In light of the observance of Preservation Week, I want to shift gears a bit for this week’s post and talk briefly about a topic dear to me: saving your data.
The Internet age has brought with it many changes to how we use and share information. Rather than writing information in notebooks and letters, we now write digital books and e-mails. Additionally, media like music, photos, and videos are commonplace in the digital realm, replacing shoeboxes of photos and cabinets of VHS tapes and CDs.
What gets forgotten at times, however, is not only how easy it is to lose digital data, but also how quickly media formats change. With this digital revolution of information comes the need for a “preservation revolution,” one that allows us to easily and quickly store and convert digital media so it may live on as part of our rich digital culture.
That said, here are four groups of Internet services that are key to helping you save your digital data.
Online data storage
Relying solely on the hard drive of your computing device to securely save your data isn’t the best idea. Hard drives fail and data can become corrupted. Thus, a better storage plan is necessary to minimize the chances of losing your data. External hard drives and flash drives make for useful backup options. Another viable option is online data storage. Enter services such as Carbonite , CrashPlan, and DropBox.
The main idea behind these services is to allow you to upload your files and sync them to your computing devices. Say, for example, changes to a file on your home desktop are uploaded to one of these services. You then can go somewhere else with Internet access and access the file, update it, and have the file on your desktop at home also be automatically updated.
All three services have similar features, with some imposing different limits on file size and file type depending on what kind of account (free or paid) you have. I recommend comparing the prices and features of the services to find the one that suits your needs best. Having the peace of mind your files are backed up in an additional location is worth the effort.
Whether you’re new to the Internet and share information like hugs, or you’re a grizzled veteran of the online world and consciously limit your sharing habits, you’re likely to leave a digital “fingerprint” on the Web. That fingerprint may come in the form of shared photos, videos, and blog posts, or it may take the shape of anonymous posts on a private forum. And with the surge in number of social media tools, information sharing is occurring in ways previously not thought possible. Tweets shared on Twitter, conversations had on Facebook, contacts made on LinkedIn, and blog entries posted via WordPress: these all are examples of data you may wish to preserve.
Several catch-all options exist for collecting your online data from social media and e-mail accounts. Backupify allows users to back up and retrieve information via two separate plans: one for social media accounts (as well as Gmail) and another for Google Apps accounts. The social media plan has a free option for up to three accounts and one gigabyte of information, as well as several paid account options. The Google Apps option starts out at $3 per month, per user. Both plans allow users to back up their accounts on a weekly basis, browse archived content, and even download it for personal use. In some cases, data can also be restored. A competing service BackupMy offers similar services, though it’s not clear if they also allow you to download the archived information. BackupMy also adds blog and photo archiving services to the mix, with a free trial to all backup services.
Images and videos
When it comes to backing up your images and videos online — while also allowing them to be shared with the rest of the world — Flickr remains a strong option. The site is constantly evolving, allowing users to share and store their media in new ways with whom they wish. Yet even more sophisticated options exist in the form of 1000memories and LiveOn. Both sites are designed to allow users to archive their digital photos for family, friends, and future generations.
What makes 1000memories stand out is its “shoebox” feature, which allows users to group photos into definable themes, all for the low cost of free. Its downside for now seems to be that video uploads aren’t an option. As for LiveOn, in addition to free photo and video uploads, it gives users the option to create a “timeline” on their account, allowing for a more chronological categorization of content. However, I’m a little skeptical of how often they state they’ll guard your information “forever.” Nothing lasts forever, including businesses.
Speaking of things not lasting forever, we humans tend to have this habit of ceasing to be, sometimes without much warning. Enter online services which preserve and pass on your vital “information assets” to one or more beneficiaries. Usernames and passwords, financial information, and digital documents are all options for storing, not only for now, but also for a future when you may not be around. This also aids others who may need to tend to your online accounts after you die.
Two major online entities for these services are Legacy Locker and SecureSafe. Both have similar features and offer a free version as well as paid options. Legacy Locker seems to be somewhat less expensive though perhaps less comprehensive than SecureSafe. One interesting feature that seems to be exclusive to Legacy Locker is the “legacy letter,” one or more prepared letters or videos which can be sent to assigned recipients upon your passing. SecureSafe seems more formal, though it boasts iPad and iPhone support.
Photo via woodleywonderworks, Flickr Creative Commons
If you’re a student or parent of a student, you’re likely to be at least somewhat aware of the push to include technology in education. Whether at middle school or graduate school, the presence of interactive whiteboards, tablets, and online lectures is greater every year. And while there’s still plenty of debate about the effectiveness of education technology in and out of the classroom, the fact remains that education institutions are plowing ahead with their goal to make education more modern.
Yet in the background — at least in the United States — the cries of frustration of those least able to take advantage of the ed-tech revolution are at times drowned out by the voices of those who stand to gain the most from it. In the end, students in low-income households or in situations where Internet access is not available face more challenges, especially when teachers increasingly expect students and parents to be participating in Internet-based activities outside of school.
Students are now assigned online homework like writing blogs, while parents at some schools are expected to complete registration forms or manage student progress reports online. Some schools have talked about adding mandatory online courses for high school students. Even digital textbooks — which may require Internet to access or to further research topics contained within — are making appearances in schools. Those who don’t have readily-available Internet access are at a greater disadvantage.
“The policy of providing digital textbooks is the direction schools should take,” University of Texas professor and social-media researcher Dr. S. Craig Watkins recently told the Orlando Sentinel, “but it is flawed if it assumes all students have equal access to the Internet.”
The voices of those most in favor of ed-tech seemingly make this assumption at times, relegating those students who don’t have Internet access to spend extra time in an often crowded computer lab at the school; use a family member’s, friend’s, or business’ Internet connection (assuming students have an Internet-enabled device); go to a library (many of which are struggling with public demand for their computers); or work with teachers on an alternative. This often has the effect of eating up even more time out of the student’s — and sometimes the parent’s — busy schedule.
This all leads me to the next logical question: how many people in the U.S. are still without Internet access? According to the Orlando Sentinel story, “11 percent of Florida households with school-age children still lack Internet access.” And across the country? According to a U.S. Department of Commerce report (PDF) released in November 2011, 71 percent of Americans had home Internet access in 2010. The report also noted that only about 46 percent of households with annual household incomes less than $25,000 reported having any kind of Internet access at home. According to the Census Bureau, there were 30.5 million households earning less than $25,000 annually, so that means roughly 16 million households were without Internet access. (It’s not clear how many of those had school-age children.) All of this number crunching is to point out that a non-trivial number of low-income households likely don’t have Internet access at home.
Assuming many of those households have students in them, it’s not unrealistic to believe that many of them are getting left behind in primary schools’ push to become more tech-friendly. If educators in this realm continue to expand online requirements for students, it’s clear to me this problem must be addressed, including somehow making Internet access as commonplace as telephony. How common is the phone? Last year the U.N. declared cellular/mobile phones “de facto ubiquitous,” reporting more than 5 billion people globally as having some sort of mobile phone service.
As Internet-connected smartphones continue to replace older phones, it’s worth asking if all this concern about student Internet access is overblown. Despite the increasingly present connection that comes with today’s smartphones, they certainly don’t make for a long-term replacement of a desktop or laptop. Imagine being required to type a grammatically correct 500-word blog post on a smartphone. It doesn’t sound appealing. Eye strain, screen size, slow download speeds, and lack of a mobile application variant also tend to work against students. And while some schools are handing out iPads and laptops like candy — again showing that in many cases the lack of an Internet-connected device isn’t the problem — those devices likely don’t come with home Internet access.
It’s unrealistic to expect educators to back down from tech at this point, so what can be done to make Internet access as common as phone access? The U.S. government has been trying to address that issue, though not without controversy.
“The future of American education undoubtedly includes a laptop on every desk and universal Internet access in every home,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a recent conference in Austin, Texas. “We will do all we can at the federal level to support the use of technology in education,” he added.
The U.S. government has been working on that universal Internet problem, as I talked about last November. Yet despite the government’s attempts to regulate Internet service providers (ISPs), update its funding policies, and promote temporary affordable Internet service to low-income families, concerns of whether or not the federal government should even be involved with the expansion of broadband persist. Some argue such a task should be left up to state and local governments, though such arguments often fail to address who would then handle ISPs’ anti-competitive behavior.
While solutions to universal Internet in the U.S. are difficult to find, it’s not difficult to see that many low-income households with school-age children are at a disadvantage. As teachers continue to adopt technology and create online assignments, the have-nots are left to spend more time finding solutions to a process many of us take for granted: accessing the Internet. This leads me to one conclusion: until Internet access becomes as common as phone service, educators must remain flexible with their integration of technology in the classroom.
Photo via Brad Flickinger, Flickr Creative Commons
2011 has come and gone, and tied to it were numerous stories related to education technology. E-readers and tablets like the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Apple iPad gained momentum, big-name universities offered even more free online classes, and the flipped classroom gained more attention. And while some ed tech predictions weren’t realized in 2011, this year shouldn’t be any less exciting.
I’ve talked a bit about education technology here, most recently on whether or not the rush to adopt it has moved too quickly. The reality, however, for Internet newbies and long-term users alike is that technology and learning are increasingly difficult to separate now. While schools like the Waldorf School of the Peninsula are still resistant to technology’s march, many more work to integrate it into curriculum. But education technology isn’t merely relegated to the school; even the simple act of going online to learn about new technologies highlights the role tech is playing in our learning.
That said, 2012 should continue to change how we use technology while learning, with experts already making bold predictions. Technology author Audrey Watters recently posted her list of 12 education tech trends to watch in the coming months, a list that includes important concepts like higher-quality interactive content and “social learning.”
“The ability for learners to connect with one another will be one of the most important trends of the coming year,” said Watters in her piece for MindShift. “This isn’t just a matter of connecting learners with online resources or with online instruction. Rather, one of the big opportunities will be to create a space in which learners can help and teach each other.”
With the recent news that students of online schools are lagging behind more traditional schools, it’s easy to wonder if the isolated, somewhat impersonal nature of an online course is at least partially to blame. While solid research into social learning over the Web is still needed, there are at least a few studies that indicate that learner-learner interaction is just as important as teacher-learner interaction in online programs.
At least one company is already betting on the importance of that interaction. Last week education start-up Piazza announced it had received a $6 million infusion to fund further research and development into its social learning platform. The start-up states that its service is “designed to connect students, TAs, and professors so every student can get help when she needs it — even at 2AM.” Similar efforts are sure to make headlines this year.
Another important area that Watters addresses is the consideration of high-speed Internet access to schools and how it may sadly get worse than better. She notes that while the U.S.’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recognizes the importance of high-speed Internet in schools and libraries, “even those schools with broadband access may find their resources strained in coming months.”
This topic was discussed here in September and again in November, addressing both the importance of broadband access to schools and the actions the FCC took last year to expand broadband access. The news also highlighted the Idaho Education Network and how despite its successes, funding cuts to the program have already forced some Idaho schools to reduce availability. This news highlights what is likely to be many more education cuts before 2012 ends, potentially leading to further reductions in tech investments at schools.
Despite the cutbacks, education technology will likely continue to be a hot topic this year as people from all walks of life take to the Internet and mobile devices to study, learn, and teach about our world. That very concept is what drives Learn the Net, a site utilizing technology to help you learn how to use it better. It’s also a reminder that education technology, while contentious, isn’t going anywhere. We may or may not see many changes this year, but ed tech’s importance will only grow.
Photo via Erin Lodes, Flickr Creative Commons