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Azlen Elza

Background

I’m not sure how to introduce myself. Typically, I will say that I am a programmer/designer, but that is like a writer introducing themselves as a pencil/eraser; programming is simply a tool with which I use to pursue my projects, and design a necessity to innovate on ideas.

I have more projects than I can count. From a face-detection musical instrument, to an ambigram font with which you can ‘shift’ your perception between reading one word or the other, or experiments in generative design where I tried to teach the computer to design business cards.

Interests

I’m currently building a language learning app, trying to start a video series about cities/psychology, and desiging an online platform for communal learning. Contrary to appearances, all three of these projects stem from three ‘pillars’ of interest: the mind, city, and education. These interests also form the longer-term goals which I am interested in exploring further:

  • Mind : I want to explore how the mind works and develop tools to think and learn more effectively.

    • How can I use existing mnemonic techniques or invent new ones to remember more effectively?
    • Hammers are one of many tools to manipulate physical matter, but what tools could exist in our mental toolbox to manipulate thoughts or ideas?
  • City : I want to imagine and build the cities of the future.

    • How can cities be better designed to foster community and participation?
    • In what ways do cities affect us psychologically?
  • Education : I want to create new mediums, platforms, or opportunities for learning.

    • Instead of how MOOCs try to replicate university lectures but at a collosal and impersonal scale, how can we make online education more personal and niche to individual interests? The internet is a perfect platform to connect small groups of motivated people around a common interest or niche area of study.
    • Are there ways to improve on the design of forums or video calls to create more comfortable online spaces for learning and collaboration?

These questions branching off the three pillars are a small sample of the ideas which I am trying to think about and answer through various projects and writing. I hope to work on some blog essays or videos soon to make some of my ideas and thought processes more public and become part of a wider discussion.

Learning Victories!

Surprised myself recently by listening to, and mostly understanding, an entire podcast in French. While most of my focus in language learning recently has been towards Mandarin and Spanish, it feels that - paradoxically - my understanding of French is improving even while I build structures of other languages in my mind!

Getting Ready

After redesigning my personal website a few months ago, I want to get into the habit of writing more about what I’m learning or thinking about. It’s all very much a work-in-progress, but I’ve also created a placeholder learning page - there’s nothing there yet, but I hope to have it list some of the topics I’m interested in or actively thinking/learning about along with links to resources or pages I have written on those topics.

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Welcome! It sounds like you’re working on some really important projects. I especially admire the specificity of all your projects in relation to the ambition and scale of the pillars. It strikes me as a really valuable arrangement to have both present.

What was the process of designing your site? Just took a walk through it and it’s great, I love the wiki and the alphabetical organization. I’ve been using a hierarchical file and folder system for mine and it feels a little too rigid at the moment, so it’s inspiring to see alternative organizational methods.

I hope to have it list some of the topics I’m interested in or actively thinking/learning about along with links to resources or pages I have written on those topics.

I’d suggest also writing out how you’re going to learn those topics along side it, partially because it’s something I’d love to see and learn from, but also because I think writing down, and thinking about, how you’re learning is a really powerful tool.

Are there ways to improve on the design of forums or video calls to create more comfortable online spaces for learning and collaboration?

This question, along with the general trajectory of making more personal, social, online learning spaces, has been on my mind a lot as well! I think there’s a really large design space of possible structures here, especially given the variety of tools we have at our disposal.

I’d be really interested in doing something like @bts’s Yocto but constrained to each of the tools you mentioned: a list of learning structures using only a forum, or only video calls, or only a wiki.

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I definitely like your suggestion of writing how I’m going to learn those topics. It would help me flesh out my own process of learning and make it more intentional and focused. And if I compile some my sources, documents and books that I read in the process, it can not only serve as a useful resource for others interested in learning but also as a reference for myself to come back to later.

What was the process of designing your site? Just took a walk through it and it’s great, I love the wiki and the alphabetical organization.

My site has gone through dozens of redesigns over the years. I used to use Jekyll and markdown files but it was too clunky and slow to update my site, and so I would never really make any changes until I decided to redesign it again.

Recently I started using Notion, which is like having my own personal wiki. I used to have a TiddlyWiki that I would edit through the Beaker Browser, so Notion was right up my alley. And I thought, well if I’m going to use Notion to organize my writing, projects, and ideas, why don’t I also use it as a CMS for my website? So I found an unofficial python library for using the Notion API and wrote a small little script which pulls certain pages from my Notion workspace and generates a static site.

The design aesthetic and personal wiki was inspired by Devine Lu Linvega and the community that he has built around himself, particularly other websites in the XXIIVV webring. Some of which have their own wikis or even go to an extreme of time-tracking everything they work on and graphing the data to show productivity on each project.

However in practice, I’m not sure what to think about having a personal wiki. I feel that it needs a lot more work design-wise (adding tags or icons next to each entry on the wiki page) and writing-wise (creating and interlinking between more pages). I have trouble sometimes thinking of whether I should make a wiki page, blog post, or even project page for an idea. What I might do is temporarily shift the focus of my site (by moving wiki and projects to sidebar) to writing some interesting blog posts and setting up an RSS feed while I continue expanding on the wiki and project pages.

This question, along with the general trajectory of making more personal, social, online learning spaces, has been on my mind a lot as well! I think there’s a really large design space of possible structures here, especially given the variety of tools we have at our disposal.

Yes, there is definitely a huge design space! I have been doing a lot of sketching and writing about different design considerations and ideas for improving or reimagining both forums and video chats for an educational online context. Everything from reflecting on the effects of metrics (view counts, likes) and designing alternatives or visual representations, to utilizing the technological medium to augment the structure and outline of a video discussion (for example, ‘idea pinging’ to signal that you have something to say without interrupting the person talking, that way they can finish their thought and then open up the conversation to you, like a digital form of raising your hand in class)

I was toying with the idea of writing a sort of ‘design journal’ over the month of November. Where each day I take one of these design considerations and write a short essay about it. Kind of like a mini-NaNoWriMo but for essays instead of a novel. Although it might be too ambitious since I’m also studying fulltime at university, working in a research lab, and trying at the same time to work on my own projects.

Since my own concept of the future of online education goes beyond self-learning to a sort of ‘communal learning’ where small groups of people come together to research or learn about a specific topic, a study group / micro-think-tank on reimagining online education and digital spaces might be the perfect place to start. Like a meet-every-week-or-two to discuss, brainstorm, share reading material, that sort of thing. Would you be interested in this?

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each day I take one of these design considerations and write a short essay about it. Kind of like a mini-NaNoWriMo but for essays instead of a novel.

I like this idea! What about keeping it really small, i.e just 3 sentences so it’s sustainable? I’d love a thread that’s just these small seeds, and then we could branch off in new threads if they warrant deeper discussion. #tinylearningfutures ! It might be fun to have a different prompt/constraint each day as well, though that could add some overhead. Perhaps, we could alternate setting prompts (along with anyone else who’s interested as well) I’m game for experimenting with it, if you are!

Since my own concept of the future of online education goes beyond self-learning to a sort of ‘communal learning’ where small groups of people come together to research or learn about a specific topic, a study group / micro-think-tank on reimagining online education and digital spaces might be the perfect place to start. Like a meet-every-week-or-two to discuss, brainstorm, share reading material, that sort of thing. Would you be interested in this?

100%! For me personally I think it’d do well with a formal structure/goal as opposed to an open ended discussion group, but either way I’d be very happy to join.

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Hi Azlen, just browsing your site, looks very cool! Love the collaborative learning platform proposal doc and look forward to seeing more ideas / prototypes for this sort of thing. Something I’ve been interested in for a while; strongly agree about the need for more personal, intimate, niche community learning experiences.

Great questions here! I haven’t thought in as much detail about the platform design for this kind of space online, but have been experimenting with some fun structures for offline events e.g. small group dinners as “show and tell” for books / ideas; the “Yocto” project @jaredpereira linked to is kind of a work in progress for templatizing these kind of event structures.

Look forward to seeing more on all this! “Project design journal November” sounds great :slight_smile: And keeping it focused on a single atomic idea could be useful for sparking conversation about how each thing could be applied in different contexts. Probably also helpful for fleshing out how to kick off

which sounds super cool! I probably don’t have time next month but after the holidays maybe?

I am also inspired by Devine’s prodigious personal site, and would love to explore making a wiki of some sort along these lines. (How did you like TiddlyWiki?)

Yeah taxonomy is harrrrddd, whenever I start to think about how I’d structure a hypothetical personal wiki I always end up waffling on how it’d be organized and what the purpose even would be (private notes / idea seeds? knowledgebase for things I learn? everything all tangled together?) So I haven’t tackled it yet but still on the to do list, maybe in some constrained version…

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