Journal: Thrice Blasted Internets

Internet learning is officially rolling in my classroom!

And by rolling, I mean kind of dragging along the ground.  Uphill. 

Things that would’ve helped:

  1. A second instructor.
  2. Any kind of pre-test in technology skills.
  3. For hotmail to not have disallowed us from signing up for more than 5 email addresses.
  4. For my college email’s search function to function.

Many students did not have email addresses.  This didn’t really surprise me.

Some students had trouble locating the url bar.  When they did find it, some had trouble with troubleshooting, i.e., noticing that they’d spelled the url incorrectly.  This was only vaguely surprising. 

Some students could not find the “-” key.  Some could not use the mouse.  This should not have surprised me, but it did.

Even for just getting set up, we were so multi-level in terms of computer skills (let alone English skills) that I had to ask one of the students to help the others make email addresses.  I had to ask all of the students to wait many, many times.  And I had to not swear at the machines. 

So I guess this class period was the pre-test.  It has certainly informed instruction.  It will be hard for tomorrow to not be smoother or more productive in comparison.

Oops! and Skype is Sneaky

I’m at a VISTA supervisor training in Dallas, and I completely forgot to blog.  Sorry!  I’ve met so many fascinating people and have lots to report.

One barrier to reporting this, besides full days of sessions and an evening out in Dallas was that Firefox was running funny, and I couldn’t understand why.  I finally figured out thanks to Felipe that when I installed Skype, it automatically/sneakily included a buggy Firefox add-on.  Shame on Skype for sliding that one under the table, and further shame for doing so with something that hurt my web-browsing.

More soon!

Preaching to the Tech Choir

The blog Dangerously Irrelevant compares the phrases “I’m not good at math” with “I’m not good at computers” and wonders why the second one is so much more acceptable.  I concur.

I’m completely boggled when I meet fiercely intelligent, energetic, involved, interested, and interesting people and then hear them say something like “I don’t do computers.”  Boggled.

boys choir by saikofish on Flickr
boys choir by saikofish on Flickr

When I hear something to the effect of, “I’m over 30, I’m not a computer person,” it translates into two messages:

The first says, “I make excuses,” and it’s disappointing.

The second says “I don’t value anything you say via computer or about computers,” and it’s insulting.

I’m smiling at the irony of posting this on my blog.

Please Close Your Laptop

I have to go to bed soon, but I wanted to quick note a challenge that I faced in my diligent note-taking that surprised me.

I was at a presentation at which laptops were provided because part of the agenda was to have us explore a particular online course. I decided to just use that computer for my notes instead of the one I brought.

So I popped it open and started myself a word document. I happily took notes for a few minutes, then we did an interactive activity. When we came back and were regrouping, I opened up the laptop to get ready to take more notes. The presenter came over and very kindly and with no edge at all asked me to keep it closed because they were going to start again.

When I said I was using it to take notes, she thought for a beat or two and then said ok. I kept it closed anyway though. I thought that despite whatever assumptions she had made about what I was doing on the computer that she treated me with respect, and the best way I could think to repay that respect was to not be on the computer while she was talking.

But as a result, my notes are less detailed and much less accessible to me. I’ll need to spend some time keying them in.

Is this a common phenomenon? And how do you feel when you’re presenting to people while they are actively using laptops?

Traditional Libraries and ABE

Many thanks to The Centered Librarian for pointing out this article by William H. Wisner in the Christian Science Monitor.

Wisner basically talks about the changing role of the Reference Librarian from facilitator of patiently research to that person who changes the printer paper.  The article focuses on the idea that libraries are being dumbed-down by the switch in focus from knowledge to information.  I noticed that he also equates additional noise with additional technological distractions.

I need to sit on this article for a bit and think more about it.  He makes many points, some I agree with, some I disagree with, and some I hadn’t thought about before.

After my first quick read, my big question is this: where, in a traditional library focused on scholarship and reverent silence, would my little GED and English classes fit in, and what would this signify about the roles of the traditional library and my students?

In Defense of Low Tech

Broken Computer Monitor Found In The Woods by BinaryDreams on Flickr
Broken Computer Monitor Found In The Woods by BinaryDreams on Flickr

When my technology failed me in two classes in a row, I gained a new-to-me understanding of why exactly the use of new technology has been so relatively slow to become ubiquitous in classrooms, and why some perfectly intelligent people have dug in their heels and refused to jump on the computer bandwagon.

Some quick thoughts that have probably always been obvious to everyone but me:

  1. Most education organizations don’t really have the funds to pay for top-of-the line gadgetry, back-up versions of said gadgetry, or adequate staff devoted to keeping said gadgetry functioning.  So it’s likely to go wrong, and when it does, we’re unlikely to have great infrastructure to get it going again.
  2. Spending time planning a lesson and then having to completely throw it out the window and improvise on the spot, especially repeatedly, is frustrating.
  3. Planning a “just in case” back-up lesson for every hour of intended computer-based instruction would take a ridiculous amount of prep time.
  4. Teachers don’t like feeling helpless when their students patiently watch them fiddle with non-responsive machines during class time.

Again, I think these points are not earth-shattering.  But in a way they were to me – I’m otherwise pretty into making use of digital technology to expand learning and social interactions.

Even after my sudden flash of understanding it, I still think the decision to flat-out not use digital technology grossly underestimates its benefits and potential.  But I think many of us who embrace it grossly underestimate the amount of crap involved with making it work.

My Return, and What Makes Me Happy

Hello!  I’m back.  I’m not sure what exactly I’ll be doing, but that’s no longer stopping me.

I’m up to a few things that are exciting to me.

First up, I’m addressing the fact that my computer is over 5 years old and I don’t want a new one.  As I type I’m testing out Mozy.com‘s free 2GB file back-up.  I currently don’t back up my home-use computer, which is stupid, particularly when it’s already so old.  It’s nice to finally move from “I should do something about that” to “I’m on it.”  Inspired by a Lifehacker link to ChrisWrites about slow Macs, I also downloaded Onyx, a utility that does Mac system cleanups.  And I’m considering investing $60 in additional memory (Chris links to Crucial.com, which awesomely helps you figure out what kind of memory your computer takes, even if it’s a Mac).

Also in the realm of being a wannabe tech geek, my organization started up a “Tech Vision” committee a couple months ago and asked me to be on it.  It’s fascinating to me.  One of our goals is to get technology vision into the strategic plan – an exciting move in the right direction!  Another is to map out our current tech uses, from fax machines to Web 2.0 sites to databases and beyond.  I’m gently pushing for this map to be electronic (with live links, etc.) and not just on paper.  It’s a huge task, but I think it’s good for us because we’re having an all-agency conversation (through delegates, but it’s a start), and because I think it’s great foundational work for a website overhaul in the future.

I’m also excited about the Spring (it hit 80 in the Twin Cities yesterday!), and making summer plans, and closing out my first program year at the learning center, and the Sharing the Power conference tomorrow.  I’d love to write more about them and add photos to this post, but I just burned my hand cooking and typing isn’t going so well for me at the moment.

Signing off to run my hand under more cool water!

Proof and Motivation

I believe in being nice to people and in helping out when I can. I believe it’s the right thing to do, and I also believe that it pays off in the end so it’s stupid not to.

My philosophical debate of the day is this: does the “paying off in the end” bit cheapen or confirm the “right thing to do” bit?  Can it be logical and good at the same time?

Proof, by Kodama on Flickr
Proof, by Kodama on Flickr

This came to mind because twice in the past couple of weeks, one of my advanced students, C, asked for help sending videos of her little daughter out to family in Mexico, and also with getting her hand-me-down laptop to join the library’s wireless network.

To me, these are life skills, most especially when your family lives far away.  Limited access is a problem, and when I had the chance to address it for even one person, I couldn’t not.  So I had her come in during the afternoon lull and spent maybe an hour and a half total helping her out.

Then Wednesday evening, I had an unprecedented number of new students enrolling, including four men who spoke Spanish but little English. C was there because one of those men was her brother – she brought him in. She helped him understand the application and the mechanics of his test, and when he was good to go, C also helped me with the three other Spanish-speaking students.

So on one hand, what goes around comes around, and it’s amazing to be part of a cycle of such positivity.

On the other hand, I have this very concrete proof that going the extra mile for students yields more students and more helpers.  Does this proof suck any “good” there might have been out of my desire to help my students?

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t know where my motivation to serve my students ends and my motivation to serve myself begins.

At least they’re aligned?

Personal Internet = Successful Usage

This blog started out as an experiment in limited internet access, and I’d like to quickly revisit that theme by comparing it to my constant access now.

I spent a while working to customize my internet experience through del.icio.us bookmarking, assembling an RSS feed, starting my own personal blog, starting a Flickr account, and keeping up more regularly with twitter, Facebook, technorati, etc.  Out of that social media category, I’d say the RSS and blog had the most impact in making the web more comfortable and rewarding to visit.

I feel significantly more connected with everything since I took the time to personalize my browser.  I consolidated my switch-hitting between Safari and Firefox (Firefox won).  Then I sat down and made my bookmarks toolbar sensible and usable, and cleared out old bookmarks I hadn’t used in ages.  I’ve started with some add-ons, most notably Google Notebook.  I no longer feel like I’m just visiting the internet; I’m home.

Based on my own experiences, I don’t see how people popping into the library to use the internet for an hour, or even people who have a laptop but no home internet access, can have the same rich experience that I’m having with my full set up.  So much time goes into organizing and arranging things to be just right, not only for my enjoyment but to help me keep up with everything.  It gives me an advantage in terms of research (school, career, and beyond) and in terms of social media presence over people without my modest but crucial resources.

How are web developers working to enable custom internet experiences for people who don’t have their own personal computers?  How are those free or cheap wi-fi projects I keep hearing about going (I think there’s one in Minneapolis…)?  When are some $200 laptops going to hit the American market, and would they be usable enough to bridge the digital divide within our country?  And what can one person do to share her technological advantages?

Google. Notebook.

Google Notebook is my new favorite thing ever.

You can collect bookmarks, web snippets, and your own notes together and organize them by topics in different notebooks.  You can let other people on gmail collaborate or keep your notebooks private.

I do love del.icio.us for the social bookmarking that it is, but sometimes you need a more flexible and comprehensive digital notebook.  Here it is!

Did I mention it has browser add-ons available?  A little Notebook icon now lives at the bottom of Firefox on my computer, just waiting for me to open it and add.  It’s so beautiful!

For the record, no, Google is not paying me.