Category Archives: Hardware

Josh Lund

Ditching the Laptop for a Tablet: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Some folks out there would say that a tablet can do what a computer used to, and others argue that while they are always improving in capabilities, tablets are still not occupying the same space in terms of computing power. Desktop computer sales in general have been on the decline for several years now, and tablets keep trying to further bridge the gap. As someone who spends many days testing, evaluating and re-evaluating software and hardware, this situation begs me to answer the question: can I really ditch the laptop?

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Erin Kasprzak

Poll Everywhere: Students, Take Out Your Phones.

I know that classroom mobile phone policies can be a fraught subject. Student distraction is a real concern, and handheld technology gives students a tool that introduces a constant stream of outside input (social media, news alerts, games) that often seem far more interesting than the class material or activities. One way to combat this is to make the phones or devices part of the learning experience.

During the 2016–17 academic year, the Mobile Learning Initiative (MoLI) conducted a pilot of Poll Everywhere as a classroom response system. Poll Everywhere is a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) clicker system used primarily to poll or quiz students in a face to face classroom. Poll Everywhere allows students to answer questions in class on their personal device (phone, tablet, or laptop) and visualizes their responses in real time. It’s an easy way to engage students, build more interaction into your teaching, and gauge student understanding. It’s also a great tool to use for “fun” in the classroom, from a quick icebreaker to a complex trivia competition.

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Jan Costenbader

Digital Whiteboards: Choosing the one that’s right for you

I currently teach online and hybrid Mathematics courses in the College of Science and Health. My courses are computationally intensive and often require the professor to write equations or diagrams on a white board. This presents a particular challenge when creating screencasts for online delivery, which requires a combination of hardware and software. I will focus primarily on the hardware for this post, the software is worthy of another complete discussion.


Before going on to the hardware, I should mention some of the software tools. First you need a screen capture software to record the screen and audio. Free screen capture software includes Jing and Screencast-O-matic. The most robust, paid versions include Camtasia Studio for Mac and PC (also from Techsmith) and ScreenFlow on the Mac. (I use ScreenFlow.) Next, depending on the hardware solution chosen, you will need a drawing tool. A great freeware app is Open-Sankoré for Mac/PC/Linux. (Note that the latest version of Open-Sankoré does not work with Mac OX Yosemite. OpenBoard is a workable alternative.) Khan Academy is well known for their engaging videos (PC only) which works with SmoothDraw. On the Mac side, there are a couple of candidates. I use Deskscribble and FlySketch. Of course, there are some hardware alternatives which are included below. Continue reading

Sarah Brown

For the Curious Consumer: Can I use “learning an educational technology” as an excuse to buy Apple Watch?

apple watch

Sort of? I can’t claim that the information I’ll share will help you make a case for your department chair or dean to pony up money for this (or to allow you to use any educational funds already allotted to you for this purpose). But, when I’m making a decision to divert the Game of Thrones action figure portion of my paycheck to an expensive tech gadget, coming up with a professional reason to buy a toy always helps ease the stress of the decision.

Disclaimer: So, yes, I woke up at 2:00 am April 10 to put in an order for the Apple Watch. I didn’t make an appointment to see the watch in person – I knew I wanted the Apple Watch Sport, since my primary reason for purchasing it is to replace my FitBit, and I also knew I wanted the smaller watch face size, since I have chicken-leg-sized wrists. A colleague of mine made an appointment with her husband and said it was well worth it, since they both ended up choosing different watch options from what they had anticipated purchasing.

There are many, many reviews out there (some of which will be linked below, and Mashable’s is my favorite) from folks who have actually had this thing on their wrists for a week or so. My focus here is on helping you – and me – justify the purchase as “for my job as a teacher”: Continue reading

Kate Daniels

In the Cloud(s)

I still shudder when I think of standing with my father curbside watching his laptop being carried away in the trunk of an anonymous city cab. We couldn’t chase the cab, we had no recollection of which cab company it was, and my dad had paid the driver in cash. Everything on his computer was instantly, mercilessly gone. All we could do was stand there and watch, slack-jawed.

That was a decade ago.

Just last week, I had a harrowing experience of my own: I spilled water on my laptop, completely destroying it. The Macbook Pro was pronounced dead on arrival at the Genius Bar.

I felt horrible and lamented my carelessness to my partner. He just shrugged and said, “thin client; no biggie.” Continue reading

Textbooks 2.0

Up until now, the reports of the death of the textbook industry have been greatly exaggerated. Remember when the PDF was going to change everything? But this week, I have seen a couple of really cool stories that have convinced me that the traditional market for textbook is in its last days.

The first story is the preview of Plastic Logic’s new electronic-reading device, which premiered at this year’s DEMO conference. You can watch the five-minute demo below.While similar to Amazon’s Kindle, which was launched last year, Plastic Logic’s e-reader is made from plastic instead of glass. That makes it lighter, thinner, and more durable. But what really sets it apart from the Kindle is that it’s open. The Kindle is a closed system. The only content I can read on a Kindle is content that Amazon makes available. That stinks. I want to determine what I read on my e-reader. I want to read my documents, my reports, my PowerPoint presentations. If I have a digital copy of a book, magazine, or textbook, I should be able to upload it to the e-reader. Plastic Logic lets me do that.

The second story that helped seal the fate of the textbook industry comes from WNYC’s On the Media. It’s an interview with Preston McAfee, an economics professor at the Californina Institute of Technology. Dr. McAfee was unsatisfied with the intro-to-economics textbooks on the market, so he wrote his own, and then he did something really cool. He licensed his textbook under the Creative Commons license, which allows anyone to use the book for noncommercial use. Dr. McAfee hopes that other economists will add to the book, improving it, and thus create an open-source textbook. If it works for software, why not textbooks?

You can listen to the whole interview here:

I see the combination of these two ideas really changing the textbook industry. The e-reader eliminates the need for a physical object, and the Creative Commons open-source textbook eliminates the expense of the content. In addition, it allows faculty to create a textbook that is unique and tailored specifically for each individual class and that can actually be updated and revised during the quarter. It makes me want to go back to school.

Daniel Stanford

Kindle Doesn’t Light My Fire

If you haven’t heard, Kindle is’s new digital device that allows you to read books on the go. The device features a glare-free screen based on electronic paper technology. According to Amazon, the screen can be read even in bright sunlight and is as easy on the eyes as reading text on paper. In addition, Kindle can download books by connecting to Sprint’s high-speed wireless network, but it doesn’t require a monthly service plan because the data download fees are built in to the price of each book. Amazon also claims users can read thousands of pages before needing to recharge the device, and that the battery will last for about two days with its wireless network access left on.

Although Kindle offers some innovative features, I wouldn’t call it revolutionary. Sony has been attempting to bring ebooks into the mainstream for years with devices like the Reader and the Connect ebook delivery service. Smaller companies like HanLin have also tried to make a name for themselves in this market, but for the most part, their sales have been limited to early adopters in tech-hungry Asian markets. Of course, being the first isn’t nearly as important as being the best, as any iPod/iTunes fan will tell you. Although I think Amazon is on the right track, I don’t think Kindle is going to revolutionize how we read or how digital educational content is delivered—at least not right now. Here are a just a few reasons why it’s not making my Christmas list this year and why I don’t believe Kindle will be a hit with students and teachers, either:

Kindle costs $499. That’s comparable to the cost of an iPhone, a bargain-priced laptop, a long weekend in Vegas, or 4,000 packages of Ramen noodles.

Book downloads are around $9.99 a piece. Sure, a new hardcover is a lot more than 10 bucks, but a library card is free. Furthermore, on the rare occasion that I buy a pricey book, I expect it to be more than a stimulating read. I expect it to add a touch of class to my living room. (I find people don’t laugh as much at my Kelly Clarkson album collection when it’s sandwiched between Tolstoy and Nietzsche.)

Kindle is a one-trick pony. Say what you will about “convergent” devices being hard to use. I’ll compromise on usability if it helps me avoid uncomfortable backpack bloating. At the very least, I expected that Kindle would be able to store and display personal documents from programs like Microsoft Word. However, to do this, the Kindle promo video claims you must email files to your Kindle device (I’m still not sure how that works) and pay Amazon to convert them to a Kindle-compatible format.