Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Christmas and campus technology

Thanksgiving is over and we only a few weeks to go until final exams and Christmas break. This is the time of year that goes by faster than any other. It will be over in a blink of an eye.

Time to look back and think about the semester which is drawing to a close. Of course you could have studied more and procrastinated less. Think for just a moment about what technology or tech tools might have helped a bit. Memory (not your memory) is often something that students wish they had a bit more of. This can be memory for your laptop or walk around memory (flash drives). We are seeing that students have a great deal more to save every semester. In the old days we saved paper copies of research papers, but now its video, audio, power point presentations and lots of other things. A flash drive can be a very cheap way to meet this need. You can now by 32 gigabytes of storage for less that $80 ( for $79). This could equate to 32,000 photos or even more pages of text. This is probably more than you need. You can buy 8GB of storage for about $18 ( These can be a great stocking stuffer.

Don't forget about a back up copy. Often students save their work on their computer or flash drive, but don't think about a back up. Remember that these little drive and just little and fragiledevices made of plastic and metal. They can be erased or lost or destroyed in many different ways. You are probably better off buying 2-3 small flash drives that one large capacity drive. More copies is better.

If you are a big time saver of video or audio files you might also want to buy a 1 terabyte external drive ( for $184). These drives are also cheap and can store years worth of work. You can also configure them to back up your entire laptop on a regular interval (once or twice a week).

Memory is a great asset for any student, or anyone else. Next time we'll talk about personal printers. They may cost a few dollars, and I know I hate to buy toner cartridges, but it's nice to have a decent printer on a cold night when you don't want to walk to the computer lab just to get your paper printed for free.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Technology in education and beyond

Most freshmen are now settled in. Classes are well underway. Students are on the network and their virtual networks are established or re-established. These are really special times. With relative ease you can stay connected to old friends and family, and the same time explore new networks and social groups. This has never been so easy. You can be hours away from home and yet just as connected as you were in your home town. This has to be a great comfort to students and parents.

These are interesting times on college campuses. Students are arriving with a great deal of personal technology. They are seeing classroom technology in their classes which is equal to or grater than they saw in high school. University have adopted course management systems to supplement their courses and are quite comfortable using or other collaborative web sites to tap into social media to make a point. Most faculty have really started to dig into academic resources on the web and are even creating their own digital content. Classes are being recording on iTunes ( University or captured on tools like Tegrity ( There is less concern among faculty about recording class content and a more direct concern on student success outcomes. The academic landscape is changing. It is becoming more open and less tied to a classroom or class time. Virtual learning is new and less threatening than it was a few years ago. I think that this is just the start. Students will see an increase in the availability of digital resources. They will see digital collaboration become commonplace. Sharing the learning experience globally will and is becoming the norm. These tools and skills are already in the business arena and quikly being adopted.

Students need to start looking for chances to expand their frame of reference. Challenge yourself to take advantage of all that is out there to research a topic; to challenge your perspective on the world; and to push yourself to your creative limits. Faculty, library staff and others on campus are there to help you dig through the good and the not so good.

In the next several years you will see the creation or digital content become a major emphasis in learning and also a major need for employers. The "hard skills" related to being able to create, create, and deliver a digital message will be make you attractive to potential employers. This is a unique time when the young can advance quickly by being able to apply digital skills that are not a part of the skills set of the older generation. Graduates have the chance to advance quickly and take advantage of a new set of communication skills. Advantage, the millennial graduates.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Getting settled in with technology on campus

Most colleges have opened at this point. Classes have started and although its a busy time with lots of change going, students need focus on a few tech related things.

Physical security first. If you have not purchased a laptop lock down cable, do so. These cables are easy to install and can be purchased online, in local retail stores, or in the campus bookstore. Laptops are often stolen when they are sitting in a dorm room and the owner goes to class or to take a shower. Set a password on the laptop so no one can get to your files if it is stolen. When you go home for the weekend, take the laptop. With your cell phone, consider setting a password or whatever locking feature your phone provides. Although this can be a bit inconvenient, a stolen or lost cell phone can lead to some pretty large phone bills. When not in use, lock things like your iPod or gaming system in a drawer. Dorm rooms are often left with the door open "just for a minute" and this can lead to a theft.

Virus protection and spam filters. At our campus we provide virus protection software for free, just visit the Helpdesk site for more information . You should scan your computer for spam and malware at least once a week. These programs can really slow down your computers performance. Free tools like Adaware and SpyBot Search and Destroy, can be found on the web.

Look for wireless - most laptops are wireless ready and most campus provide free "hot spot" access. Look for a map of the "hot spots" at the campus Helpdesk or Telecommunications sites. In a short time almost every space on campus will be wireless, so get the protocol for getting connected and jump on. Note that wireless networks are generally slower that wired connections and can be effected by the number users in a location. This will effect things like streaming video and audio.

Get registered for the campus alert system. Most campuses have emergency response systems which will notify you via email or text message in the event of a campus emergency. Look in the lower right hand corner of the campus home page to sign up, .

Last, find the phone number for the Helpdesk and their email address on the web. Keep these on a "sticky note" or note board in your room. This can provide quick support. Also, when you see email bulletins for down times or other network alerts take notice.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What software should students have on their computers?

This can be a more complicated question that it might first appear to be. I would suggest that students not buy any special software when they buy a computer (other than whatever is included in the price). Most colleges now have special purchasing program with manufacturers, including Microsoft, Adobe, Symantec and McAfee. This means that students can usually get heavily discounted pricing on products from these companies. The offers are handled in different ways. In some cases they are handled through the university IT department, sometimes through the campus bookstore, and occasionally through the manufacturer itself.

In Maryland the Maryland Enterprise Education Consortium (MEEC) has negotiated special pricing with the companies noted above. In the case of Microsoft and Adobe discounts can approach 70% to 80% off. With security software, such as McAfee, our campus provides it for free. To get an idea of the offerings on the campus visit the campus Helpdesk site ( For a quick check on the Microsoft offerings take a look at this listing, .

We are seeing that as students move into their majors they sometimes want to buy "the tools of the trade". Art students may want to own a copy of Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. Video Communications majors may want to own the Avid video editing suite. This varies by major and is something that can be considered later as the student gets more involved in major courses.

In summary, always check with your IT helpdesk before buying software. You can save a bundle.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Buying the computer for college

I recently sent this reply to a mother of an incoming freshman. It can apply to most campuses and most freshman computer purchases.

Dear Mrs ________,

Our campus does offer a computer purchasing program through the Bookstore, but this is to provide students with a discount option and is not an endorsement for any one company.

Computers have become a commodity, so you may do better through specials on the internet, but this is a good starting place. Our campus does have a repair service that runs through the Bookstore on campus. Its convenient and modestly priced. We do not have a loaner program, but do have many labs on campus where students can get access to a computer if they have to send theirs out for service. We even have sign out laptops in the Library.

Here are some things to think about when purchasing a computer. Laptops have become the norm, with over 70% of our students opting for a laptop. Wireless access has pushed these numbers up along with falling prices for laptops in general. If you look for a computer with the specs below, it should last four years.

1.8Ghz dual core processor
120 to 160 GB hard drive
14" to 15" monitor size
A DVD burner. These will play both CDs and DVDs
Gaming: some students are into games. If this is the case add a 512MB graphics. Otherwise 256MB is fine.

Weight: a laptop will generally be in the 5 to 7 pound range. If your daughter will be lugging it around a great deal she might want to consider a lighter model

Carrying case: a padded back pack is often best. The light weight attractive bags are generally a bit flimsy

Warranty: you can pay extra for a three year warranty. I generally don't, but you might want the peace of mind. Laptops depreciate in value quickly.

Theft insurance: generally not needed ( if the student is careful), but you might check with your insurance agent. It might be covered under you homeowners insurance.

This is a lot to digests. I would look to pay in the $800 to $1000 range. By the way, over 40% of our students own Dells, 25% HP, 10% MAC, and 25% other.

Let me know if you have any other questions.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The perils of dowloading music illegally

I am sure that most of have read about college students being fined or criminally charged for illegally downloading music from the Internet. This has been going on for several years much to the distress of artists and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA, It all started with Napster, then Kazaa, and now Limewire and BitTorrent. These file sharing tools allow people to share music or video without purchase. Although this sounds great to resourceful consumers, it is illegal and frequently results in suits or at least warnings from the RIAA. The RIAA seems to target college students because of their tech savvy nature and interest in obtaining free media. Colleges and universities across the country frequently hear from the RIAA and have to spend time and energy tracking down illegal downloads and those sharing media. There is incrasing pressure from the federal government for campuses to get actively involved in the prevention of media file sharing ( .

To combat this illegal activity many universities have adopted packet shaping technologies or other tools to try and limit or block the illegal downloading or sharing over the campus networks. Most have not fully succeeded in this effort. In the near future this will become even more challenging, since more legal media is now being shared. An example of legal media might be a podcast (MP3 audio file) of a lecture or presentation. This is a growing form of communication offered by companies, universities, and media outlets. How do we separate the legal from the illegal? Not very easily or very effectively.

As an alternative, some campus are providing legal music sharing services within their networks. An example of one of these is . Campuses can sign up for Ruckus and students can have access to most of their favorite music for free. Of course they are hit with pretty excessive advertising, but this is nothing new and is par for the course with most media and news services on the web.

Parents and students should look for legal alternatives to music and video file sharing. At my campus we have seen warnings and at least one law suit resulting in a fine of over $2000 for illegal file sharing. There are plenty of legal options that might cost a little money like www.itunes, , ,or even . My university severely limits MP3 downloads on the network, so the downloading process takes forever. This is an effort to limit its attractiveness, but we can see that this tactic will not be effective forever.

Its a legality thing, an ethical thing, and the right thing to discourage digital theft. Please do the right thing

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Web 2.0. What does this have to do with going to college

Web 2.0 is something that you often here about in the tech media and every once in awhile in the popular media. What is it and why should college freshmen even think about it?

Web 2.o is, as the name implies, a second generation of the Internet. There are actually more than a few deifinitions. If you use the web today you see much more rich content than you did five or six years ago. This has happened gradually. If you look at,, and most recently sites like iGoogle you will see portal pages which allow you to determine what you see and lots of media integration. Personalization was not a part of the first generation web. Web media (audio, video, animation...) were not there at the start, but are now common place. Look at the mashups that are all over the web today. These are pages or sites which include a combination of text, pictures, streaming audio and video, and animation. The web is much more full and integrated that it was several years ago. Remember when we were amazed that you could write something that people could actually see just by accessing your site?

What does this have to do with education and college students today? We have watched students entering higher education for the several years and see a number of interesting trends. First, students are huge consumers of web media and are pretty comfortable with going to the web for their news and information. Over the past five years most classes have added a web component, but now the use of advanced web media is growing at a rapid rate. The web is now mainstream enough for individuals to express their thoughts and ideas very easily. Expressing ideas, creative works, and collaborating are now common place. Take a look at ,,, . These are just a few well known and easy to use expression sites. Although these have been fun sites for the past year or so, they are now becoming a part of learning and teaching. For students entering college today, these and similar sites will be the self expression platforms that are a part of their education and a part of their career skill set.

Soon it will not matter whether a student decides to study education, videography, art, music, marketing or biology. The Web 2.0 skill set used to communicate ideas will be important to all careers. Who better to launch these tools in their career fields than new college graduates. The stage is already set on college campuses. High speed networks are in place. Data storage, needed to provide the work space for media creation, is cheaper than ever. Campuses need to see this trend and support it at a high level. The resources needed to create media content for the Internet need to be made available to all students, in all academic programs. The tools can be as inexpensive as a digital audio or video recorder, or high end high definition video studios. Since quality media is rarely created on a "first take", digital editing facilities need to be available. An informative discussion of what Web 2.0 is and how it compares to the first generation web can be found at:

The next generation of college graduates will need to know how to create blogs, wikis, podocasts, and audio/video media. These will be the communication platforms of most career fields in the future. This is a time of great excitement on college campuses. When shopping for a university, see what they are doing to prepare students for a Web 2.0 world. These new tools will open doors in a culture of global communications.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Campus safety a major concern

Over the past year the tragedy at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University have shocked college campuses. These Columbine High type events have caused worry and action on college campuses. Since the Virgina Tech shootings took place campuses have been looking at ways to contact their students, all of their students, quickly should a similar event take place at their schools.

Some may say that this is an over reaction to high publicity tragedies that are unlikely to occur on most campuses. This may be somewhat true, but these events have pushed college presidents to address the question with parents and students. The Campus Computing Project ( has been tracking technology trends on campus for many years. The 2007 survey shows that most campuses have some plan for contacting students in the event of violence, weather alerts, accidents, fires, or other emergencies. Most are using their web sites, email systems, and/or text messaging to let their students know about any major safety threats. Some campuses even send voice messages to cell phones. On some campuses a simple siren system has become one of a more than one methods of alerting students that something bad is happening.

Providing these services can run from the inexpensive (email) to those which can cost tens of thousands of dollars (text messaging), but students and parents are more focused on campus safety than ever and the costs are worth it. These are very different times on college campuses. Although violence is rare on most campuses, students should stay alert and parents should ask what systems are in place to communicate with students.

As you look at college campuses you should ask the campus admissions officials what systems are in use. Have they been tested? Has there ever been an event in which the systems were needed. These are all reasonable questions today. You might also check the campus web site searching under emergency notification.

Safety is one of the key concerns of college students today. Although it may be a little blown out of proportion by the media, it is important and should be investigated as you make your college choice.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

March is acceptance letter month, not just madness month

March is the month for acceptance letters and financial aid pages, not just basketball. Once the letters start coming in, take a close look at each colleges reputation, location, "campus feel", academic programs, and cost. If you have a major in mind you are way ahead of the game, but keep in mind that most students change majors three or more times before graduation. I know this can be unsettling for parents, but the facts speak for themselves. I suggest that you look at all of the factors noted above, not just one or two. This is a big decision and one that should not be impulsive or linked to "where all of your friends are going". In two years you will not be close friends with the same people who are close to you now. This is just the way it works.

On the tech front, its too early to buy the laptop or desktop just yet. National surveys show that over 95% of freshmen come to campus with a computer. If you cannot afford one, fear not. All campuses have computer labs and libraries which generally provide free access. I suggest taking a close look at the colleges Helpdesk and Bookstore web sites. Often colleges have tips on what type of computer to buy and may even have special purchasing programs for computers and software. In Maryland we have exceptional pricing on Microsoft products and we always tell students to wait to buy software until they are enrolled. Always look for these programs before buying. You can save some serious money.

If the college requires that you own a computer you can probably use financial aid to pay for it. If they only recommend it, you will likely be on your on. When in doubt call the financial aid office.

You should also see if you can find information about the campuses wireless Internet access. Most campuses are working on full coverage for wireless access, but most have not completed this just yet. There should be info on this at the Helpdesk site or the telecommunications pages. More on this later.

Good luck in making your college choice. Remember that big is not always better and private is not always perfect. A good student can get a good education at most colleges.

Friday, March 21, 2008

FreshmanTech gets started

FreshmanTech is a new blog designed to provide college freshmen and/or their parents with information regarding technologies in use on college campuses. Things are changing so fast that new students often don't know what they will need, in term of technology, as they head off for college. This blog will provide info and answer questions that you might have in this area. Colleges have been ramping up technology for both academic and entertainment purposes for the past several years. The web, laoptop purchasing programs, wireless networking, learning management systems, web based student information, portals, music services, and text message emergency notification systems are just a few of things that were not even thought about ten years ago.

I have been involved in higher education technology for 20+ years and have been a Chief Technology Officer at a state university for the past eleven years. What are your questions regarding technology in the college/university environment?