Technology in the Classroom

Any teacher worth his or her salt is a technical pro these days. My grandmother remembers her classrooms days as a student in a huge college humanities class where AV was used regularly, especially for the lecturer in art history. The poor professor had to lug two heavy projectors and carousels full of slides across campus. If she wanted to include musical accompaniment, then there was further stuff to tote. The hall did have some ability to utilize this modest equipment and there were speakers and microphones of course. But it was primitive at best.

Thank goodness everything has evolved. Such a professor can now use PowerPoint where the images and music can be in synch and where artworks can dissolve one into another with elegance. Special labeling makes the material stand out. The projector is now in the lecture hall and she can use her own laptop or the one in place. Students may not notice the difference, but it makes for far less stress and anxiety about things going wrong. The slides are no longer upside down from misplacement. The music doesn’t require an old tape machine and a reel that can break. The old laser pointer and microphones are there but are hopefully state of the art.

The computer has perhaps been the greatest gift to instructors. No more mimeographing anything. If you don’t want to simply print your tests, you can have students take them online. They can be mechanically scored and scaled. Record keeping is great. Each class or student can have separate files You can archive old material for reuse at a glance.

So the new scenario for the art history teacher is standing on the stage or classroom platform, laser pointer in hand and a laptop within reach on a table or lectern. The pace of the presentation can be controlled and even stopped for comments and questions. The room need not be as dark as it once was to allow for eye contact. The instructor is no longer victim to breakdowns and errors. If she had put her slides in the carousel incorrectly, there was no going back! PowerPoint is a magical program easily adaptable to any environment or subject. You can use the school logo as your template or a personal one with which you can always be identified. You can embed videos such as a pan through a museum gallery or an artist explaining his work.

In small classrooms, smart boards are vital for a stream-lined experience. They are interactive and professional. You can get your school to purchase just the right one for your teaching needs. The best institutions will have them and upgrade as needed. No more blackboards and dirty erasers. No more white boards and nasty marking pens. Kids love the smart boards, but adult education also has multiple uses. Linked to a computer, the possibilities are endless.

Electing to teach at any level is more enjoyable and rewarding for all parties involved with the help of technology. Online research yields instant information about how to use it and make lectures and lesson plans visually exciting and rich in content. You have to be a little more savvy, but it now goes with the territory.


Technology Against Plagiarism

The bane of any writer’s existence is the accusation of plagiarism—of not being original. In the olden days, you could get away with it if you were unscrupulous; and many students had to avail themselves of privileged material to get by in a pinch. Now there is the dreaded Copyscape! It will reveal the pros from the amateurs like stripping chaff from the wheat.

In college, you are warned incessantly about it and no doubt become wary of the eagle eyes of your professors. Before the Internet, you had to assume a memory lacuna would help you escape the dreaded label of plagiarist. Nowadays, in seconds your sources are bared for all to see. You can paraphrase and restate, but more than a few imitated words is a major no-no.

Plagiarism is defined as appropriating the ideas and words of another. (It also applies to music and lyrics.) It is more serious than “copying” or borrowing. You call it your own. Some people loosely insert a few lines in an essay or book without a formal citation or assume certain phrases are universal and up for grabs like poetry or famous quotes. Plagiarism seems more of an act of will to disregard the property of others. In fact, using existing writing is downright fraud.

You can now open a Copyscape account to check student work and it may well be worth the effort. There are free services like WriteCheck, downloadable software programs, and apps. If in doubt, do it. You can quickly spot a perpetrator in the making or save yourself a lot of grief. You can Google some words as well to reveal sources. Those taking writing courses, for example, should know the ropes right out of the box. If you can’t cut the must or on your own, don’t indulge your fantasy. The Internet ultimately reveals all like an electronic crystal ball, and the results are not always appreciated.

There is a moral imperative about doing your own work and not taking credit for others’ ideas. You can use them for inspiration, of course, but must manipulate the material at least somewhat for renewed authenticity. I know an author who used some quotes and was rejected for copying. It was a mindless use of the system since the citations were there to back up personal statements and were acknowledged references. There was no bibliography to substantiate it, but it was pretty clear. Obviously, the process of checking for plagiarism can go too far. Editors and publishers understand this, and it is also relevant for classroom instruction as well.

A word on ebooks. There are so many out there that Amazon can’t possibly check each and every word. It is up to writers and readers to agree to a truce about plagiarism. It isn’t a matter of what you can get away with, but an issue of honesty about not conning the public. The greed for fame and fortune can overtake the best intentions, but too little is at stake to lose your self-respect.


Taking Computer Science

It wasn’t always available in school, but kids learned it soon enough at home. It caught on like wild fire from the moment the first computer appeared. Computer science is the staple of one’s education without which research and learning cannot be as effectively done. While many do their web browsing on a smart phone, good old fashioned computer science will show you the ropes of spreadsheets, word processing, desktop publishing, and more.

Sometimes students learn programs in a particular class. You might be taking accounting or math and need to excel in Excel. Literature and language courses require full knowledge of Word. A budding artist needs graphic skills with Quark, Publisher, Illustrator, and the like. After one’s formal education, the show must go on. Most jobs are computer-based in one way or another. Getting a degree in Computer Science could lead to a very lucrative career.

I, for one, avail myself of a very expert computer consultant to remedy each and every problem that rears its ugly head. He can work from home and has actually hired a couple of colleagues to take the overload work. He makes good money and is often on vacation (and out of reach!). He is self-taught but many who love the consulting area have gotten the newer degrees that help them obtain corporate employment. To stand out in the competition, it seems to be necessary; and the field is bursting with opportunity.

Most companies have in-house technical staff. Network systems require expertise beyond the norm. Custom software may be in place and complicated databases. These positions can pay well depending upon the size and location of the business. A good computer science expert is worth his or her weight in gold. Graphic skills dovetail with the need for infographic and website design. An all-around IT guy or gal is the heart of operations.

You can get an online or on-site degree. You can work with any university or a technical program that offers an associate or bachelor’s degree. Make sure it includes the latest software and hardware knowledge. Define if you want to be a developer or administrator and what each entails. There is a difference between a web administrator, a project administrator, and technical administrator. Learn the job description for tech support, business intelligence, and content management. It is beyond the scope of this blog which aims to show that work is out there for enterprising opportunists.

Making a good decision involves some analysis of the job market in your area. If you don’t live in Silicon Valley, you can still find suitable positions if you understand the vast parameters available. Don’t go with the predictable. There is too much competition. Develop your own niche and expertise and learn how to market yourself on social media, word of mouth, through job applications, and networking.

Note that business administration is a different field that may encompass computer science. It is a broader program for management often involving a finance background and leadership skills. It is more people oriented than a computer tech job might be, unless you have a staff. Keep your options open and tailor them to your individual strengths.


Industrial Design

You can study very practical applications at the university level such as Industrial Design. Coursework and an apprenticeship will take you to a career that is always in demand and challenges one’s creativity and ingenuity in the process. It takes great skill to do good work whether it be a bicycle, a chair, or a hairdryer.

Industrial design has been around since the first toaster, iron, and stove were invented. Mass products utilitarian objects may not look aesthetic today, but much thought went into their appearance as well as function. Now fancy words like ergonomics and industrial engineering have come into play. A whole field of study teams applied art and science. Manufactured consumer products depend on well-conceived styles and methods of execution. Cost of materials is factored in at the very beginning stage.

While products become dated (referring to small handheld devices as well as larger kitchen appliances like refrigerators and washer/dryer sets), they also are kept for long periods of time. As a result, the lure of a new design weighs heavily on consumers. To spend or not to spend, when you have a perfectly working item? State of the art operation is a plus in this case. Research is always being conducted on household needs and how to cut through practicality to make impulse purchasing a real possibility.

The role of an industrial designer is therefore important in keeping the appliance economy on a roll. Colors have replaced chrome in the best hand mixers and even some of the latest bread machines while stainless steel has replaced colors in stoves and refrigerators. It is all about trends. Housewives used to want avocado-schemed kitchens with matching tile and now crave only bland gray granite and stainless steel everything. Marketing often dictates industrial design decisions, not the other way around.

The design process has come a long way from the drafting table and good lighting. Computer skills are the only new requirement along with a good aesthetic sense and solid engineering training. (CAD programs and 3-D software.) Sketching takes on a whole new meaning. Every appliance has its difficulties in maintaining optimal performance. Breakdown is the bane of any brand’s stellar reputation. Comparative product research is a must before undertaking any task. Tested applications make ease of use possible and not the result of trial and error. A prototype is developed and evaluated extensively before millions are produced without flaws.

Getting up to speed can result in a university degree on the bachelor’s or master’s level. Whether a university grants them in the College of Fine Arts or Liberal Arts depends upon the individual programs. It is a hybrid field of study bridging many disciplines.

Archetypical designs like the Eames chair and the VW Beetle have given Industrial Design a good name. Apple knows this only too well. Competition for the best looking smart phone is an ongoing obsession. Even little changes make people buy more. They wait in line for the latest and greatest. If designers can make more products that are fads by nature, their work will not have been in vain.

Online Universities

Getting a degree online is no longer a sorry second choice and something to regret. It no longer means you didn‘t get into your top list of schools or don’t have the funds to attend an on-site institution. There are many accredited programs for those who need to work part-time or from home like Kaplan, Capella, and University of Phoenix. They are offering more and more courses of study to meet the demands of the modern job market. In essence, they are a viable option for a good education in many fields.

While you don’t have the same camaraderie or in-person instructor contact, you can establish a relationship nonetheless. It need not be impersonal at the better venues. People who have attended college have enjoyed the experience but are ready to move on to more practical methods. With online universities, the material must stand on its own, and testing is in a vacuum; but there should be opportunities for questions and further discussion. Webinars are the way around the problem and have updated many curricula of the better on-line locations.

On the positive side, you can work in the middle of the night if you want and take tests as time permits. If you go on vacation, you can choose to participate or suspend your commitment. You can take as few or as many courses as you want, even from different institutions. (Look for transfer possibilities and credit policy.) Some jobs require a course or two for advancement and not an entire degree. When your salary depends upon continuing education, you have endless possibilities at the tip of your desktop.

The flexibility is appreciated by busy moms tending the kids and employees on the go. Online study is the answer to lack of mobility and confinement. It is the electronic version of four-day work weeks and flex hours. It is higher education in capsule form, contained by a small screen, but with vast repercussions. You can accelerate the process or stretch it out, and get your desired degree in time.

Courses tend to fall on the technical side in many cases. Fine and liberal arts offerings are usually less extensive than computer science, business administration, accounting, or health care, but they are available. Common subjects include public safety, social work, counseling, information technology, and legal studies. You can follow a career in criminal justice, environmental policy, or engineering. Every school has its specialization and research is required to find the most suitable program for your needs. Your bottom line is whether you are seeking an undergraduate or graduate degree, or specialized certification in a specific area of concentration.

All in all, studying remotely is challenging and exciting for many. You have a world of possibilities normally not available in your residential region and a choice of the best and brightest instructors around. Not much that is negative can be said for this brave new world of higher education. Learning can be an automatic part of life for anyone with a laptop and a mouse.