Archive for May, 2008

A Modest Proposal

Author: GDhuyvetter

No, unlike Swift I’m not going to suggest eating children…I have a much more radical idea.

One of the “givens” in the realm of computer use is that every computer on campus should have (and every employee and student should use) the Microsoft Office Suite. I must admit that I have been one of the major proponents of this view, and I used the uniformity of Office as a benchmark of our development as a technology-rich environment.

Fifteen years ago there was good reason for this. Mater Dei and other organizations were working to bring uniformity to the productivity applications that were created by several different companies. Many of you remember WordPerfect WordStar and others. They had very different user interfaces, and they did not speak to each other well. In this Tower of Babel, MS Office stood as the gold standard. The applications were well designed, rich in features, and they worked well with the Windows OS. They also were the first office applications that bridged the PC Mac gap. The general perception was that MS applications prepared one for the workplace and were the mark of a “professional” organization. It was technological Darwinism…and the dinosaurs all disappeared (strangely enough WordPerfect still exists in the Lotus Suite…though the next person I find who uses this will be the first).

Move forward 15 years. We have taught an entire generation to use Word, PowerPoint, and (for some) Excel (Access remains a mystery for most). The brand has become generic, like Kleenex or ipod. I don’t even ask at interviews whether candidates know how to use these programs because I assume that they do. It’s a Microsoft Office world, and we live in it.

The problem is the Office is not only a tool, but also a product. Years ago Microsoft recognized that the company could not grow if consumers and businesses bought one copy of Office and used it for the rest of the life of a particular machine. Therefore there is a constant need to innovate and release new versions. Many of these innovations have been great. However, after a certain point the program began to include features for features’ sake. I don’t really use any more of Word 2002 than I used in Word ‘98, and (editorial comment to follow) Word 2007 is a bloated mess that is much less instinctive and much harder to use than any earlier product (not to mention the new .docx extensions!).

Coupled with this is my discomfort with our position as “inculcators” of the Microsoft message. Participating in the technology program of the school is a four-year commercial for the inevitability of their use of Office. We don’t do this with any other aspect of student life. If we use Dell computers, we don’t conceal that other brands exist. If we only offer Coke in our vending machines, we don’t deny the existence of Pepsi. Except for a few Mac users who use the excellent Mac Office Suite, very few if any students could name an alternative to MS Office.

But there are alternatives. Google offers a document program existing only online. Users don’t have to download any software to use this suite, and though it is not as robust as the MS product, it has some great collaboration options. There are many other online document editors, and any student or adult with Office familiarity can jump right in and get started.

Outside of these “cloud computing” options, there is a very solid desktop product. Openoffice.org offers a free, downloadable office suite with 6 applications:

  1. Word Processor
  2. Spreadsheet
  3. Presentation Editor
  4. DataBase
  5. Drawing Editor
  6. Mathematical Calculation Editor

The program is available for Windows, Mac and Linux, and though it is a hefty download (don’t try to download it on a dialup connection), it is much smaller than MS Office and runs faster (particularly on less powered systems).

Opening the different programs in the suite, there is immediate recognition of the general layout and commands of each. Though a few of the commands are on different menus, it is easy to edit and produce complex documents without any special training. All of the more advanced editing features are available. Best of all, it opens MS Office documents and saves documents in MS Office format for easy carryover to other machines (it doesn’t currently open the .docx format from Word 2007, but word 2002 doesn’t either).

I’ve been using Open Office on the Eee pc for about 5 months now. A few weeks ago I loaded it on to my regular desktop machine and I’ve started to use it there as well. With a few exceptions, I have found the experience to be seamless.

So I guess the radical suggestion for consideration is whether schools should consider teaching students using free open source software assuming that they can make the jump to MS Office when (and if) they need it.

We could also talk about operating systems…but that’s another entry.

A Bigger Tent

Author: GDhuyvetter

For those of you who have been following the site closely, you may have noticed that a few of the recent comments have been by students.  I’m not completely sure how they found this site, but I never intended it as a hidden site, so it is available for public search.

When I received the first notice of student comment (I have to approve any comment before it is posted), my first reaction was “keep ‘em out.”  However, upon further reflection, this strikes me as web 1.0 type thinking.  If we take as given that the technological revolution is at least in part about collaborative learning, then having students follow and contribute to these discussions seems an end as well as a means.  I also think next year we should involve some interested students directly in our discussion.

At the Consultative School Board yesterday I gave out the URL for this site and invited them to look in on our discussions.  I have also invited representatives from other schools to look in and comment.

Since this is a school site, it will remain a moderated site.  I will preview all comments before they are posted, but I continue to encourage different opinions.

So this blog tent is a bit bigger, and I think that is a really good thing.

Things to Think About

Author: GDhuyvetter

This link takes you to a video called “Learning to Change”

http://tinyurl.com/6bjdov

I’m of two minds about this video.  It’s a little bit, “OOOOOHH Wow Man!” pie in the sky idealism, but at the same time I find it relevant and inspiring.

What do you think?