Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Freeing The Course Part 1: Course Programs

We know that the cost of education is high and continues to escalate for various reasons; even at community colleges.  This is problematic since we do serve as a gateway of economic and intellectual opportunity for a wide range of students who might not get into or finish college without us.  But costs are prohibitive to many people and in digital age, finding ways of making class and class tools cheap is quite important.  So this will be a short series of posts on Freeing Up Course Programs, Course Readings, Course Delivery, and Course Extras filled with great resources for you to use in your course that are entirely free for you and your students.

Course Programs
Let’s first tackle course programs.  A college student in the 21st century needs access to a computer but does not necessarily need all the associative (and costly) software that goes with it.  It’s quite prohibitive for students at times and frustrating.  They’ve spent an ample amount of time, energy, and money getting into college, now they need to expend even more.  So let’s take a look at some of the options afforded students who don’t have or can’t afford the software that faculty frequently rely on.

The Office Suite
As more and more instructors grade on a computer, Microsoft Word documents and other Microsoft programs tend to become a standard, if only so the instructor doesn’t have to open files in a variety of programs.  However, Office doesn’t have to rule the classroom nor be the program used by students.  Many programs now allow the student to Save File As a different document than the default file that the program creates.  So if the student is using iWorks on a Mac, they can still save their file as a .doc/.docx (Word Document file type) or a .rtf (Rich Text Format; a universal word processor file type).  So it’s useful to make sure you communicate to your students about the “Save As” feature if they are using different programs to make sure they submit assignments in the right file type.  But when in doubt, the answer can be a Google-search away.  Typing in "convert *file type a* into *file type b* free" and you'll often find a host of resources that can help you (or your student) properly convert the file.

 
But what if the student doesn't have any of those standard programs?  There are two free programs out there that are worth investigating and mentioning to your students.  The first is OpenOffice.  This is a free suite of programs, which includes word processor program, spreadsheets, presentations, databases and drawings.  It’s a bit watered-down from Microsoft Office, but not in ways that will be relevant to students writing papers or creating presentations.  What’s also convenient about this program is that though it has its default file type (.odt), the file can still be saved in other format types (such as a .doc) using the Save As feature.

And of course, there’s also GoogleDocs as we’ve mentioned before on this blog.  Again, like OpenOffice, GoogleDocs allows you to save in different format types and gives you access to largely the same suite of tools in Microsoft Office and even some extras (such as its survey tool and its sharing options).  However, the major drawback with GoogleDocs is that it’s not as accessible if there isn’t an internet connection.

One last note.  It’s important to not only inform your students about these, but to also give them a range of resources on how to use them.  It’s not enough to expect them to just “get it.”  We pretend that students know technology better than us, but many don’t and need additional guidance.  Pretending they do displaces responsibility or opportunity to work with the student. This guidance can come in the form of written, audio, or visual guides on how to do the task at hand.  And remember that you don’t have to start anew.  For instance, check out this playlist we’ve created on how to use OpenOffice.org or GoogleDocs.  The important piece is to make sure you help arm the students to know what they need to do in order to successfully fulfill the assignment in the right format.

Keep an eye out for the next post which will focus on finding free course content.
  • What software programs are essential for your class and do you know of free analogues available out there?
    How is digital technology aiding in making the course and teaching financially cheaper?