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“During the past year, the London-based Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts (RSA) has burst onto the scene, offering a steady diet of videos created with a TED-like formula. They’re short. They’re animated and visually snappy. And they’re substantive too. But while TED is all about bringing the inspiration, RSA videos tend toward critique. Take the four videos below. Though varied in focus, they all circle around a common theme — the flaws running through our contemporary capitalist system.”
Earlier this year, at the end of my first year of graduate school and in the middle of paper-writing season, my laptop died. It had been lying innocently in my bag when they both toppled over and crashed onto the ground. The impact affected the monitor; it wouldn’t turn on. I don’t think there could have been a worse time. Deadlines were approaching and tensions were mounting. Thankfully I had been using Dropbox and, commandeering a nearby desktop computer, I was able to continue working without missing a beat.
The reason my working documents (including a powerpoint presentation and relevant images) were saved is because Dropbox, like Google Apps (explained previously), use cloud computing to save (or “sync”) your files online. For me, what’s special about Dropbox is threefold: For one, the service functions seamlessly with how you use your computer already. Dropbox is represented on your computer simply as a folder like any other. You drop files and organize subfolders as you would anything else. The difference is that this folder’s contents are backed up online. Which brings me to the second aspect I enjoy about this service: it is passive. That means that you don’t need to do anything for it to be doing its job. When my computer suddenly became inaccessible due to a broken screen I could be confident that the most recent version of the files I was working on would be available online, from any computer. This brings me to the third feature. Again like Google Apps, I can access my own Dropbox folder from any computer (through a login at the Dropbox website) and can even have files publicly accessible for others should I choose.
Go ahead, get Dropbox here.
After many weeks talking about doing it, and many months recognizing the need, I’m finally posting the first of a four-part weekly series on the ‘tools I use.’ As a (potential) academic-in-training I’ve been enjoying the relative downtime of the summer to reflect on my own habits that contribute to productivity or procrastination. This reflection has given me the chance to appreciate the tools that have consistently made my life and the work I do as a writer/researcher more bearable. It is in this spirit that I share some of the software tools that have worked the best for me. I hope to not only introduce these tools to readers who might not have heard of them, but also to highlight the ways I have personally used these programs and how they’ve helped me. Everyone’s got their own workflow, and at the end of the day we need to work in the way that works for us. These tools might not be your thing. They might even hinder your work. My goal is to make you aware of these wonderful tools, use them as you may, or ignore them all together. But hopefully I’ll be able to share something new with you and if I am able to make your life just a little easier, then I will consider it a success. All of the software highlighted here will be free, easily accessible, and user-friendly (I promise).
To begin this series, I will introduce the cornerstone of not only my academic work but, dare I say, my wired life itself. That, of course, will be Google Apps – and includes, Gmail, Calendar, Documents, Reader, and even Youtube. The range of Google applications extends beyond my ability or need to go over each of them and their uses in detail. Many of them will not factor into your daily workflow and since there exists a variety of tools available that do the same thing, I am not confident that Google necessarily provides the best of all worlds. There are three apps that I do use on a regular basis, and I will explain why below.
Before we continue, it’s important to understand broadly how Google works. This concept, ‘cloud computing,’ will apply to all of the tools I will be introducing in this series so it is worth beginning with this:
The first is Gmail. Gmail is my primary email and I have my other (school) accounts forwarded to my gmail. Doing this is pretty straightforward but differs by account type. You’re also able to reply to email inside your gmail using other accounts, which is handy if your gmail emails are being bounced back or being filed as spam. Internet-based email has the obvious advantage of being accessible from any computer, and therefore suffers from not being accessible when offline (which has never been a problem for me – and is apparently no longer the case). Gmail also offers great customization and organization (such as labels and stars). Google has published a guide to becoming a “Gmail Ninja” that walks you through your own personal setup depending on your familiarity with the service. It’s also worth mentioning that the Gmail blog has some really useful tips and advice for getting the most out of gmail. For example, a recent post offers a “grandmother’s guide to video chat.” Oh, and did I mention the instant messenger and address book built into the app, unlimited* storage and the ability to search through email the same way you would the Internet itself?
The second is Google Calendar. In addition to many of the perks of gmail (such as customization and being accessible from anywhere), the thing I really appreciate about the Calendar is its ability to provide reminders of upcoming events. I love being able to insert a birthday, indicate that it repeats every year, and give myself a ten day reminder (enough time to pick out something nice and have it send in time for birthday arrival). Being able to share calendar events with groups of people (such as a study group) doesn’t hurt either. It is definitely worth checking out.
The third is Google Docs. To be honest, I only started using Google Docs again quite recently. It is an extraordinarily useful tools, but it mainly caters to collaborative work, whereas I have been mostly engaged in solo projects. The original setup also left something to be desired, it was a bit clunky and didn’t integrate greatly with other apps. That, apparently, has changed:
However, as useful as Google Docs is for collaboration I don’t use it for the sort of frantic notetaking that is an essential part of my research and writing practice. For this I use a specific tool which I will introduce in a couple weeks. Stay tuned.
I am always looking for new ways of connecting readers with clear, concise, and free learning on the web. I was therefore delighted to receive an email from Alan at Bestcollegesonline.com directing me to their blog. Browsing the many interesting posts on divergent topics and resources related to college and academic life, I’ve selected a few that particularly stood out to me.
- 100 Excellent Online Lectures for Educators
- 100 Incredible Anthropology Lectures Online
- 100 Historical Sites Every American Should See
- 25 Writers Who Changed the World
- 100 Intro Open Courses on Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Learn
- 100 Great Tech Talks for Educators
You can find the blog here.
Finally, I would like to encourage people to likewise send me links that you think would be of interest to readers of this blog. But I would also add that (in keeping with the spirit of this blog) links, videos, and tutorials must be freely accessible and educational in nature.
Liz Coleman’s call to reinvent liberal arts education
Ray Kurzweil: A university for the coming singularity
The Impending Demise of the University by Don Tapscott (Edge.org)
“Academic Earth is an organization founded with the goal of giving everyone on earth access to a world-class education.” <home>
I am very honored to share, on my 100th post, a phenomenal website with learning aspirations that mirror those of the OpenLearning project.
From their mission statement:
“We are building a user-friendly educational ecosystem that will give internet users around the world the ability to easily find, interact with, and learn from full video courses and lectures from the world’s leading scholars. Our goal is to bring the best content together in one place and create an environment in which that content is remarkably easy to use and where user contributions make existing content increasingly valuable.” <about>
I encourage you to take a moment to browse the lectures available in a clean and accessible format covering a wide range of subjects from a variety of universities and professors. Also, take a look at their great playlists.
“Mark Kingwell delivers a lecture on ‘Representations of the Intellectual in Everyday Life’. Has pop culture ruined the intellectual?”
If you would like to listen to this lecture by having iTunes connect to TVO’s Big Ideas podcast, click here.
If you would prefer to browse past episodes of TVO’s Big Ideas, click here.
- Edward Said’s ‘Representations of the Intellectual’ (study guide from Prof Seiler‘s ‘Controversial Non-Fiction‘ course).
- Controversies / Intellectuals / Civil Society, Michael Ignatief, Queen’s Quarterly 104 (Fall 1997), pp. 395-401(ibid).
The episode of the Simpsons that Prof Kingwell refers to in his lecture is episode nine of season twelve, called ‘HOMR.’ You can find it online here.
- Disadvantages of an Elite Education, William Deresiewicz (The American Scholar, summer 2008).
Our best universities have forgotten that the reason they exist is to make minds, not careers.
“RedOrbit, Inc., headquartered in Texas , was founded in November 2002 . The web site, RedOrbit .com, was launched in May 2003, with the goal of creating the largest, most unique internet community, with the strongest consumer brand, in the most underserved niche on the Web. RedOrbit .com has since become the premier internet destination for space, science, health, and technology enthusiasts around the globe.
RedOrbit .com is committed to providing stimulating, original content and presentation, with over 500,000 pages covering the vast ideological spectrums of space, science, health, and technology. The beautiful and engaging forum created at RedOrbit .com promotes a friendly and open environment, enhancing user loyalty and community, while advancing RedOrbit’ s goal of providing the world with a virtual Utopia for intelligent, curious minds.” (emphasis added) <wiki>
If you’re anything like me, you find it pretty easy to write-off online degrees. Maybe it’s because of the way that most of us are exposed to them (through sidebar ads and spam), or maybe it’s just that we’re a little traditional about our academic institutions. I’m not going to argue for or against online college degrees, but I am going to point you in the direction of another great resource for learning (and maybe getting a degree along the way, who knows?).
The website that I am ruthlessly promoting this time is the Online Education Database (OEDb). The OEDb currently contains reviews of 1,048 programs from 88 accredited online colleges. In addition to being a fantastic resource for anyone interested in getting a degree online, they’ve got detailed articles about everything you’d ever want to know, the OEDb offers a wide range of articles and resources for people who simply want to take advantage of the Internet to broaden their minds. By far, the best part of this website are all the resources. They’re presented in a nice straightforward listings that make them easy to use (provided you can find them). Some recent articles, to get you interested, include:
- e-Learning Reloaded: Top 50 Web 2.0 Tools for Info Junkies, Researchers & Students
- 100 Ways to Use Your iPod to Learn and Study Better
- Skip the Tuition: 100 Free Podcasts from the Best Colleges in the World
- 200 Free Online Classes to Learn Anything
- more . . .
The OEDb has some really interesting (and useful!) featured articles, so make sure to check them out. In addition to this, OEDb hosts two really awesome blogs that I strongly recommend:
“Futurelab is passionate about transforming the way people learn. Tapping into the huge potential offered by digital and other technologies, we develop innovative resources and practices that support new approaches to learning for the 21st century. A not-for-profit organisation, we work in partnership with others to:
- incubate new ideas, taking them from the lab to the classroom
- share hard evidence and practical advice to support the design and use of innovative learning tools
- communicate the latest thinking and practice in educational ICT
- provide the space for experimentation and the exchange of ideas between the creative, technology and education sectors.” <home>