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It’s Easy! Just Hit the Button! October 24, 2006

Posted by Michael Sensiba in Gadgets, Usability.
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I was helping a friend today by taking her picture with her digital camera. By all accounts, this is a VERY easy camera to use–when you know how, that is. As our gadgets grow greater in number, smaller in size and increasingly more complex, even the most tech-savvy people are prone to occasional fumbling of the George Jetson variety (“Jane, how do you stop this crazy thing!?!”). Many more controls are crammed into smaller spaces or have numerous “Transformer”-like functions. Labels, if they exist at all, employ tiny print and cryptic symbols. On top of all this, no two brands, makes or models operate in the same way. If cars were like this, we’d all crash (at least moreso than we do already).

We have often berated computer manufacturers and software designers for their lack of attention to usability. Perhaps it’s time to shift some of the heat onto the makers of cameras, phones, music players and TV remotes. Hello, hello? Is this thing on?

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Gmail.edu??? October 13, 2006

Posted by Michael Sensiba in Email.
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Google is offering to provide student email services to colleges for free. While this may create a loss of control for campus IT departments and contribute to overall Google world domination, it might offer the superior mail services of Gmail to an eager student base. I, for one, can’t wait. [From Chronicle of Higher Education’s The Wired Campus]

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Why are you talking to me? I’m on the phone! October 12, 2006

Posted by Michael Sensiba in Cell/Mobile.
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From New Strategist Publications‘ American Consumers Newsletter:

Interestingly, while 82 percent of the public has been annoyed by someone else’s cell phone use, only 8 percent of cell phone users say they have annoyed others with their calls. They must have been too busy talking to notice.

For more interesting demographic information, check out their blog at http://www.demomemo.blogspot.com

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Textbooks, a bite at a time? October 11, 2006

Posted by Michael Sensiba in Publishing, Textbooks.
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At the beginning of the semester, I saw a flyer in the parking garage elevator for iChapters.com (http://www.ichapters.com).  This sounded to me like a new way to tackle the textbook cost hurdle, so I checked into it.  iChapters.com is an endeavor of Thomson Publishing.  It offers traditional print textbooks for sale, as well as ebooks and individual chapters of textbooks.  I used a book I bought for Criminal Justice as an example.  The book, Research Methods for Criminal Justice and Criminology, Fourth Edition, by Michael G. Maxfield & Earl Babbie, cost me $106.35 (plus $16.48 shipping and handling) from Amazon.com in September of 2005.  It included a “Free” Research Writer CD-ROM and 4 months access to InfoTrac College Edition.  Today, iChapters.com offers the printed book for $85.49, the ebook for $45.49, and the chapters for $6.49 each (the table of contents and chapter 1 are free with registration, so buying chapter-by-chapter would cost $77.88).

What’s going on here?  First of all, electronic materials are delivered as PDFs with DRM enabled, requiring the user to download a special reader to a single computer (files are portable, but the must be “checked in” and “checked out” in order to be moved to another computer.  The DRM generally allows access to the material for 180 days, so there is no “sell-back” value.  Also, the “Free” add-ons appear to be stripped out, and available for purchase separately.  Since many students don’t use these anyway, this could be a real savings.  This service is available for MS Windows only at this time.  One (and only one) print copy is permitted of each page.

For students with access to a personal computer (I don’t think this would work well with lab computers due to the DRM), iChapters may be an affordable and attractive alternative method for purchasing their textbooks.  In addition, courses in which only certain chapters in a book are assigned may be good candidates for the chapter-purchase method.  The iChapters concept could also be a good alternative for the student who has already purchased the book, but doesn’t have it in his/her hot little hands when a required reading is due for tonight’s class period.

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Is Email Obsolete for Millennials? October 10, 2006

Posted by Michael Sensiba in Email, Instant Messaging, SMS, Social Networking.
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An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “E-Mail is for Old People,” points out that college students rarely, if ever, check their campus email accounts. Students, often preferring contact through IM or their MySpace or Facebook accounts, eschew email as “too confusing” or for “old people”. They often treat email from their institutions as spam.

While email is not the only way to communicate electronically, it is still to be considered a serious tool. While IM is great for chatting with friends interactively, much serious work requires some forethought and composition of the message (including attachments). Email communication is, first and foremost, asynchronous. It allows communication at the time and choosing of the recipient. This choice permits the recipient to prioritize his/her time more easily than the tyranny of the ringing phone (land line or mobile) or popup message. And unlike some social networking sites, email communication is essentially non-public, which also lends itself to serious uses.

So why all the emphasis on the serious? Because much of the communication that today’s students will encounter in the “real world” will need to share the characteristics of email: asynchronous, non-public, and at least somewhat thought through. Other technologies will probably embrace some of these characteristics, but email isn’t going anywhere soon, so students might as well get comfortable with it.

Tools for School 2: Office Apps October 9, 2006

Posted by Michael Sensiba in Higher Education, Web 2.0 Tools.
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Brian Benzinger posted Part 2 of his article: Back to School with the Class of Web 2.0 over at Solution Watch. Brian looks at Web 2.0 applications for word processing, presentations, diagrams and mind mapping, spreadsheets, calendars, and some miscellaneous utilities. Brian compares web-based word processors in depth, exploring page and text formatting, fuctionality, and collaborative value and sharing. He created a nice feature matrix for the word processing applications he reviewed.

Web-based office applications have a lot of potential for the education market. Since many, if not most of these applications are free, they allow both schools and students who are “strapped for cash” to have access to the essential functionality of an office suite. Also, since these applications are web-based and collaborative, they provide opportunities for group work in a way that stand-alone, desktop-based applications cannnot. This is a segment of the Web 2.0 market that needs further experimentation and application in the higher education sector.

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Tools for School October 7, 2006

Posted by Michael Sensiba in Higher Education, Web 2.0 Tools.
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Brian Benzinger at Solution Watch posted a terrific list of Web 2.0-related tools for students and educators.  The posting, entitled “Back to School with the Class of Web 2.0: Part 1,” covers nearly 50 tools in these categories: Organizers; Gradebooks; For Teachers, Clubs, and Management; Mathematics; Resume Building; To Do’s and Note Taking; Learning and Research; and Media Sharing.   Make sure you check out the comments too, as there are a number of additional tools listed there.  In Brian’s list, I saw a number of my own personal favorites, as well as some I’ve been meaning to explore further.  I will return to this list again, and break it down for you, 9.95 style.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, Part 2 will cover Office Applications and Part 3 will cover “real cases of Web 2.0 used in classrooms around the world.”  Should be interesting.

Blogs and Authority October 5, 2006

Posted by Michael Sensiba in Authority, Blogging.
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A request came to me yesterday from our Provost via our Dean to describe how to search for blogs. One of the issues with searching for blogs is that many of the popular search tools don’t do a really good job of differentiating between blogs and more traditional information sources. This may be based in part on how the sources are structured (i.e., XML), but may also indicate that the lines between traditionally-published and participant -published content may be blurring. For example, is information on the Creative Commons, authored by Professor Lawrence Lessig in his blog, less authoritative than information on the Creative Commons authored by a staff writer for some newspaper, just because of the form in which it is distributed?

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