Increasing Enrollment – Project Results

Only two weeks before the close of the semester; the busiest time for a teacher – and the reason I missed last week’s blog post. Sorry!

At this time of the semester, I find my time evenly divided between closing this semester and preparing for next semester. Email volume has tripled with students making every possible effort to boost their grades before it’s too late. My teaching assistants and I are busy with the last of the grading and getting our grade books in order. Overshadowing all of this though, is the new semester on the rapidly approaching horizon and the eleven classes that I will be supervising. Considering the amount of work to do, the five weeks until the first day of the new semester seems like a short amount of time indeed.

A few weeks back I shared with you an account of my efforts to boost enrollment for next semester (see Oct 8, “Marketing Computer Classes”). Those efforts have been continuous through the six weeks of registration which ended this past Friday. The results have been very encouraging.

You’ll recall that I am offering a few new specialized classes, online versions of some of my current classes, and revamping other classes –all in an effort to create attractive offerings for non-technology majors. These improvements are summarized at http://lit.cs.fsu.edu and include eleven class options. We’ve run several advertisements in the campus newspaper (http://lit.cs.fsu.edu/compads.html) which have attracted a lot of attention, and generated a lot of email!

The bottom line is that enrollment for our non-major “service” classes is up 28 percent for the Spring semester from current numbers; from 1,812 students to 2,322. The biggest increases have been in online courses, and Mac-specific sections. Lessons to take away from this effort include the following:

  1. Online course enrollment is up significantly (50 percent) in our general computer literacy class with no loss of students from our classroom section. In fact our classroom sections are all full, we’ll need to offer more sections in future semester. The need for Computer Literacy is not on the decline at FSU.
  2. Online course enrollment is up significantly in more advanced classes as well with a large transfer of students from our classroom sections. Overall enrollment in my Comp Lit II class has grown from 106 to 128 students with 70 percent of those students opting for the new webbased offering.
  3. The demand for Apple versions of my Computer Lit class has been strong. Last semester I offered an experimental section to 24 Mac users. For Spring 2007 the two sections I offered for Mac students quickly filled followed by many emails from students wanting to get in. I decided to open an online section for Mac users and now have a total of 102 Mac users enrolled in Mac-specific sections of Computer Lit. A number of these students switched over from Windows sections, whose seats were then taken by Windows users waiting to get into the class. I’m certain that offering Mac sections is filling an important need and drawing more students into the class.
  4. While the new one-credit hour electives I’m offering have relatively small enrollment, I believe that they will grow with word of mouth. We suffered some loss of students in these sections due to problems with registration for the variable-hour “special topics” course number.

All in all, I would say that my efforts have paid off. Other computer departments at other colleges might look to focusing on service courses for non-tech majors as a method of financially supporting technology degree programs that are suffering from declining enrollment.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Cross-platform Teaching

Computer literacy classes are typically Microsoft-centric. Except for a small percentage of hardcore anti-Microsoft holdouts, nearly everyone teaches the Microsoft Office suite of applications -the alternative being Sun Microsystems OpenOffice (www.openoffice.org). There are a number of compelling reasons to use OpenOffice over Microsoft Office, still I opt for Microsoft Office for my students simply because 99 percent of them will be using it professionally.

Because the course is so Microsoft-centric, I feel an obligation to expose my students to other platforms during the lecture, or concepts, portion of my courses. I also feel the need to be an authority on the most popular personal computing operating systems (Windows, Mac, Linux) so that I can use my experience to teach students about the benefits and drawbacks of the various systems and interfaces.

As you may already know, I purchased my first Apple Mac at the beginning of the year. Ten months later, I find that I very much like the Mac system, but there are a number of professional activities that I am unable to accomplish on my Mac; specifically Course Technology’s SAM training and testing software requires Windows, as does Microsoft Access. There are also issues with migrating PowerPoint presentations between Mac and Windows. I’ve had no problems with Word or Excel for Mac although contrary to the marketing I find them to be inferior to the Windows versions. At the same time I’ve discovered dozens of Mac applications, mostly in the media category, that are far superior to Windows applications, or not offered for Windows. And of course, Windows cannot compete with Mac when it comes to ease of use, stability, and security.

So, at the end of 10 months I found myself with my beloved Mac on the right side of my desk, and my IBM Thinkpad on my left – I’ve become a switch hitter, so to speak. Torn between two platforms is not a convenient place to be. I was on the verge of giving up my Mac and getting a high end Windows notebook, when an alternative solution became available…

I am presently sitting at my new MacBook Pro powered by the Intel Duo 2 processor: tons of power, 2 GB of memory, and the ability to run Windows better than the best Windows PC’s. I have installed “Parallels” virtual machine software (www.parallels.com) on my Mac, which has allowed me to install both Windows XP and Windows Vista on two virtual machines. With a click of the mouse, my Mac switches from the Mac OS X and software to my Windows XP desktop and software. A shared file system allows me to work on common files from either platform. Further down the road I’ll be installing Linux as well. What a great demo it will provide for my lecture to be able to show students how these three OS’s work all from one notebook.

Obviously, this solution won’t appeal to many. But, for those who are interested in experiencing all forms of personal computing, I highly recommend trying a Mac, and if possible springing for this multi-platform arrangement. Feel free to email me with questions, or post your own thoughts on the subject.

The Student Attendance Conundrum

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about student attendance (or rather the lack of attendance) in my large lectures. As is typical during the second half of the semester, my 250-seat auditorium is only half full at my weekly lectures. Every semester I expend (probably too much) time and energy wrestling with the attendance issue. Perhaps posting my thoughts here will help me discover a solution. Here are some facts or at least my beliefs regarding attendance:

  • Most students will attend lecture if they find it entertaining and/or useful, or if it counts towards their final grade.
  • No matter what you do, there is going to be a substantial amount of students that skip lecture no matter how entertaining and useful it may be. I believe that if I had Bill Gates, or some other well-known authority, as a special guest lecturer, half my students would still skip.
  • Even if attendance counts towards the final grade, some students will skip.
  • Keeping track of attendance in large lectures is time-consuming. I currently pass around sign-in sheets to collect student signatures. Entering that data into a spreadsheet takes time but doesn’t compare to the amount of time required to inspect student’s Dr’s notes, and other documentation for when they miss a class, and to listen to excuses and haggle with students over points.
  • Taking attendance in lecture has increased attendance in my lectures by perhaps ten percent, however, half of the students that attend for the sake of attendance points, leave early or come late, which the rest of us find very distracting.
  • There is no reasonable system for taking attendance that is 100% unhackable. Students will arrive late if attendance is taken at the end of class, or leave early if it is taken prior to the end of class. Students will sign for friends. Electronic methods such as swiping ID cards as students enter and exit the auditorium, or the new wireless “clicker” technology used at some schools, are not much more effective and carry a significant amount of overhead in time and effort.
  • I do not want to force perfect attendance for all students since the students that don’t want to be in lecture often cause distractions to others by chatting, or even using their cell phone. So policies such as three misses and you are dropped from the class, I find to be too severe.

Finding a middle ground is the challenge. Teachers shouldn’t become obsessed with attendance to the point that it takes over our professional lives. One could easily spend 20 hours a week with attendance record keeping for a thousand students. I’ve seen some teachers become obsessed with this quest, locking classroom doors at the start of class so students are unable to enter class late (this BTW is against the law at our school). My philosophy is that life is too short to invest too much effort in this minor issue. I’d rather spend my professional efforts on developing useful curricula and helping students.

Considering these beliefs, my ideal attendance policy would 1) provide only enough motivation to sway good students that may be “on the fence” about attending lecture, 2) require a minimum amount of record-keeping effort, and student haggling.

A colleague of mine, uses a system that I find tempting to adopt. She takes attendance at every lecture using a student sign-in sheet. She never records the attendance or uses it in calculating student grades. However if a student comes looking for favors, she pulls out the sign-in sheets and uses the student’s attendance history to dictate how generous she is with favors. The interesting part is that students assume that their attendance is earning them points, even though the syllabus shows no points associated with lecture attendance. It usually isn’t until the end of the semester that she is finally asked how attendance is applied to grades.

Another option that I am contemplating is to have attendance count towards the final grade, but allow a few misses to accommodate emergencies. For example, I could make lecture attendance count towards 5 percent of the final grade, and require attendance at 10 of the 14 lectures. I would not look at any Dr’s notes or other excuses unless they cover four or more class meetings. I am leaning towards this policy for next semester since I like that it rewards the students that come to lecture all the time anyway.

As always, I continue to work to make lectures as informative and entertaining as possible. Including student interaction and media in my lectures helps a lot in keeping students engaged. Still, I often wonder if the large lecture environment isn’t doomed for extinction. Is this really the best method of relating information to large populations of students? The thousands of students that have opted to take my class online don’t think so. Why do hundreds of students opt to take my classes in a traditional classroom setting, and then not show up for class? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment.

College Computer Skills Requirements

Most colleges have a requirement in place for the purpose of making sure that their graduates are computer literate. Schools often have pressure from the accrediting agencies as a motivating factor in the design of such a requirement. Administering computer requirements and defining computer literacy (or competency, fluency, etc) is at best problematic for the institution. I thought I might use this week’s blog posting to share my own experiences with computer requirements with you.

Here at Florida State University we have had a Computer Skills Competency requirement in effect for the past ten years. The requirement has seen its share of controversy over the years. The original requirement was designed by a committee made up of representatives from all of the academic departments at the university. There were significant differences between viewpoints on the subject. I recall several representatives arguing that their students should not be forced to learn about spreadsheets.

The resulting policy required students to know how to use email, the Web, Word processing software or a text editor, and some other application. Courses were submitted to the Undergraduate Policy committee for requirement approval. My computer literacy classes were approved as meeting the requirement as were other obvious courses such as computer intro courses designed for specific majors: music, education, nursing, engineering, etc. A few courses were surprisingly accepted as meeting the computer requirement such as a Biology Lab (?).

An exam that I designed was approved for allowing students to meet the requirement by examination without taking a class. Roughly 100 students passed the exam each semester over six years.

Recently our computer requirements have been dramatically revised. One aspect that has changed is that our accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), no longer wants students to be able to fulfill the computer requirement through examination. Last semester was the last semester I offered the exam. You can imagine the angry phone calls I get from soon-to-graduate students who were counting on taking the exam this semester.

The other change is that academic departments now have administrative power over the computer skills requirement for their own students. The requirement is supervised by the University, but administered by the departments. Here is the exact language from the “CRITERIA FOR COURSES SATISFYING THE COMPUTER COMPETENCY REQUIREMENT”:
____________
Competence in the use of computers is exhibited in different ways in different disciplines. Requisite skills for a graduate of the School of Music are not the same as a graduate of the College of Engineering . But underlying each degree program is the need to demonstrate mastery of computer use in that discipline. In recognition of this skill diversity, a department or school is given the option of proposing a course to satisfy this requirement for its graduates.

To satisfy the Florida State University’s Computer Competency Requirement, a course must require the student to demonstrate:

1. competent use of a discipline-useful software package, and
2. the ability to perform simple transactions using the web/Internet.
____________

Many departments have chosen one or more of my Computer Literacy class as the required course for their students. Still we are seeing many more courses being used to meet this requirement. The last count showed 21 courses approved as meeting the computer skills requirement. Surprisingly, I haven’t seen any drop in enrollment for my traditional comp lit classes. I’m assuming that must be due to the variety of courses that I offer to meet a diverse range of needs (see http://lit.cs.fsu.edu).

The new approach to computer requirements at FSU further supports my belief that college computer literacy needs to focus on preparing students for their careers. That requires a lot more than just teaching Microsoft Office. Today’s curriculum should include a lot of discussion on the application of technologies in the business environment. From working with corporate networks, intranets, VPNs, to using a Blackberry or Trio, to decision support systems, MIS, and databases. We especially need to provide a global perspective, and an awareness of information security issues.

Develop Your Own Flash Tutorials

Before getting into the advertised topic, a quick update on course development here at FSU. I concluded the bulk of my advertising chores last week by finishing the design of five print ads for the campus newspaper to promote new classes. You can check them out at http://lit.cs.fsu.edu/compads.html if you are interested. The ads will appear in the campus paper weekly over the next month during the Spring registration period. I redesigned my http://lit.cs.fsu.edu to also promote the new classes. I’ll be working with three instructors to design the latest courses over the next couple of months. I’ll share the curricula with you as they are developed. I’ll also let you know how the advertising campaign impacts enrollment.

Okay, onto business. How can you develop your own educational Flash tutorials with little or no knowledge of Flash? In a word, Captivate. Captivate is a product originally designed by Macromedia, which of course is now owned by Adobe (www.adobe.com/products/captivate). Have you noticed how all our favorite Macromedia products cost $100-$300 more than they used to since Adobe swallowed Macromedia ($399 for Dreamweaver!?). I wonder if they are all two to three times better than they used to be. Anyway, I digress.


Captivate provides tools that allow you to capture screen shots, and more importantly, screen motion. In other words, you can film the screen action as you use Excel to create a spreadsheet pivot table and, once recorded, distribute it to your students as a lesson. You can also add audio or text narration, and graphics to add to the educational value of the recording. There are even tools that allow you to add quiz questions along the way. When you are done creating the tutorial, clicking the Publish button creates an html file and associated flash file (.swf) that can be emailed or published to the Web. You can check out one of my Flash tutorials at http://lit.cs.fsu.edu/assignments/excel/v2/x_intro.htm.


You can use Captivate to publish professional grade online tutorials and quizzes or use it to quickly throw together a recording to email to a student in distress. It’s one of the most powerful teaching tools for computer teachers available. A new v2.0 was just released. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m hoping that they’ve worked out a few of the bugs in the first version. For $299 (upgrade), $599 (new) I would certainly hope so. You can download a free 30-day evaluation copy but think hard before you do; once you try it, you’ll want to buy it. I imagine that there are educational discounts available.

Tip of the week: Heard about Orb? A free download from www.orb.com allows you to play music, and videos (even TV), and view photos stored on your Internet-connected home PC from any other Internet connected device. I’m able to listen to music stored at home on my Windows Mobile cell phone! It makes a great lecture demo.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Teachers of technology need to be POWER USERS of technology. For me, this is a job perk. I’m the type of person who would be reading about and using the latest and greatest technologies in whatever career I chose. The impact of technology on our day-to-day lives is an endless source of fascination for me. In that regard I have found the perfect job: examining the latest technologies, guessing at their potentials, learning how to make the best use of that potential, and passing along that information to my students.

From my observations, and from information I’ve gleaned from employers, mobile technologies are where it’s at and where it’s going. Corporations are arming their mobile work force with Blackberries or Treos and sending them off to do business around the world. Through their handheld devices, knowledge workers remain tethered to the corporate data and communications networks with power nearly equal that of those strapped to their desks at the home office.

A few months ago I purchased the Cingular 8125 handset – arguably the most powerful Smartphone available, for the purpose of learning about every mobile service and feature available. The 8125 (read a review at http://www.engadgetmobile.com/2006/02/21/review-cingular-8125/) has a slide-out qwerty keyboard and a touch screen, and runs Windows Mobile 5.0. I purchased a 2 GB Mini SD card to support the storage of media files (MP3’s, photos, and movies). I use the phone in my lectures to demonstrate several topics:

  • Digital Convergence
  • I/O – Stylus/Touchscreen, Graffiti, Handwriting Recognition, Voice Recorder, Speech Recognition, T9 Predictive Text Input
  • Storage – 2GB on a thumbnail-size card!!
  • Communications – email, SMS text messaging, IM, voice
  • Mobile software – Personal Information Management, MS Office, Notes,
  • Media – Media player, photos, movies, music
  • E-books
  • Mobile Web
  • E-commerce
  • File Synchronization

I am able to demo concepts from nearly every chapter in the textbook with this device. Students enjoy learning traditional concepts when related to mobile devices. Using software from SOTI (www.soti.net) called Pocket Controller, I am able to display my Smartphone display on the big screen for my students to view via the LCD projector connected to my notebook, connected to my Smartphone.

There is definitely a strong argument for why departments should be providing technology teachers with high-end Smartphones. Unfortunately, at my school, there are rules that prevent departments from funding cell phones for faculty (don’t ask me why). Fortunately, I was able to get the 8125 free (a $499 value) with a new contract from Cingular through a service on eBay.

Tip of the Month: The “How it works” video demo provided by Intel at http://www.intel.com/products/processor_number/chart/index.htm is invaluable when it comes to teaching students about how to judge the power of various processors.

Marketing Computer Classes

A few posts ago I provided a list of non-programming computer courses, that I feel meet the computing needs and desires of non-technology majors. “Needs and desires” are a good way to categorize these courses. The “needs” courses I offer -Comp Lit I and Comp Lit II, have been designed to build resumes and to provide a deep understanding of digital technologies as applied to careers. They include skills training in Microsoft Office, Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and Flash. They also include lessons in hardware, software, networking, the Internet, information security, global and ethical issues, e-commerce, and business information systems. I tell my students that Comp Lit I and II will provide them with everything they need to know to succeed in their careers with technology – and a resume that will get noticed.

These “needs” courses I offer are well in hand. As we rapidly approach the registration period for the Spring semester, I am devoting an increasing amount of time to developing new courses that students will find appealing. The technology course “desires” of students include topics that most interest them: digital media, and mobile communications (iPods and cell phones), and topics of concern or perhaps necessity, such as personal computer security. There is also a growing demand on my campus for Mac-specific courses. I will address the details of these new “pop” classes that are in the works in future blogs.

Coming up with cool and useful courses is the easy part. Getting the word out to students so that the courses “make” is more difficult. I learned this when I rolled out my Comp Lit II class two years ago. At that time, I took to the thoroughfares with flyers and a staple gun posting my advertisements all over campus. I also drummed up business in my Comp Lit I class by alerting my 1,000 students to fact that there would be a great new follow-up class that they were sure to enjoy and find beneficial. The work paid off, and I had around 50 students in that first semester. By working hard to keep the class interesting, and through word of mouth. the enrollment has grown to 120 students.

I am planning to put another big push on for a course I am currently developing on Digital Media and Communications. Soon I’ll again be posting flyers, I also plan to take out ads in the campus paper during the weeks of registration. Over the course of the next couple of months we’ll find out how effective the marketing blitz is. You can get a glimpse of my newspaper ads at http://lit.cs.fsu.edu/compads.html.

The lesson I’ve learned over the years is that in order to build successful and popular classes, technology teachers need to be much more than good educators. We need to also be entertainers, marketers, guidance counselors, researchers, tech support, and much more. Do you agree? Send your comments.

A Glimpse at Our Wireless Future

Here at FSU we are approaching a tipping point which may change classroom teaching dramatically. Two technological trends are involved: 1. the gradual move towards a fully wireless campus, and 2. the increasing amount of students with notebook computers. These two forces will combine to bring unprecedented amounts of computers into the classroom.

The administration at FSU is fully behind the idea of Internet-connected students in the classroom. Beginning in the Fall of 2007, incoming students at FSU will be required to own a notebook computer. Training sessions are being provided to assist professors in making good use of the classroom technology. At the same time, some professors are complaining that students will become too distracted to pay attention to their lessons. Plans are in the works to provide cut-off switches that professors can use to kill the wireless signal in the classroom.

I got my first glimpse of the future this semester when I decided to offer additional sections of my Computer Lit class for Mac users. In researching classroom options, I polled the fifty or so interested students and discovered they all had their own Macs with MS Office installed. Further research turned up a classroom with 60 seats and a strong wireless signal. Wow! Hands-on computer classes in regular lecture halls! I realized that over the next few semesters I could begin offering more sections for Windows, and Mac notebook owners in larger classrooms. I will soon no longer be dependant on the few computer classrooms, each equipped with 24 PCs, that I currently use.

The benefits of connected students in the classroom would include the ability to offer larger sections, and for the students to work on their own PCs. The drawback would be dealing with student’s own PC problems. I imagine instructors might be called upon to provide some repair services. It’s easy to see larger implications as students rely increasingly on their own PCs and less on University owned and maintained PCs.

I also look forward to having more PCs in my large lectures. Teaching computer concepts in a lecture hall is hardly what many would call a dynamic way to learn. Students empowered by Internet-connected PCs in the lecture hall will provide an opportunity to connect with them on a new level. I look forward to hearing your comments.

The Perfect Storm

This week’s post may have little in the way of specific tips and guidance for computer teachers. However, it is a topic that, as a computer teacher, I spend a lot of time thinking about: the balance of the benefits of technology verses the drawbacks. It is all too easy for us to tout the benefits of technology without giving time to the negative aspects. When considering technologies and software for home computing I find that the balance of benefits and drawbacks oftentimes comes out about even. Today I had a serious run-in with the drawbacks, and I believe that it will be therapeutic for me to analyze it through this blog. Perhaps you can relate…

In my house, we have four computers (three Windows, one Mac), one printer, a wireless network, and Internet access through a cable modem – a fairly typical home set up. When I awoke on this pleasant Sunday morning, I had no clue that over the course of the day several conditions and circumstances would build and combine to hurl me into the middle of the “perfect technology storm”.

It all started when my 5th grade son, Tyler, asked me for some help getting started on a homework project. He was to create a three-fold flyer for his science class – a two-sided, 8.5” x 11” paper folded in thirds with content in each of the six areas. I set up a new file in Word. It didn’t take long to figure out that using a table rather than columns would work best. Getting the table to be (and stay) the right size took some doing, but after about 10 minutes, I had a good template setup for him to use.

I checked back in an hour and progress was going well. Tyler had inserted cool photos, and had half the content typed up. Ten minutes later, while working on getting my one year old down for her nap, news came that Word had crashed. “How could you have crashed Word with a simple flier?” I asked. After giving up on the baby’s nap, I investigated the mystery. Word had saved a backup prior to crashing, but the backup was seriously messed up – the table was corrupt, and the little Wizard cartoon character that my Son uses for Help suggested that I transform the table to text. The only problem was that there wasn’t enough of the table left to convert. Fortunately we found a previous copy of the file and started from there, only half an hour of work lost.

Over the next half hour, Word had crashed twice more. Tyler had saved several copies of his work – only one of which had anything of use left in it.

I sat down to watch Tyler’s progress to see what might be causing the crashes. We tried to download some images from the Web but were unable to connect to any Web sites. This led to a 45 minute debugging session with the Internet connection – rebooting the access point, cable modem, and PC several times, with no positive results. I even turned off security features, and ultimately restored the access point to factory defaults. Network utilities show the network connection strong and the Internet connection strong, why on earth can’t we pull up a Website?!

We gave up on the Internet; back to the brochure. After another half hour of work Word seized up again and we had to kill (Ctrl-Alt-Del) the process. Thinking that all these problems might be due to the PC –the oldest in the house, we transferred the old original file to a thumb drive and moved to another PC. Still no Internet connection on the second PC. Another 20 minutes of network trouble-shooting. We finally guess that it must be a problem at Comcast and give up (again) on the Internet. After another two hours of Tyler working on the flyer and me observing, we finally have a finished product. Now it’s time to print it and get on with life.

You guessed it, the “wireless print server cannot be found” says Word. Knowing that this can’t be Internet related I go through fifteen minutes of printer trouble-shooting: rebooting the printer and the wireless printer server to which it is connected. Still no printer access. Of course each print attempt is padded with the usual five-minute wait for Windows to negotiate with the printer and decide whether or not it feels like printing. Argh! Reboot (another 10 minutes). Still no printer. I swing the notebook over beside the printer and swap the USB thumb drive for the printer cable. Wait! The file is on the USB drive and still open in Word!! Quick put the USB drive back in!!!!

Too late. You guessed it. The open file in Word is now deemed corrupt. There is no trace of the original file on the USB drive – even though we had been saving every 10 minutes. Back to square one, four hours of work down the drain. At this point, using notebooks for Frisbee practice, and maybe some sledgehammer therapy with our Dell desktop is sounding like just what the therapist ordered.

I finally ended up taking over the typing on my Mac as Tyler dictated what he remembers of the flyer to me. Since this is the forth or fifth time he’s written the flyer he remembers quite a bit. My Mac had no trouble with maintaining a stable file through the process. Unfortunately our printer is not compatible with Mac so I transfer the file back to the PC and we eventually are able to get the flyer printed.

As the last of the flyers is printing, me back at work on my own homework (writing this article), Tyler exclaimes from his desk in the next room that the Internet is back up. It seems that the perfect storm has passed. Microsoft, Linksys, and Comcast failures had combined to take us to the brink of insanity. But we survived. I wish that I could say that we are stronger for it, but we are simply more exhausted and stressed. I wish that I could say that the lessons learned could be applied to prevent a similar storm in the future. But I cannot. We are at the mercy of substandard products and services so long as we choose to use them –and what choice do we have?

Tyler and/or I may have been at fault for using some strange combination of formatting that Word found unacceptable. I was certainly at fault for yanking a USB thumb drive while the file was still open, and not ejecting it through the proper procedures. I don’t think that I’m at fault for my access point’s inability to connect with my wireless printer server. Whether it’s user fault or not, one would think that by now, after more than two decades of personal computing, systems would be more tolerant, if not expectant, of errors, and provide trustworthy failsafe mechanisms for recovery.

As a computer teacher, I am a close observer of technology’s impact on people’s lives. The perfect storm that Tyler and I survived today illustrates the dark side, the overly complex, non-intuitive side, the time-wasting, mind-numbing side of today’s technologies. Almost a year ago, when I realized that I was spending as much time maintaining, securing, and fixing our home Windows PCs as I was using them for productive and enjoyable activities, I went out and bought my first Mac. Very few software crashes, fast effective recovery, it reboots in less than a minute, a pleasure to use, no security concerns, no regrets.

What have I come away with after today’s brush with chaos? I’ve decided to hasten my timeline to migrate all of our household computers to Macs. It has also motivated me to download Open Office (www.openoffice.org) and look at it seriously
as a Microsoft Office alternative. Finally, I will be much more understanding the next time a student comes to me complaining that he was up all night wrestling with his computer trying to get his assignment done, only to be late in turning it in.


I have no choice. I must teach Microsoft Office, the market demands it. I look forward to the next generation of Microsoft products: Windows Vista and Office 2007. I only hope that the new generation offers a completely different user experience than the present in terms of usability, reliability, and security. The same goes for home wireless networking and high speed Internet services.

Satisfying Student Needs

One way that I am increasing enrollments in my classes is by serving a wide range of needs. This semester, I was overwhelmed by the amount of students in my class that own Macs. By the end of the first week of classes, I had two sections added to my Computer Literacy class that cater specifically to Mac users. All I had to do to make the computer literacy curriculum “Mac compatible” was to swap out Microsoft Access for lessons on Mac tools and iLife. We use Office 2004 for Mac, which all of my Mac students already had on their computers. Fortunately, I have several Mac enthusiasts as TAs who were more than happy to take on the responsibility for these sections. We also have a Mac classroom on campus that hardly anyone had been using.

Here is the list of all the varieties of computer literacy classes that I offer:

  • Computer Literacy (traditional Windows version)
  • Computer Literacy Web-based
  • Computer Literacy for Mac
  • Computer Literacy II (Graphics, and Web Development)
  • MicroApps for Business
  • MicroApps for Business Web-based

Descriptions of these classes can be found at http://lit.cs.fsu.edu I intend to design a new class to roll out for Spring 2007 called “Intro to Digital Media” which will survey digital technologies for creating, editing, obtaining, and enjoying music, art, photography, movies/motion pictures, and games. The course will be based on Chapter 6 in Succeeding with Technology. I expect that this will be a big hit with the students.