Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Last minute tech stuff for the fall 2011 ...

In August 2009 I wrote a blog about "last minute tech gadgets to bring to campus". I was just looking at this entry again. Although all of things that I mentioned are still good things to bring along, there are a few more considerations.

In 2009 I suggested that students bing:

1. A laptop bag or backpack
2. Laptop lock for your room
3. Portable storage
4. USB hub
5. Headphones for use in the labs or library
6. Subscribe to a music service like Pandora

I think most of these still hold true, but I would add a few notes.

1. The laptop bag is still a good idea, but most students seem to be going with a backpack or courier bag. There are now backpacks with extra padding to protect a laptop. I you plan on carrying your laptop all over campus, I would go with a 14" model. You save a pound or so and still get a nice workable image.

2. Laptop lock - still a must. Things can walk from a residence hall bedroom when you are visiting friends down the hall.

3. Portable storage - still a good thing, but prices have really dropped. You can buy a 32GB (huge) for less than $40. Note that we now use Microsoft Live@Edu for our email system, but it also provides about 25GB of storage in the "cloud". No worries about backups or losing your data. Remember backup your data from your laptop or flash drive. BTW, the email and storage are yours even after graduation!

4. USB Hub - I am not as hot on this anymore. Most laptops are coming with 4-5 USB ports in them now. You may need a hub, but this is doubtful. Spend the money on a good power strip a circuit breaker to protect your gadgets from power surges and lightening.

5. Headphones - Still a good idea, but you can reuse the earbuds from your iPod or other music device. You will need this in the library and labs for sure.

6. Music service - you can still use Pandora for 40 hours a month for free, but it only costs $36 for the entire year. You might also look at AOL radio or Yahoo radio. You cannot customize you playlist the way you can with Pandora, but free is good.

7. Personal Printer- I know everyone hates printing on their own printer when you can get free printing in campus labs and the library, but when you need that paper for an 8AM class a little desktop ink jet printer is a cheap investment and comes in handy.

8. Tablet or eReader - Still not seeing large numbers of these on campus. In most cases you read eBooks on your laptop or even your phone. Personally, I would not jump on this bandwagon just yet. Prices will come down and they are just another device to worry about. If you have plenty of cash or someone buys one for you as a gift, enjoy, but they are not work tools just yet.

9. Personal wireless access router - forget about it. You don't need it on campus and the network will detect it and shut you down. Save the $50. If you live off campus, go for it.

10. Personal video camera - about 30% of SU students report that they own one, but it's unclear whether the device is their phone or something like a Flip camera. If you like making videos you can get a great quality HD video camera for $100-$150. Flip is not made anymore, but Kodak, Sony and others make them.

I think that's it for this year. If you have some ideas of your own, feel free to send me a comment. Let the year begin.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What if technology is just too expensive...

I spend a great deal of time describing what college students are bringing to campus. My surveys over the past few years have show dramatic growth in amount of technology being brought to campuses these days. First it was the desktop computer, then the laptop, most recently Smart Phones, and we are just seeing tablets make their arrival. This is all kind of exciting when you deal with tech all day, like I do. While we have seen students bringing tech to campus, the campuses have been adding lots of free tech in all sorts of places. Convenience is king.

You may have noticed in my last post that while freshmen are bringing lots of tech to campus, they still want more computer labs, free printing, more library computers, and even walk up computers in campus coffee shops or dining spaces. Some even ask for rental computers and tablets. It never seems to be enough.

Although most students are jumping on board and investing in lots of personal technology (at least at my campus), what if this is all just too much. What if you can barely afford to pay tuition and by or rent textbooks. Yes, students are now renting text books and saving. Check out or Google rent textbooks. Back to the story.

What if you are barely getting by and are trying to keep up. What do you absolutely need to survive on a college campus? Well not every campus offers free printing and printing is still hugely important. So I suggest saving a few cents for printing, but avoid commercial print shops. Most campus labs will allow you to print for 5 cents or less per page. So where else can you save?

My campus provides three open computers labs. These are labs with not scheduled classes. You can walk in and use most of the programs you need for free. When classes are not scheduled, say during late afternoon or early morning, many campus labs are open and available for walk-in use. The campus library is open an average of 16 hours per day and they have dozens of desktop computers for walk-up use. Check with the front desk, but most campuses have these and all you need is a valid network account which comes with your tuition. You should also see if you can check out a laptop or tablet at the circulation desktop. We have been loaning these for about 10 years. You can generally borrow a computer with all of the software for 2-3 hours, for free.

Does your campus have coffee shops? Our main coffee shop has about 10 desktop PCs for walk in use. Spend your money on a coffee. You can't print in the coffee shop, but you can do some work and save it to your network drive, cloud storage, or a thumb drive.

So what do you have to buy to stay competitive with technology? Well keep in mind that going cheap requires you to plan ahead and to be flexible, but it can be done. I suggest buying one thing. A thumb drive (or two for backup). You can buy these almost anywhere, but I just checked and you can buy a 16 gigabyte thumb drive for less than $17 at Amazon. This will hold every paper and assignment that you do over your four years of college, excluding video and audio recordings. Buy two and back-up often. These are easy to lose. Always have a backup tucked away at home.

This will allow you to go anywhere to work and to search for the cheapest printing. You can also save videos and music and you can play these back on the free computers with some inexpensive ear buds.

Now you know the frugal side of tech. College is expensive, but campuses make an awful lot of tech available for the price of tuition. Enjoy and save.