Saturday, October 9, 2010

Beyond Google: 3 Software Recommendations

I just posted for last week, so I'll keep this short. We've been reading "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" by Nicholas Carr. It's good to remember that Web 2.0 isn't just about Google software (and its many acquisitions). I reminded my students that such popular Google 'inventions' were bought from existing tech companies (Google Docs from Writely and Google Earth from Keyhole Pro.) I used to review software for national print magazines (remember those?)....

Anyway, in my ENG 101/103 cluster, we're using Acrobat.com, which is by far a much more flexible word processor than Google Docs. You will need Flash (so it won't work on an iPhone and other smart phones), but it's an excellent online word processor. It's free and offers apparently unlimited storage. I really like that you can scale your text just by zooming in, so that this makes it a great tool for class demos. (We have the computer lab in E-259 on Thursdays. The screen is too close to the projector, and unreadable without it.) My students seem to have no problem with it. They can work on their research paper documents and save them automatically during lab. Printing works really well too.

All of us probably know about Google Docs, but today there are number of free 'cloud-based' file storage services. A good one is Dropbox (www.dropbox.com), free for 2GB of storage and a lot easier to use than Googles Docs (or Gspace) as far as getting files in and out of remote storage. Dropbox places an icon on your desktop with your remote files. It comes with a client to install on both Windows and Mac machines. (There doesn't seem to be a web interface, though. This will probably mean you can't use in class for demos.) But for your home and office systems, laptops (and even your iPad!), it really shines. It's a lifesaver for getting files synced up between systems, and just faster than Google Docs (sorry Google).

Last, if you've ever been frustrated by limitations on computers in smart classrooms and want a backup solution (just in case), you might try GoToMyPC (www.gotomypc.com). It's about $18 a month--with discounts available, but an essential part of my repertoire. It lets you control a home PC from anywhere--even from a smart classroom. Don't have a PDF viewer that works (as in some of my rooms this year), frustrated by our overworked IT staff (I often am)? Then DIY, with this utility. No installation required on a remote system. It's saved many a class demo. from getting lost over the past few years. Just in case that class demo. doesn't work on your instructor's machine, you can show something on a remote screen instead. Video clips will be a little jumpy, but everything else will work fine. I also use this as a backup when I go to conferences. Highly recommended!

5 comments:

  1. Thank you for the recommendations. I can vouch for Dropbox also. :-)

    BTW--one of the reasons why some of us have turned to Google is because we get a bundle of tools (blogs, wikis, groups, e-mail, Docs, calendar, etc.) that students can access with one password, and are in one place thereby making access to the tech a simple process.

    So it all depends what you want students to use....

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  2. We are also experimenting with Office accessible with student Live accounts. Slow process as some have used Google groups before but a nice feature is using MS Office software if you don't own it.

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  3. @profsusan--Nice.And good use of college resources!

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  4. Forget this in my last comment. Another option for online backup is carbonite.com - they have a free trial for 2 months. The nice thing about this one is that it has a flat rate ($55/yr) for unlimited online backup.

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