Friday, January 28, 2011

Perspectives on Printed vs. Electronic Books & Textbooks

Last week, I read an article called "Textbooks? So Last Century. Rent a Netbook Instead." that represents what many educators are facing today as they consider the media of their curriculum. For more reading, click on the following: http://chronicle.com/article/Textbooks-So-Last-Century/125884/ and below are my intial thoughts after reflecting on it.

I believe we are in a technological bubble when it comes to our methods of acquiring and managing information packaged in the form of a book. Personally, I have always been a "book worm" and have managed to acquire about 2000 books (including many college textbooks) in my personal library over the last 25-30 years. During the 90s I bought on average about 100 books each year (even more during graduate school in the early 90s). Books remained a large part of my work world in the next 15 years as I worked as an education minister, curriculum writer, and technology trends researcher and workshop presenter. In the last ten years, the number of paper books I bought decreased with each passing year (in 2010, I bought about 10 books). I believe this shift resulted from my growing Internet habits and the realization that much of the information and content that lined my book shelves could be found online. As my habit of digital bookmarking grew (and my confidence that the Internet will not "lose" my data, info, etc.), I also discontinued the almost maddening habit of creating folder after folder of clipped magazine/newspaper articles and research-related computer-generated printouts...which shamelessly became stacks around my desk (sound familiar anyone?).

Now that I work as a Campus Technology Coordinator at a high school, I recently made a decision to part with 75% of my library (which has not been easy for me since I have notes and markers in many of my books). In fact, I feel like I am betraying good friends as I boxed them up for donation or to sell...but the drumbeat of technological progress demands that I march forward to what has changed and what is continuing to change. Ten years ago, Adobe Acrobat provided a means for me to easily print to file and digitally store what use to be piles stacked next to my desk (I will confess that this didn't happen overnight). Next, I found that adding highlights, notes, and bookmarks to my PDF files were easy and quite convenient. I have to tell you...I really like the idea of trading in my paper habits for new digital habits -- less clutter, saves trees, and easier to share with others. But I do admit that I have to constantly challenge myself and my “print happy” moments during Internet research sessions.

Now, as schools begin to move in the direction of using electronic textbooks, I see both advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are plain to see but some of the disadvantages may not be fully appreciated by all advocating for e-textbooks. In fact, I have had a couple conversations with teachers recently about this very topic. First, as mentioned by others, not every student has an Internet-equipped home computer or possession of an e-reader device. This only adds to the Digital Divide issue. Secondly, many schools are already struggling with bandwidth issues due to poor infrastructure, aging computers, and the sharp increase in classroom use of streaming video from the Web and the use of Web 2.0 tools. I believe adding electronic textbooks on a mass scale is somewhat premature for most schools, especially if thousands of students need to access the Web to access those textbook texts and supplemental media files that are becoming more common by educational publishers. Anyway, this is something for us to consider before committing to a textbook format that will no doubt be more digital with each passing year (a format I welcome if we are prepared for it). As a tech coordinator, I see lots of preparation in order before we can add another layer of technology in our K-12 schools.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cell Phone Technology Perceptions

I came across a cartoon last night while reading an online article that sought to capture the technology perceptions of the current top three cell phone users: Blackberry, iPhone, and Android (see below). While it doesn't represent everyone in these categories perfectly, it does represent the various attitudes of many cell phone users. It also reflects that we humans like our technology options and we certainly have preferences and expectations that affect what we choose to buy and use on a daily basis (of course, money is a big factor too).

One of the top questions I get from both staff and students as I pass them in the hallways is cell-phone related. They are curious about my thoughts and how to make something work (usually Outlook Exchange when it comes to staff). Regarding the three top cell phone users, I have boiled down what appear the main differences between the top cell phones on the market at the moment (meaning, you never know what 2012 will offer us). This is not meant to be comprehensive...just based on observations and conversations with users of each type.
  • Blackberry: tends to appeal to business-minded users; advantages are fast and reliable email accounts and great phone functions; disadvantages seem to be lack of touch screens and smaller app selection
  • iPhone: tends to appeal to media-driven users; advantages are lots of apps, especially social networking apps; disadvantages seem to be expense, doesn't support third-party apps, painfully slow and tedious emailing process and doesn't fully support Outlook Exchange, and the well-know issues with phone calling and functions
  • Android: tends to appeal to those who like iPhone but looking for another option (reasons vary but strong Google users top the list); advantages include lots of apps (especially third-party apps written by the open-source community) and phone models vary from touch screen and keyboard combos; disadvantages include slower process for emailing and doesn't fully support Outlook Exchange
Anyway, let me know if I missed a major feature or function in the above list. Don't forget to comment on the cartoon...love to hear your thoughts!  -- Eddie

Monday, January 10, 2011

Safe Password Suggestions

I have been asked several times in recent weeks about a good method for creating safe passwords. I recommend that you change your main password 2-3 times a year for security measures. I know this is a pain but it proves to be wise in the end.
Good passwords should not include your name and not easily found in the dictionary. I recommend a combination of at least six letters, characters, and numbers (having all three represented is best but at least two is fine – adding both lower and upper case letters is even better!). It’s best to make it something fairly easy to remember like: “2$00n2tell” or “4everC00l” (zeros instead of letter “o”). I like to make it easy to type as well as easy to remember. So, spend some time thinking about it…be creative..and make it something you won’t easily forget. : )

Reminder: when you change your password at the Kerrville ISD login, it automatically changes it for your KISD Outlook Mail account as well (which is quite helpful). However, other school-related passwords (i.e. Skyward, Eduphoria) will remain the same and will require a separate process for changing passwords.