The apps that make us better students

Four students break down their favourite study applications

The apps that make us better students

Hypertabs is The Varsity’s online features subsection about all things internet. Our goal is to explore the depths of the online world and understand how it shapes our habits and affects our communities.


Like planning out your entire life? Say hello to Trello

As someone who enjoys being scared straight by the extent of their own procrastination, I work best when I can see all my tasks laid out in front of me. I’ve learned the hard way that having individual Google documents, calendar e-vites, and to-do list apps all scattered across your hard drive and the cloud like easter eggs is no way to go.

Earlier this year, a good friend of mine recommended Trello and thereby set me firmly on the path to organizational success. A delightful cross between a calendar, a to-do-list, and a Pinterest collection, Trello allows users to create boards for different categories and projects as well as organize information within those boards using lists and cards. With features for deadlines, checklists, and attachments, Trello is perfect for compiling all of your tasks in one place. Also, everything is synced to the cloud; you can use the app for personal matters or share boards with other users if you’re working collaboratively.

The best thing about Trello is its versatility: you can use it for managing a team, planning a vacation, or virtually anything else that requires organizing and categorizing information. As a student, I’ve found Trello to be perfect for keeping all of my deadlines straight. I have boards for schoolwork, job applications, and scholarships, and I’ve set up a queue list for each project according to its due date. When I start working on something, I move it to an ‘in progress’ list; when I finish it, it goes into the archives. And of course, everything is colour-coded to differentiate between projects. I know I’m a huge nerd, but thanks to Trello, I’m the most organized nerd you’ll ever meet.

If you’re looking for something to organize day-to-day tasks, Trello might be less suitable than a to-do list app like Todoist. But seeing all of your work laid out in front of you pops the comfortable bubble of ambiguity that can be conducive to procrastination. For those of us who regularly hand things in 30 seconds before a deadline, Trello might just be the kick in the pants we need to get smaller tasks out of the way before the semester gets viciously hectic. Install the app on desktop and mobile, write those five research papers, and congratulations, you’re a model student.

Teodora Pasca

 

Organizing with EverNote

I am a sucker for all things Moleskine. It’s part of some over-romanticized vision of academia. So when I came across the EverNote and Moleskine collaboration in the U of T Bookstore, I saw it as the perfect excuse to further feed my notebook collection.

The notebooks are meant to be used with the EverNote app. But after purchasing the notebooks, I realized I could use the app with really any notebook.

While the app is simple, I personally love that I can take pictures of my notes and organize them easily. The idea is that you scan the notebooks with your phone, then tag them and organize the pages in file folders on your phone. So when it comes time to study for exams, you’ll have all your notes organized. The ability to tag your notes makes it so that you can search through all your uploads for a specific lecture topic or key term.

Though I am steadfast in my love of taking notes by hand, I am not the most organized. I have too many notebooks and loose leaf papers. At the end of the semester I always end up with a stack of unfiled papers, hoping that I didn’t lose any of my lecture notes. Every semester I promise myself I will be more organized or type out a separate copy of my notes but never do. EverNote allows my handwritten notes to be uploaded to a cloud, giving me a sense of security.

It also has the additional function of keeping all of your lecture notes on your phone and in one place. You can upload word documents to the files, as well as scans. So, if you keep up with it, you should be able to have all your coursework filed in the same place.

I highly recommend this app for students who also prefer to take notes by hand or for students who have one of those professors that don’t allow computers. It might take a little extra time to scan the notes, but it’s a lot less time than having to rewrite them when you spill coffee or lose a notebook.

Chantel Ouellet

 

A website blocker with explicit messages is surprisingly motivating

I am my own worst enemy when it comes to finishing or even starting my assignments. I see the minutes on the bottom right corner of my screen change, reminding me that I am wasting my time, but I pacify my inner guilt with one more video, one more episode, one more scroll on Youtube, Netflix, Twitter, Tumblr, or Reddit.

I planned to stay my own worst enemy, but a fleeting moment of self-awareness forced me to download a website blocker at the beginning of the academic year. This way even if I overrode the website blocker, which I fully planned on doing I could at least have the semblance of working hard.

If my website blocker could talk, I’m sure it would laugh and then swear at my naïvety.

I downloaded Go Fucking Work, a website-blocking extension available for download from the Google Chrome store, for its pleasing aesthetic and amusing profanity. This extension, developed by Toronto-based developer and conversion consultant Alexander Lam, blocks websites blacklisted by the user and redirects them to a page with alternating heartfelt and motivational messages.

These messages range from: “Your dreams are dying. Go fucking work,” to “What the fuck? Go work,” to my personal favourite: “You’re not a Kardashian. Fucking work.”

These messages are written in black Montserrat font against a simple white background that is pleasing to the eye and available in 10 different languages if the user prefers to be told to go fucking work in Hindi.

Go Fucking Work offers the user the option of pausing the website blocking for periods of time that can range from five minutes to 48 hours. It is easy, however, to extend a break or pause for longer than the interval specified if the user doesn’t refresh the page. To avoid this, Go Fucking Work has integrated an option to enable force refreshing, and an option to disable pausing altogether so the user can go fucking work.

Zeahaa Rehman

 

Quizlet is the interactive and helpful tool that all students need

Quizlet is a helpful and free tool that has several notable features. You can use it to create flashcards, study sets, and diagrams. The tool is extremely helpful for visual learners or those who prefer to study on their laptops as opposed to pen and paper. You can use it on your computer or on mobile.

Interesting features of the the app include that it will give you study reminders, offer short and interactive study sessions, and reminds you about due dates. It also shows you your process of improvement. 

If you’re lucky, another user may have already created a set of flashcards with the information that you require in your own class. For instance, many users have created basic flashcards for introductory classes. Since introductory classes usually consider the basics of a certain subject, there is overlap in the teaching material, regardless of the institution.

Several users have created helpful flashcards and study guides for sociology classes such as Sociology of Families, Sociology of Gender, Sociology of Law, and more. If you prefer to make your own notes on paper, you can always use these study sets as a way of making sure that you have covered all of the material that you need.

Quizlet is not just useful for students. Instructors or teachers can create a room on the site and do a live quiz with their students. This tool can be used during review classes or as a fun way to interact with the class.

Quizlet seems to be a popular tool on campus. Why not try it out for yourself, if you haven’t already?

Aisha Malik

You got Bunz, hun?

A look inside the world of Toronto’s online trading community

You got Bunz, hun?

Hypertabs is The Varsity’s online features subsection about all things Internet. Our goal is to explore the depths of the online world and understand how it shapes our habits and affects our communities.


 

“Hey. Are you here for the Bunz trade?”

I remember saying this to the lady standing at the park gate, hoping I would get an affirmative response, thinking how stupid I would look if I didn’t. She smiled with a ‘yes’ and I proceeded to complete my first trade after making my Bunz account two years prior.

This, I soon learned, was a staple interaction in the world of Bunz. I traded a few tokens for some old 35mm rolls of film at the edge of Trinity Bellwoods Park, following the golden rule of Bunz: no money allowed.

When I first downloaded the Bunz app, I thought it was just another millennial fad to partake in — but a good one, given that I didn’t have the funds to purchase such items at full monetary value. Later, I became fortunate enough to learn about the larger implications of a secret trading economy and the impact it’s had on so many Torontonians.

Bunz, explained

Bunz is a web- and mobile-based platform where users can post a variety of their unwanted items for trade. Each profile allows the user to post items they are ‘In Search Of’ — commonly known as ‘ISO’ on the app — to inform other traders what they’re looking for. If you’re interested in an item, you send a private message the owner, and the trading conversation begins.

This platform initially began as a private Facebook group created by artist Emily Bitze, who originally named the group Bums Trading Zone. Bitze told me what her life was like around the time of the group’s initial creation, after she had moved to Toronto: “Though I was happy, I was still frustrated and broke. The cost of living was high and I could barely keep my head above water.”

“It made sense, environmentally and economically,” Bitze continued, discussing her need for the platform. Everyone she knew was struggling with money, and she saw perfectly good things being thrown away on a regular basis — a reality U of T students are not unfamiliar with.

Today, there are nearly 135,000 Bunz users, many of whom use the app for the same reason Bitze created it.

A world without money

Donna Liu, a U of T architecture undergrad and member of the original Facebook trading group, has a running list of all her trades. Among some of her highlights are hummus for a hand knitted scarf, two leftover beers for a pair of Aldo heels, and a $15 bottle of white wine for a couch.

“I think the most awarding was when I did art commissions,” Liu said. “I also got asked to do a sketch as a wedding present, pet portraits of deceased pets, [and] a poster of a loved bike.” The list goes on.

U of T Ethics, Society, and Law student Madelin Burt-D’Agnillo described a chain-trading incident to me: “one day I trade[d] a Slap Chop… then immediately traded with someone else for a Slap Chop.” Their story reminded me of a trade I once did for coffee beans, and how I traded those coffee beans for an old camera immediately after.

The resurgence of a bartering system is a symptom of the reality we are living in today, where students and working class people increasingly have more debt — and more stuff.

“Capitalism’s been ramping up for the last, whatever, probably 40 or 50 years, to the point where people have so much stuff,” said David Morton, Bunz’s Marketing Director.

[pullquote-default]This resurgence of a bartering system is a symptom of the reality we are living in today where students and working class people increasingly have more debt – and more stuff.[/pullquote-default]

Bitze says that the environmental implications are one thing she appreciates most about her work. “Knowing that we have diverted tonnes of potential items from our landfills,” is one of Bitze’s favourite experiences with Bunz.

Redesigning the brand

If you visited bunz.com last year, you would have been greeted with an image of an unimpressed blue troll asking for a password, as if it – the troll – was the only thing that would allow you to cross over into the Trading Zone. “The troll was somewhat accidental,” Bitze said, explaining that the meaning behind the troll “was in the classic sense, like a bridge troll.”

However, there were increasing concerns that the term was alienating; this was understandable given the association with what we now know as Internet trolling. The troll has now been replaced by something more friendly and inviting: “It’s a B, it’s two people together, it’s happy neighbours, and it’s cheeky,” said Bitze.

It’s two buns — or bunz, if you will.

A similar change was instituted over growing concerns surrounding the original Facebook name, Bums. After concerns were brought up that the name was insensitive, Bitze changed it to what we see today: Bunz Trading Zone.

The growth of the platform — now with 13 full-time employees — is largely due to an anonymous angel investor. However, the onset of making money from a platform which is premised on the exclusion of money is something that has generated tension for both the Bunz team and the Bunz community.

Bitze asserted that, for her team to continue the project for the community and expand further, they need the funding. And now they’re “working on something new that’s never been done before,” she told me. It’s a project to be launched by the end of this summer.

When discussing one of her favourite things about Bunz, Bitze mentioned that the support of the community has been “essential to how we’ve grown,” and how this will continue to guide future expansion.

Community

Bunz has provided an opportunity for users to experience the richness of Toronto’s people from an entirely new perspective. The platform has become an excuse to talk to random strangers you would otherwise pass by in the hustle and bustle of Yonge Street.

By taking the time to stop and talk, you can discover an obscure detail of their life, like how they’re willing to trade a contour kit for a collectible set of quarters — one of my best trades yet.

When asked what her favourite trade was, Burt-D’Agnillo replied that it was her “super old wooden desk/chair, because the person who traded with me threw in a bunch of pencils and supplies because she knows I’m a student.”

It’s these little moments of connection with and appreciation for strangers that really make Bunz such a fulfilling experience. And for some, the app holds significant meaning to their livelihood.

“So many days I want to stay in bed. Bunz trades [get] my butt out of bed and forces me to walk,” said Bunz user, kada. kada suffers from chronic pain due to an accident affecting her physical health requiring use of a cane to help her walk. She moved to Toronto to be closer to the St. Michael’s hospital and is now a regular user of the app.

Another Bunz user, bokin, reflected a similar sentiment: “I got to see a part of the city I may otherwise may have never visited.” bokin discussed one of her first trades, where both her and the other trader brought their dogs and she was introduced to the Trinity Bellwoods neighborhood. She said it was “Literally the most pleasant experience I’ve ever had with a complete stranger.”

For bokin, Bunz played a part in overcoming her crippling anxiety and depression “by giving me something to be responsible for and above all – confidence.”

Over time, Bunz became more than just an alternative to Kijiji or Craigslist. It became a platform via which Torontonians and others can interact over collective interests and struggles. The over-250 Bunz-branded Facebook groups around the world are a testament to this community-based sharing culture. U of T students are probably most familiar with the Bunz Pet Zone page for all things pet-related, the Bunz Home Zone for furniture and house supplies, and the Bunz Helping Zone page for really any and every question you have.

It was precisely this Bunz community that allowed user millie7354 to start a non-profit after-school program: “I put up a post asking for boardgame donations and got over 50 responses.”

millie7354 now has weekly after-school sessions thanks to the helping hands of Bunz users.

By talking to its users, I could see that Bunz is more than the resurgence of a bartering system; rather, it’s the resurgence of talking to your neighbours and building a grassroots community.

Why ban technology?

In response to “Why we are weaning our students from electronic noise”

Why ban technology?

A couple of weeks ago, an article written by two University of Toronto professors of political science was published in the Globe and Mail. The two professors explained the reasoning behind their decision to ban all electronic devices from their classrooms, arguing that doing so results in a distraction-free environment that is more conducive to learning.

In response, we asked students to weigh in on whether removing technology from classrooms is truly correlated with a more meaningful learning experience.


 

Taking notes on a laptop is actually much more effective than taking notes on paper. Admittedly, students retain more if they write by hand because it contributes to muscle memory. However, in lecture settings, students are always trying to remember what the professor is saying as they write. In my opinion, handwriting becomes difficult because both processes overload your senses to the point where you can’t remember what the professor is saying halfway as you write it out. With a laptop, you can focus your mind on the lecture, and directly copy it with effortless keystrokes.

– Remi Hossain, third-year Political Science and Criminology student

Accessibility is briefly addressed in Balot and Orwin’s piece, but only as an afterthought. While perusing the article’s online comment section on the Globe and Mail’s website, I found dozens of hateful comments supporting the authors’ neglect of some students’ needs. This was truly disheartening. Balot and Orwin’s attitude reflects society’s problem of questioning the legitimacy of accessibility needs. If these professors are interested in students getting the best learning experience from class, why is this limited to able-bodied/able-minded individuals? Isolating students with unique needs is not productive, and they are only reinforcing the hesitancy towards asking for help that these students experience.

– Elspeth Arbow, fourth-year Cinema Studies and Buddhism, Psychology, and Mental Health Studies student

I believe that this electronics ban policy is motivated by the same frustration that causes just about every professor I know to be bothered by laptops in class. The prof spends time planning and preparing lectures, yet the students who attend class are likely browsing Netflix, Facebook, or Twitter instead of listening and absorbing the material.

That said, it is unreasonable and outdated to ban the use of all technology in a learning environment. The considerate and tactful thing that should have been done in this situation was to make a negotiation. Instead of having TAs patrol the aisles for students sneaking a look at their phones, why not simply allow laptops, with TAs monitoring screens to avoid the unproductive use of these devices? Since this may be more difficult to do in a tutorial environment, an electronics ban may be limited to tutorials, because this a discussion-based environment in which little rigorous note-taking is required. It is hard to imagine how two political science professors did not at least make the effort to negotiate a policy that is fair, and accommodates both students and professors.

Marina Bozic, second-year Political Science student

When cellphones, laptops, and tablets are framed as “electronic noise,” technology can be easily construed as a barrier to communication. A technology ban is most conducive within smaller, seminar-style classes in which discussion is central to how the course is taught. Such classes require a two-way form of communication, in which students are active contributors to the lesson, and not just passive recipients of information. This active style of learning enables students to better synthesize, record, and retain information. In this setting, the absence of technology bolsters students’ engagement with professors, peers, and material by preventing them from hiding behind a screen.

– Zara Narain, second-year Ethics, Society, and Law student

In my experience, technology bans allow for a greater understanding and engagement with the material. However, an important thing to note is that these bans will not work in all classroom settings; smaller seminar courses and lectures that focus on the rigorous study of texts and complex analyses benefit most from this policy. Moreover, when professors no longer have laptops and phones to compete with, it means that they need to perform at a much higher level, and must deliver quality lectures that can catch a student’s attention for two to three hours at a time. Professors who embrace this new teaching policy should be ready to rise to these higher expectations.

– Ramsha Naveed, second-year Political Science and Philosophy student

The move to ban all electronics from the classroom is the failure of these professors to understand and adapt to an ever-changing learning environment. This almost guarantees that students who aren’t familiar with this style of learning will do worse than those who are. Rather than embrace new ways of teaching a perpetually connected generation, they’ve hunkered down to the past, and insist upon forcing students who have otherwise had the freedom to learn as they choose to adapt to a form of learning that may not be familiar to or effective for them.

– Ross Johnston, second-year Political Science student

YouTube Space opens in Toronto

Sets featuring table hockey and moose antlers work to reflect the Canadian experience

YouTube Space opens in Toronto

Google has opened their first YouTube office in Canada, located at George Brown College.

YouTube Spaces were created in April to help grow and support YouTube channels through educational and technical services. According to Chris D’Angelo, global head of production and programming for YouTube Spaces, “the goal of YouTube Spaces is to help create better storytellers and allow YouTubers to make the most out of the video-sharing platform.”

Adam Relles, head of the YouTube space in New York City and an instrumental figure in opening the space in Toronto, explains, “You look at Toronto, and it’s a city that has its own culture and history of impact on creative — things like The Second City, and Kids in the Hall, and tonnes of music like Drake and The Weeknd… So, there is a significant influence.”

With the rise of Canadian YouTubers like JusReign, AsapSCIENCE, The Sorry Girls, Superwoman, and LaurDIY, it makes sense that Google would install an office in Canada, making a total of eight locations around the world.

The 3,500 square foot space is open to all YouTubers with over 10,000 subscribers. Once a YouTube content creator attains 10,000 subscribers, they are invited to an “Unlock the Space” orientation seminar designed to familiarize them with the environment and its capabilities. These capabilities include high-quality camera equipment, sound stages, special production programs, educational offerings, exclusive events, and screenings.

The space itself has a unique Toronto feel with contributions from design students at George Brown College. Each set in the space is inspired by different aspects of Canadiana. From the graffiti-mural by Toronto artist Runt, to the cottage rec-room including moose antlers and table hockey, each space reflects different parts of the Canadian experience.

Although exclusive benefits are limited to individuals with over 10,000 subscribers, access to the Space’s Online Creator Academy and Open Houses are available for anyone with a YouTube channel.

A step forward in technology, a step backward in reality

Striking a balance between our engagement with virtual and real-world settings is tricky, but necessary

A step forward in technology, a step backward in reality

With the recent large-scale release of Pokémon Go — an augmented reality game that allows players to use their smartphones to capture virtual creatures lurking in various locations across the city — we are prompted to confront questions of how we, as individuals and as a society, interact with technology and, subsequently, with the settings and people around us as technology continues to advance.

What makes Pokémon Go different from conventional gaming technology is that it is one of the only games fueled by technology that does not keep gamers indoors and bound to their couches as they submerge into fantasy settings. Rather, this game makes the real world its setting, luring players to venture out from the cozy corners of their familiar cocoons in order to explore nearby neighbourhoods and landmarks.

For some, this can mean an opportunity to explore your city — players stand to discover public parks, art installations, museums, and monuments that hold historic, aesthetic, and educational value. Moreover, walking around to catch Pokémon encourages exercise and the much-needed daily dose of fresh air and vitamin D.

For this reason, doctors have recently expressed that Pokémon Go can help to counteract mental health issues among young adults, from depression to social anxiety, or even withdrawal. The game’s potential to bring those living with mental health concerns into contact with people who share the similar interest of playing the game allows for comfortable interactions and a sense of familiarity, according to Dr. Larry Nelson, a Family Life Professor at Brigham Young University.

While this is clearly a positive effect, there are also risks associated with the game. Addiction to the game seems to be a possibility, especially considering that addictive behaviours tend to run parallel with habits that offer a therapeutic or euphoric effect. A recent poll prepared for Global News approximated that three in 10 Canadian users believe that Pokémon Go is “taking over their lives.”

This is indicative of a broader phenomenon. The proliferation of technology in recent years seems to have brought about an increased dependency on it — especially with respect to gaming and smartphone technology. Portable technology is taken to bed, the couch, the cinema, dinner, and social gatherings. People increasingly allocate more time to electronic and gaming gadgets, rather than to books, educational programs, and the people around them.

A 2015 study conducted by British psychologists found that, on average, participants checked their phones 85 times and used the devices for a total of five hours each day.

What’s more, according to related research, young adults use their smartphones about twice as much as they think they do. Dr. Sally Andrews, a psychologist at Nottingham Trent University, explains that, “a lot of smartphone use seems to be habitual, automatic behaviors that we have no awareness of.”

To many, mindless use of technology takes priority over other, often more important, activities. In the long run, this behaviour impedes concentration.

This is related to a concept known as ‘multi-tasking madness,’ when individuals who regularly use technology are unable to relax or concentrate on a single task at hand. According to sleep and energy expert Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan, a lack of offline time results in psychological hyper-arousal, compromising patience, and the inability to focus on individual tasks.

When people are constantly searching for ways to entertain or distract themselves, there is a decrease in appreciation for the still, peaceful, mundane; this is a loss because predictable routines, though dull, are an important part everyday life.

As people plunge into a virtual game setting, they tend to isolate themselves from their reality and present surroundings. Consider, for instance, the irony involved in opening up a ‘social’ game while at a gathering, but not interacting with the people around you.

Growing up in Singapore, where even trains have a Wi-Fi connection, I was constantly confronted by the invasive nature of technology. Though commuters once held newspapers, books, or train poles, nowadays they all look down at smartphones. This even happens on the TTC, despite its lack of access to Wi-Fi, as passengers uniformly fish for their phones for the few minutes of above-ground data connectivity between Davisville and Rosedale stations.

This immersion in the virtual world does not only limit social interaction, it can also be hazardous. Pokémon Go provides a ready example. Toronto police told CBC News that some players — oblivious to everything but trying to “catch ‘em all” — rush across intersections, causing concern about the possibility of collisions.

It is not the case that we should stop using technology. It is important, however, to set limits on our time spent in the ‘virtual world’ so as not to miss out on the offerings of the real one.

Perlyn Cooper is a second-year student at Victoria College studying English and Philosophy. 

Paying respect to scholarship

Students must not take the U of T experience for granted

Paying respect to scholarship

SITTING in the back of a lecture in Convocation Hall can often feel like an exercise in mass distraction. In a sea of a thousand laptops, screens flash cyclically between lecture notes, Facebook chats, and YouTube videos. Students with virtually no knowledge of the course material line up to the soapbox, making comments that manage to be simultaneously boastful and complete non sequiturs. Once, during one of my lectures, a group of students even ordered a pizza and ate it in the first row.

It is clear that the way students view the classroom — and perhaps, education itself — is changing drastically.

When the atmosphere of a university is criticized, it is often the institution itself that bears the brunt of the blame. In many cases, this is for good reason; immense class sizes, unsympathetic instructors, and overwhelming stress can certainly compromise a student’s learning. 

U of T has rightfully been criticized in the past for its glacial response to student distress, which results in a lack of adequate support services for students struggling with sexual violence, mental health issues, or financial problems. These are relevant and pressing issues on which the administration has been dragging its heels, and we as students are entitled to hold them to account.

It is questionable, however, whether the university itself deserves to be chastised for the alleged hardships of every single student on campus. 

For example, the university is notorious for its draconian academic expectations, but professors should expect a certain quality in their students’ work. It is difficult to sympathize with students who start writing a paper two hours before it’s due or shirk off studying for an exam and then pile the blame for their academic shortcomings on the university. 

This issue is aggravated by the disrespect many students show to both their instructors and their fellow students. Some perpetrators are overcome with the fierce and uncontrollable need to interject and tout their own abilities in the middle of lecture, wasting time that could be spent on the material. Others do everything they can to distract others from learning, by noisily crunching on three-course meals, taking selfies, catching up on the latest gossip, or trading jabs at the professor.

Education is vitally important; why else would we pay thousands of dollars in tuition and activity fees and dedicate years of our lives to crank out a degree? Focus on the actual weight of the educational opportunity we have at our disposal is often put aside in favour of more trivial matters. Gripes about boring classes and looming deadlines pervade conversations, while our true aims — what we want to learn and achieve along the way — fade to the background.

The university has many intellectual resources and extra-curricular opportunities to bolster its students’ experiences, and it deserves to be lauded for that. While being mindful of its shortcomings, we should also pay respect to the institution and not take these opportunities for granted; at least as an educational hub, the university is doing its job. 

We should also be mindful that, although we admittedly pay a hefty price for membership, many others do not have access to it at all. Countless students face financial and social obstacles when graduating from high school, let alone are able to study at an institution like U of T. 

This is a problem that programs like the World University Services of Canada, which sponsors refugee students, are attempting to alleviate. Comparing these students to those leisurely napping in the Con Hall balcony is a tall order. 

With exams approaching and pressure mounting, the desire to complain and vent about our obligations is certainly understandable. At the same time, we should keep in mind that, in a sense, we are lucky to have these things on our plates at all. Approaching education from a conscious perspective means understanding the significance of what we are learning. 

Teodora Pasca is a second-year student at Innis College studying ethics, society, and law and criminology. She is an associate comment editor for The Varsity. Her column appears every three weeks.

A beginner’s guide to wi-fi at U of T

Everything a student needs to know about the technology and policies behind U of T’s wireless network

A beginner’s guide to wi-fi at U of T

Wi-fi. Most University of Toronto students couldn’t survive on campus without it. However, few of us are aware of how U of T’s networks operate, what the limits are to usage, and how strict U of T’s information and communication technology (ICT) policy is.

How does the wi-fi work? 

Wi-fi is transmitted through radio/wireless technology. The University of Toronto campus wireless network connects thousands of students, faculty, and staff to its wireless networks, such as ‘UofT’ and the older ‘eduroam,’ which is mainly used by visitors to campus. The wireless network utilizes access points (APs) — devices connected to the wired network and stationed around campus. These APs communicate with the wireless cards found in electronic devices, such as laptops, linking users to the campus network and then to the Internet. APs allow users to stay connected to the network wirelessly, even if they move from one part of campus to another. APs are better in general at providing service to lots of users over a large area, rather than routers, which are usually used in homes or smaller areas. 

As of last May, the total number of APs in use on the St. George campus was 4241. Robarts Library, Gerstein Library, Rotman, and Sidney Smith are some of the busiest locations for internet usage on campus. Robarts, for example, has a total of 265 APs installed. The placement of even more wireless equipment across all three campuses is ongoing, with more coverage to be expected in many other high traffic spots around U of T, like the Goldring Centre. 

How much bandwidth are students allowed to use via U of T’s wireless networks?

Until the middle of 2012, users were only allowed two giga-bites (GB) of traffic per week, but due to the increasing reliance on high-bandwidth applications for school, and improvements in technology, the limit was abolished. 

Users do not have complete freedom to do whatever they want. Personal devices that use U of T’s networks must follow the provost’s guidelines on appropriate use of information and communication technology, whose main focus is the “quantity of resources consumed” and the “quality of the information transmitted.” 

So what is and isn’t allowed?

“We do not prohibit the use of any technology on our networks, as long as users comply with the provost’s ICT guidelines,” said Martin Loeffler, U of T’s director of information security. “That said, we do take measures to block hostile activity (e.g., malware or viruses) entering or originating from our network, or activity that over-uses network bandwidth.”

The university oversees traffic on its networks, an operational procedure created from several IT resource policies, including the ICT guidelines. U of T uses traffic analysis to spot devices using excessive or abnormal amounts of bandwidth, which could indicate a compromised or infected device. Depending on the situation, the perpetrator is warned or banned from using the campus backbone network. Through traffic analysis, it is possible for U of T to discover other suspicious or illegal activity, such as pirating. 

A report is automatically sent out when a host’s traffic passes a pre-set limit, which is 15 GB a day. A traffic anomaly is considered “excessive” when in two or more days during the week, a host had traffic exceeding the limit or in one day had traffic exceeding two times the limit. Loeffler notes that “a sizeable number” of these reports are not investigated further, as the host’s traffic usually drops below the limit the next day (commonly because the host is investigated if suspected of  illicit file-sharing or streaming). Loeffler clarified that punishment for “inappropriate activity” is greatly based on the “nature of the activity.” For example, students are not banned for torrenting.

Why is it important to follow the rules?

“It’s important to note that no technology is harmful in and of itself, but rather [it is] the use to which it is put that can be damaging or problematic for other users of a network,” Loeffler said. While file-sharing programs such as BitTorrent can be used for academic purposes, they can also be used to pirate copyrighted material, and can slow things down for other users of the network. 

“Anyone using BitTorrent (or any other file transfer services) for legitimate purposes should keep bandwidth usage down to avoid inconveniencing other users of our wireless network,” said Loeffler.

“We all have a responsibility to consider the implications of how we use networked resources and to ensure that our uses are appropriate and respect the rights and needs of others in our community, both the University and beyond,” said Seamus Ross, a professor at U of T’s iSchool and former dean. “The university needs to ensure that all [of] its resources are effectively managed and equitably shared across our community if we are to support learning and research by all members of our community.”