Technophobia epidemic?

October 11, 2010 § 4 Comments

I have recently taken to eating in the faculty/staff cafeteria. What is interesting about this, is that the last two times I ate there, both times I overheard a table of faculty and/or staff discussing technology.

Well, let’s be perfectly honest. They were complaining about technology.

I have to admit, even two years ago I would have been at that table, too, complaining about how digital books should never take the place of a “real” book.

Yes! I would have been commiserating about how my computer “just won’t work right,” or how I can’t understand why people would need a phone for anything but phone calls, or how I just don’t understand what the person at the tech desk is saying when I call for help.

All this is especially interesting, when you consider that as I overheard these conversations, I was reading a book on my smartphone. And checking emails on said phone. I didn’t think of it at the time, but I could have tweeted about it.

What changed? Why have I done a complete about-face?

Part of the credit for my change of heart must go to the faculty of the School of Library and Information Science at the University of Iowa. Haowei Hsieh and Padmini Srinivasan, in particular, drug me kicking and screaming into the world of bits and bytes, the social web (I’m trying to avoid using the term “Web2.0” here…), metadata and the semantic web. I know I gave them many the stink-eye in class, but I thank them heartily now for all their efforts.

The friends I made while in grad school also influenced me to change my mind, and showed me the power of what technology can do. My biggest digital heroes were Joanna Lee and Shawn Averkamp, but there were others (Jane, Jill, Amber, I’m looking you’re way). My friends continue to both encourage and inspire me. Julia Skinner manages not just to be an all-around awesome person, but also publish two blogs, tweet regularly, speak at conferences, and edit B-Sides, the journal of the UofI SLIS program, which she helped to bring into being.

Various jobs also had an impact on me. My stint at WiderNet forced me to learn databases, and get extremely proficient at searching the Web (believe it or not, something that I had avoided up until that time). Working on the Leigh Hunt project exposed me to not only interesting (and oftentimes hilarious) 19th century correspondence, but also metadata creation and standardization. My final project as a Graduate Assistant to Jim Elmborg was to help finish and update the new SLIS website — I had to learn how to use Drupal.

So there you have it. Various circumstances, friendships and acquaintances changed my mind. But why should you care?

Because the excuses that people (possibly you) use to avoid using technology are just that — excuses.  Once you are aware of a particular capability, or potential, it’s pretty simple to find out how to perform the function, or complete the process. I submit to you this flowchart; with it, you really can become a tech guru. Enough with the technology-mental-blocks.

Now that I’ve had my rant, I’d like to comment on a few of the statements I hear most often.

1. I don’t know how.

Please refer to the aforementioned flowchart to deal with this problem.

2. I don’t have time to learn.

Sure, maybe you feel pressed for time, but imagine how much easier your day could be if you could automate some of the routine things you do. For example, instead of sending out an email asking for input about a particular subject, then compiling the answers, typing them into a spreadsheet, and creating a graph of the results, why not just use Google Docs to create the form, then email it? It would automatically compile the results into a spreadsheet and make charts for you. You could save yourself HOURS. Isn’t that worth a little time investment to learn the technology?

3. I don’t know where to find out about new technology, or where to get ideas of how to use it.

For you, my friend, there is the wonderful world of the blogosphere. Many a blog (like this one!) will post about new technologies or ideas, or repost from other, more authoritative sources. The great thing about reading about technology online is that the information is often brand spankin’ new. As in, the site launched this morning, and you are checking it out this afternoon. Not waiting for someone to notice it, then publish and article (or a book) which includes the site. That could take months (or years)! Think of all the time you have wasted not knowing about the technology… Seriously, blogs are your friend.

Not sure where to start? Why, there is a “blogroll” at the bottom of this page! There’s as good a place as any, if you ask me.

4. (And this one is education-specific) But if I make all the information for my course available digitally/choose a digital textbook, then students will have to cart their computers around.

Indeed they may. But what is wrong with that? Computers today do not weigh all that much more than a textbook. Sometimes, they weigh less.

Of course, you do want to consider that some students just can’t afford to purchase a laptop, or even a desktop. But when you consider the cost of textbooks and printing nowadays, it may actually save the students money to purchase a computer with which to read their textbooks or the PDF of the handout you created for class. There are quite a few inexpensive choices for ereaders these days, many of which cost less than a college textbook, that would enable students to read and take notes on the texts. Finally, many textbooks that are available digitally are also available in hard copy. So those students who really can’t purchase a computer can still get a textbook.

If you’re worried that students won’t be able to take notes or highlight in digital books, don’t be. I know that on the Nook, it’s possible to bookmark pages, and even take notes (though this is a little slower, due to the size of the virtual keyboard). Students could check out platforms like NookStudy, which enable them to read ePub books, PDFs and other documents on their computer; it will even sync with their Nook if they have one. There are also Android and iPhone apps for the Nook and Kindle, so students with smartphones could access their materials that way.

In short, what I’m trying to say is that anyone can get used to using technology, and that using technology will save you both time and money. And, if you’re smart about it, you can still access what you need in the event of an Epic Technology Fail, without necessarily having to print every single little thing that you think may be important in the future.

Texas School Board decision about textbooks

March 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

Read about the decision that may affect textbooks nationwide in the New York Times, listen to it on NPR, or watch it on CNN.

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