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Here is some advice for all that will help you avoid hitting the panic button this time of year related to technology. First, as always, have a backup of your important files. It never fails that I have a least a few students come to the ITC that have difficulty retrieving files from their flash drive. Worse yet some lose their flash drive entirely with ALL of their work for the semester on it! For those important files here are a few tips that can help you save the day:
1) If the files are not too large (less than 5 MB) email yourself a copy of the file. I do this for important presentations I am giving just in case something happens to my flash drive. You can delete the email and attachment once the presentation is over and you no longer need the file.
2) I also suggest for college-aged students to consider an online storage location for their files like Microsoft Skydrive or box.net. The advantage to online storage is that you can login to your account from any computer in the world with Internet connection and access your files online. Both of these services have a limited account for free. Skydrive recently increased the amount of free file storage up to 25GB, that’s right 25 Gigabytes with a G. Box.net currently offers a free lite account for up to 1GB of space. Considering that most USB flash drives that students use in the ITC are only 4GB in size Skydrive is something to consider and works for both Mac and Windows.
3) If you are dealing with different versions of software or different types of computers be sure to save your files in a couple of different file formats. For example, if you are using the new Office 2007 software it might be a good idea to also save your file as the older Office 2003 format just in case you go to a lab or classroom that does not have the latest software installed.
4) Have a system to make regular backups of your files and make sure they are stored in a different location from your main computer. This should already be a part of your regular computing practice, if it is not then it is time to make it a habit.
Just a little precaution can save the day and keep you from panicking if something happens to the files on your USB flash drive. USB flash drives are very small and we have several students lose their USB flash drives every semester. Be prepared and have a backup plan so this doesn’t happen to you.
During this time of year things do seem to go wrong when the pressure is on. When things do go wrong try some basic trouble-shooting and see if you can figure out the problem yourself before calling for help. Many times the problems are simple like an unplugged cable or a device not turned on. Students often seem a little better at fixing some problems because they are not afraid of trying a few things. If you are a faculty member, remember to do some basic trouble-shooting first before calling for help.
For example, I recently received a call that there was no sound coming out of a computer. Turns out that the power cable to the power adapter was unplugged, this stopped the user of the computer in their tracks until a tech came to fix the problem. They were very frustrated by the time a tech came to fix the problem. If the user would have walked through just a couple of simple trouble-shooting procedures the problem would have been fixed and they would not have lost any productivity. If you still cannot find the problem after some preliminary trouble-shooting then go ahead and call for help.
It is much better for us to help students fix minor problems themselves so they can be as self-sufficient as possible when they do get into the work force. Basic trouble-shooting is a necessary skill for anyone that uses a computer and is a valuable skill to have as a teacher.
Technology Pick of the Week
My Technology Pick of the Week this week relates to an issue that many students and teachers face when bandwidth becomes constrained. This time of year the EIU network is very busy as nearly every student on campus is accessing the network to finish end of the semester projects. As a result the network can become very slow due to increased use. If you are doing a presentation and wanting to use a YouTube video for a class presentation you may be frustrated because the network is so slow that the video may not play back smoothly.
One option is to download the YouTube video ahead of time to your computer. This serves a couple of benefits. First, because the file is now located locally you do not need to concern yourself with network issues. Secondly, sometimes Youtube displays inappropriate comments or offers inappropriate video suggestions on the YouTube page for an educational audience. Since you can download the file locally to a computer you can play it using a Flash Player. Be sure to abide by all copyright and fair use rules if you do download YouTube content for educational purposes.
I have used vixy.net in the past with mixed results. Lately I have used the site called youtubeloader.com and this site has worked well for me. All you need to do is copy and paste the embed code from the YouTube video you want to download into the YouTube Loader website and select the format you want to save as. In addition, I use the VLC Media player to playback downloaded YouTube Flash videos. Links are available in the show notes to both of the technology picks of the week.
VLC Media Player Download
I usually choose to download YouTube videos in the Flash format. Be sure to append a .flv file extension to your saved downloaded video so that your flash player will recognize the file format and play back the downloaded video. Flash is the default video file format for most YouTube videos. If you do not have a Flash player installed I really like the free VLC media player for Windows.
That wraps it up for episode 67 of TechTalk4Teachers. Show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at www.eiu.edu/itc just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have a comment of suggestion please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.