff, the set up was very detailed and had a lot of quality options (in fact, so many that I can’t list them all here).  The main features I like were the ability to set a start time, set an end time, and set an appointment length.  The features are vast, but it did the job I wanted very well.  If you would like, you can check out my appointment page at http://robertborgersen.youcanbook.me and see how easy it is.  It sees in my calendar all the spots I am busy and shows the times I am free.

This is very useful for teachers.  I now have very few (if any) fixed office hours, because students love the ability to check quickly and make appointments with me whenever works for them.  It’s also very convenient for me – when someone emails me and needs to come see me, I just point them to the appointment site (including TAs, students, and anyone else that needs to come by my office).

I use it as an iframe in my course pages to make it smooth and easy to use for my students.  You can see my Calculus site for an example – just click on “Book me” in the top right.

Hope you find this as a useful replacement for Google Appointment slots!  Keep Learning!


Nov 28

UTS Article: Getting More Productive with AutoHotKey

University of Manitoba: University Teaching Services

Path To Pedagogy, v21 (1), Fall 2012.  Pages 24-25

Click to view full screen

UTS Newsletter Website

Nov 10

Open Courses: Changing the Higher Education Scene

By Emily Sismour

Want to take a course from M.I.T., one of the most revered technology schools in the world? You don’t have to have almost-perfect SAT scores, you don’t have to have a 4.0 GPA, you don’t have to pay the $50,000 tuition – in fact, you don’t even have to be enrolled as a student. Sound too good to be true? M.I.T. has put its entire course catalogue online so that anyone who wishes to check out class lectures, class notes, assignments and other materials will be able to via their computer.

Online education continues to change the way educators and students envision higher education and M.I.T.’s open courses are just one of the many ways that traditional ground schools are adapting to advances in technology. Due to the expansion of online education, OpenCourseWare Consortium, a non-profit organization committed to advancing global education opportunity, was created to give students worldwide the opportunity to access higher education courses and relevant material.

M.I.T. isn’t the only prestigious ground school to get involved. Stanford, Tufts, Yale, the University of Michigan and Harvard also offer many, if not all, of their courses online for free. So, why give away something that many students pay so much for? “My deep belief is that as academics we have a duty to disperse our ideas as far and as freely as possible,” says Rebecca Henderson a business professor from M.I.T. and Harvard.

Sharing the world’s knowledge is the goal of OpenCourseWare Consortium. Obtaining copyrights from more schools and then delivering the material effectively as well as long-term funding are issues which are still being dealt with. Initial funding came from the private sector by way of affluent schools and organizations like the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. But, say Consortium directors, “relying on philanthropy is not sustainable.”

To address sustainability, copyright issues, and course effectiveness of the Open Education movement activists, educators, and scientists will converge in Barcelona for meetings on education, accessibility, and trends in Open Education. Open Ed 2011 and the Drumbeat Learning Freedom and the Web Festival will convene to address the future of education and the Web and the “decisions needed to make open education a reality” as well as ‘impact and sustainability.”

Mary Lou Forward, executive director of the OpenCourseWare Consortium is planning to attend both meetings. Unequal access to education is one of the most prominent reasons OpenCourseWare was developed, bringing free education to the masses is a concept that is always on Forward’s mind. “What I think about all the time,” she says, “are ways to bring education to people.”

While open courses don’t provide actual course credit or an eventual degree to students, they are used by many to self-learn or to find areas of study that may interest them in their eventual degree track. Additionally, open courses give underprivileged students or students with traditionally little access who may be incapable of attending college an opportunity to study and learn exactly what their peers elsewhere are studying.

OpenCourseWare hopes to eventually make national and worldwide higher education courses freely available to students and learners across the globe.

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Emily_Sismour


Nov 04

AutoHotKey + Evernote = Cool!

This blog post will be continually updated with cool AutoHotKey scripts I find / come up with for use with Evernote. Please comment if you have any cool ones you would like to share!

Open Evernote

Probably one of my most useful AutoHotKey scripts. Open and bring Evernote to the front from anywhere, whether it is already running or not.
IfWinExist, ahk_class ENMainFrame
Run Evernote.exe, %A_ProgramFiles%\Evernote\Evernote\

Archive selected notes

I have a notebook called Archive for all my notes that I want to keep but want archived.  It’s the only notebook I have that starts with “a”, so writing a AutoHotKey script to archive a message at the touch of a hotkey (I use Ctrl+Shift+a) was pretty easy:

sleep 50
Send !n
sleep 50
send v
sleep 50
send n
sleep 50
send a
sleep 50
send !o
WinWaitActive ahk_class ENMainFrame

I have also modified this to send notes to other notebooks in the same way. This is very useful, but only if your notebooks don’t change very much. For instance, if I change my notebooks and there is another that starts with “A”, this code may send the notes there instead of the archive.

Oct 10

How to Find Open Educational Resources on the Internet

By Viv Rolfe

What are OER? Open Education Resources (OERs) and Open Education Practices (OEP) are changing the education sector around the world, with teachers and lecturers placing their learning and teaching materials on the internet for others to use. This article is one of a series that talks about open education.

OERs that have been made available to use and reuse come in all shapes and sizes and can be as simple as an individual photograph or diagram or a more lengthy teaching resource to even an entire module or course. Therefore, there are many different places where resources can be found on the internet, and one difficulty is knowing just where to look.

Approaches to finding OER Teachers and lecturers, trainers and tutors, particularly those new in their jobs, spend hours finding suitable teaching materials, and possibly even more hours recreating materials from scratch. The beauty of a more open way of working is that there is a pot of gold from which to select resources. Also, the open resources are usable by pupils and students, and also anyone who simply wants to find out more about a subject. A challenge to those involved in producing OER is therefore placing them where they can be most easily found, and with as many websites as stars in the sky, here lies a big challenge.

How to find images A quick approach to finding images is to use Google or Yahoo search engines, and select the “Image” search option. On Google Images there is an “Advanced Search” function, and on Yahoo a “More Filters” function, and the important bit is these functions allow you to search for those images that you are permitted to reuse. These functions let you search for images that might be on other photo sharing services like Flickr or Picasa that are licensed under Creative Commons; this is a licence that allows you to reuse the image with varying levels of freedom. This means, as a teacher, you could download the image and use it within a teaching resource or show it to students in a lesson.

You would need to check the license to understand how free or restrictive the level of reuse was, and this varies from Creative Commons Licence “BY” meaning simply attribute the originator when you use it, to “BY-NC-ND” where the resource is not available for commercial use and no derivatives can be made (even cropping an image). The other big consideration here is that just because something seems to be available and you have found the licence, you must do a bit more rooting around to see whether the resource is authentic and belongs to who it says it belongs. If someone has an excellent image of red blood cells viewed down a microscope amongst their holiday snaps, ask yourself whether it is genuinely theirs? You can do a quick internet search on the image title to see if you can trace it, or also test the authenticity of the owner. If in any doubt, best not to use.

Finding video Clearly YouTube and Vimeo are obvious choices for finding teaching resources in video format. People that submit videos to YouTube are granting users a licence to access the content to use and reuse in any way. What you as a borrower cannot assume is that the content of the video belongs to the originator. So be wary of resources that might be from commercial companies. For example if a video is clearly a recording from the BBC, then it will probably not belong to the person who placed it there. Check YouTube’s “Terms and Conditions” page for more details. For more assurance use YouTube Edu which allows you to search by academic subject and is likely that the video and the content within them belong to the institution who placed it there. So rather than having to check the authenticity, you will simply need to ensure the content is up to the quality that you require.

Podcasts and audio For both audio and video files, iTunesU offers an option for finding teaching resources, and as with YouTube Edu, institutions involved offer a range of good quality content with the assurance of authenticity. You will still need to check the content for accuracy and currency. There are a wealth of other sites such as TED (ted.com) which has dozens of talks from professionals on a wide range of subjects, all licensed under Creative Commons. Other websites such a SlideShare (slideshare.net) offer a wealth of presentation material, not just for educational purposes.

Resource repositories The heavy-weights of the OER movement are the large-scale repositories including OpenCourseWare, DiscoverEd (run by the Creative Commons group), OER Commons, Merlot, and in the UK JorumOpen is an open content repository used by education institutions. Again, whilst the repositories can provide some assurance of copyright freedoms and authenticity, you still need to sense check the content, for example medical and science content may become dated. The difficulty with repositories is that the contents are not searchable from Google and Yahoo search engines, so you will need to visit each separately to search for content.

What is the way forward? For me, I have found several good sources of OER on the internet and I tend to stick with them. I have understood the copyright licenses and verified this with my institutional copyright officer. If you don’t have this level of support, you can always contact the OER originator for clarification. Finding the OER is just step one, and in my next article I will discuss the equally important steps of critiquing the authenticity, quality and reusability of open education resources.

Viv Rolfe is working on the SCOOTER Project at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. Visit us: http://www.sicklecellanaemia.org

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Viv_Rolfe


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