Good day counselors, teachers, administrators, or other interested folks. Last week I did a short overview via video blog about what I hope to cover in this series, what you can expect to feel when learning new tech skills, and helping calm some fears. This week, I will give you a few resources on where to start to acquire basic software needs (which we will use in upcoming posts), steps a counseling program should take to determine what types of initiatives they should tackle, and a foundation on the first program I will be covering…Google Docs.
File Repositories and Common Sense
These days, there are heaps of software programs to choose from that will fit any budget, skill level, and computing platform (Mac/PC/Linux). Websites like www.download.com and www.filehippo.com are repositories which collect these files and provide them to users like us in one convenient place. Many of the programs on these websites are primarily free or free-to-try, but there are paid versions listed as well. There are words of wisdom to pass along about these two sites – for the number of good pieces of software to download, there are two terrible ones. All software is screened and virus tested by the sites, but they do not scan out stuff called “bloat-ware” and other annoyances such as automatically installing vendor bars in your browser or popups. The best way to weed these duds from the gems is to look at the reviews from other users and Google the name of the program to see if any negative results come up. All of what I share with you has been tested and vetted by me. These are just two sites that I use and there are many others, so be careful if you choose to get your software elsewhere. Apart from these two sites, you may also obtain software from the vendor’s website. Always, always, always scan all downloads with an anti-virus program before opening the installer (I use Microsoft’s Security Essentials free program which is lightweight, well reviewed, and integrates in Windows).
The following list is a good start for those wanting to improve their basic software and hardware. I will also use most of these during this series:
- Drop Box (www.dropbox.com)
- A Google Account (www.google.com)
- Webcam (Logitech & Dynex are good brands, some laptops have them included)
- Microsoft Office Suite (Word, PowerPoint, and Excel are our main focus)
- LibreOffice is an Open Source (aka free) version of MS Office (http://www.libreoffice.org/)
- “Good” web browser (not Internet Explorer) – I recommend either Google’s Chrome or Mozilla’s Firefox – both free. I use Chrome.
- Tim Poynton’s EzAnalyze and TimeTracker Excel Add-In (free; http://www.ezanalyze.com/)
- Camtasia Video Production Software ($300; http://www.techsmith.com/camtasia.html)
- Expensive, but easy to use and pretty powerful. I will be looking for more economical alternatives)
What Do We Need? What Do Our Students’ Need?
A good counseling program is always evaluating the needs of their students and attempting to respond and prevent any negative results while increasing positive outcomes. When looking at technology, we must maintain that approach. Allow me to give an example: If I worked in an inner-city school and after a survey to determine the amount of students and parents with smart-phones, the results showed that only 11% had smart-phones, it may not be prudent to spend a lot of time and money developing a smart-phone app. If you are going to adapt or adjust a program to include a new tech piece, be sure to find out if it will be helpful or hurtful. In the previous example, the results indicate that the app, while helpful to the 11%, overall is not a good use of time – but perhaps getting better at your powerpoint and presentation skills is. Or using programs like Rosetta Stone (http://www.rosettastone.com/) to develop a new language skill can help your program. Do your research before starting off on your quest or you may be wasting your time and/or money. Create surveys & questionnaires (http://www.surveymonkey.com/), have focus groups, and obtain feedback from all stakeholders regarding your ideas and intentions. I could spend a while discussing this, but that is another topic and I may blog about it at another time.
Google Docs (Recently Changed to Drive) – An Office In The Clouds
Finally today, I want to briefly touch on our next focus – Google Documents (or Docs…now Drive). I will have a video blog going over the various tools, formats, and some problem areas that you can run into when using this in the next few days, however to get ready for that – I want to intro you to the idea of the program.
Google Docs/Drive is a feature of the giant that is Google. It is a free feature that comes with every Google account and provides powerful, cloud-based, collaborative document creation and control. When I say “cloud-based” I mean that instead of having your files on your local computer (the one you are sitting at – like with MS Office), all of your files are “hosted” (or stored) digitally at a central location by Google. This is typically very useful, but I will show you some flaws in the video post coming up. There are different types of documents you can create (from a word-style document, spreadsheet, and presentations to forms and tables). You are also able to upload files from your computer to the “cloud” for centralized backup and access. It is important to have your files backed up in one way or another, whether it is in the cloud or via RAID 5 data recovery you want to protect yourself from losing all your data. I don’t want to get too in-depth in this post, so will end the intro here.
Homework: Create your Google account (if you do not have one yet), which also gives you access to other great services like Gmail, Calendar, and Google+ and we will dive into Google Drive/Docs next.