The Perfect Browser?

I have spent a very long time trying to find the perfect browser. I’ve hated Internet Explorer for a few years now, and switched to Firefox on my old PC. After that crashed and I got my MacBook, I used Safari for a long time. I loved the way Safari looked, and how well it fit within the Mac environment, but I wished I had the ability to extend its functionality the way I could in Firefox. After Firefox 3 was released, I gave it a try again. I still liked it, but always went back to Safari. Then the semester started. Read the rest of this entry »

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Turnitin.com – The Students Respond

I picked up a copy of the school newspaper today solely because of the front-page article. I don’t normally do this – the front-page articles of The Daily Wildcat don’t normally interest me, nor does anything else in the newspaper – but today was different. Today’s headline read “Students Turned Off By Turnitin.com”. I’ve never liked Turnitin.com, but I put up with it as sort of a necessary evil. However, this article gave me yet another reason to dislike the online anti-plagiarism service.

I know, you’re wondering if I don’t like it because then I can’t plagiarize my papers when it’s used. Actually, that’s not why I don’t like it. I have never cheated on a paper. I’ve never even thought about cheating on a paper. Why bother? In the papers I’ve written, if I wanted to use someone else’s words to fill up some space (which is a very useful trick, by the way), I quoted and properly cited my source. It just doesn’t take that much extra effort. Maybe I’m just lucky, or gifted with an exceptional ability to write well, but writing the parts in between my quotes was just not that hard. In high school, I was taught that a good research paper would have more research in it than original thoughts, so I didn’t really have to do that much thinking. Just a lot of research. Maybe that’s why it was so easy. Anyway, like I said, I’ve never even thought about plagiarizing a paper.
I don’t like Turnitin.com because I don’t like feeling like I’m guilty until proven innocent. I’ve never cheated on a paper (we’ve been over this already) but I have to submit my paper to this site because I might have? Really? Why don’t you just read my paper and see if it sounds like my writing? When I was in high school, this is exactly what most of my teachers did. Only one used Turnitin.com. The rest just knew me and would have been able to tell if I had taken someone else’s work. Obviously, that strategy doesn’t work so well in college. I’ll get to that later.
As the news article mentions, my most recent reason for disliking Turnitin.com is some legalese in the user agreement that no one reads.   

You grant iParadigms [site creator] a non-exclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, world-wide, irrevocable license to reproduce, transmit, display, disclose, archive, and otherwise use Your Communications on the site or elsewhere for our business purposes. iParadigms is free to use any ideas, concepts, techniques, know-how, or information in Your Communications for any purpose, including, but not limited to, the development and use of products and services based on the Communications. This license does not include any right to use ideas set forth in papers submitted to the site.  

What? So Turnitin.com now owns my work. Seriously. They have rights to use my submitted work however they want. Well, that’s ok, because the only stuff I’ve ever submitted to the site was stuff for my GenEd classes that I highly doubt I’ll ever need again. That’s the only time that would really matter, after all, if I needed to write a related paper later in my student career and wanted to incorporate my previous work into my new work. I wonder if that means the professors of my GenEd classes also feel that the stuff they assign isn’t important enough to keep the rights to. Oh, wait, I hope none of the profs in my major ever require this site. What if I wrote an excellent paper for a class in my major, and then decided to write my thesis on the same thing, once I got to grad school? Does this mean I can’t do it, because no longer retain the rights to my own work?

Does anyone else think that students should be able to use their own work again? I certainly do. The law states that the moment I start writing, my work is automatically copyrighted. In order to sue someone for copyright infringement, however, I have to formally register my work, within three months of the offense. Basically, what Turnitin.com is doing is taking away that right from students.
At the end of the article, a professor here at the University stated that he has 600 students, and assigns them all a 10-page paper. Before you get out your calculator (because I know you forgot how to do math the moment you were allowed to use a calculator all the time) I’ll just tell you – that’s 6,000 pages to read. I get it – that sucks. It seems to me that you have a few options. 1: Use Turnitin.com and see if the Internet tells you your students are cheating, then read the papers anyway because you have to assign a grade. 2: Use Turnitin.com and then assign grades arbitrarily. Think how much time you’d save! 3: Don’t use Turnitin.com, read the papers, and see if any of the papers sound like they’ve been plagiarized. Hint: if the whole paper sounds very professional, but a few random sentences just don’t fit (or vice versa), try plugging some of the good stuff into Google and see if anything comes up. Students make mistakes, and you can tell. Or, 4: Don’t use Turnitin.com, don’t read the papers, and assign all the grades arbitrarily. This seems like the least time-consuming of all my ideas. Personally, I like number three. Ask your TA’s to help you.
However, I’ve come up with a couple of other, possibly more reasonable, ideas. How about shortening the paper? If you only required 5-page papers, that’s only 3,000 pages to read. How about not assigning a paper at all? I bet you’ll get a lot of student support for that one.
If you’re really adamant about this paper, however, why don’t you have your students use a different web site to check for plagiarism? There are a few other options hanging around the good ol’ internet. Options that don’t involve the students signing away their intellectual property rights. Other web sites, such as Copycatch and EVE2 will check your students’ papers, compare them to websites and online materials as well as other papers also being submitted, but don’t keep these papers in their database, as their own property. This may mean that these sites are less extensive than others, and it may be a little more likely that some cheaters could still get through. That’s when the reading part comes in handy. Ultimately, I think a lot of students are going to appreciate this consideration for their rights. I’d like to be able to use my own work in whatever way I want.

 

Spaces (Mac OSX Leopard only)

One of the best new features, in my opinion, that Apple released for Leopard was Spaces. This new feature allows users to have anywhere from 1 to 16 different desktops. I love this function, as it allows me to keep all of my apps in different desktops, depending on what I’m using them for.


Right now I’m running 9 spaces in a 3×3 grid.  I had 4 in a 2×2, but found that I needed more, then I had 6 in a 3×2, but found that I’m weird and don’t like having my spaces form a rectangle. I like squares.

When Leopard numbers your spaces, it starts with the one in the upper-left-hand corner and counts left to right, so that the lower-right-hand corner is the highest number – in my case, 9. You can use keyboard shortcuts to switch between spaces, either by moving from one space to the adjacent one, or by specifying which space you want to navigate to. Let’s review:

To move to adjacent spaces, use Ctrl + arrow keys. When you do this, it automatically wraps around corners, so to get from space 3 to 4 is simply Ctrl + right arrow key. It does the same for going from 9 to 1 and back again.

To specify the specific space you want to move to, press Ctrl + number of space. This is easy if you are in space 5 and want to get to space 1 without the extra keystroke you’d use to go from 5 to 2 to 1.

However, the biggest advantage I see in Spaces is the ability to keep all your apps grouped together by function or purpose. For example, I keep all my communication apps in Space 1 – Mail and iChat – and iCal and Stickies stay in that space as well. I keep Safari in 2, Firefox in 3 if I use it, iTunes in 4, and so on. Most of the apps that I use on a regular basis have a space that they stay in, because I will lose them otherwise.

This meant that I always had to switch to the space I wanted my app to open in before I clicked it, so it really would open there, or open it and then move it. Not anymore.

You can assign your applications to always open in the same space. Automatically. I didn’t notice this until recently, when I saw a little box titled “Application Assignments”. To find it, open System Preferences, click on Expose and Spaces, and then select the Spaces tab. To add an assignment, click the little + sign underneath the box, select the application from the list, then tell the computer which space to assign the app to, using the drop-down menu.

This little function means my Safari windows always open in Space 2, and Numbers and Pages stay separate – very helpful for homework assignments that require me to keep flipping back and forth between them. I’m sure it’s been there for a while, and I just didn’t notice it, but if you are weird about keeping your Spaces organized too, and didn’t know about it, make sure you check it out.

I like finding more ways to personalize my computer for my preferences. It just means when I use a different computer, I have to remember that it’s different.

Integrating Technology Even Further at ACU

Here’s a piece of news that should inspire universities across the country (hint, hint): Abilene Christian University has recently announced that they will be providing all incoming freshmen with either an iPhone or an iPod touch.


“At ACU – the first university in the nation to provide these cutting-edge media devices to its incoming class – freshmen will use an iPhone or iPod touch to receive homework alerts, answer in-class surveys and quizzes, get directions to their professors’ offices, and check their meal and account balances – among more than 15 other useful web applications already developed, said ACU Chief Information Officer Kevin Roberts.”

ACU’s article mentions that 93% of their students already bring computers with them to school, but they are providing their freshmen with these pocket computers on top of what they already own.  Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a very good idea.  Not only is Abilene providing their students with one of the coolest new toys to come from Apple, but they really are integrating it into their students’ lives.  They have created apps that will help the students in classes, and it sounds like teachers are actually going to use them.  This is the biggest problem I have seen in college – people come up with some great technology that could help to expand the classroom experience, but very few teachers actually use the system.  For example, one of my favorite pet peeves is the teacher who does all his lectures on PowerPoint, but goes so fast you can’t write anything down, and then refuses to post those notes to a website he or she already has up and running anyway.  But enough about me.

“Dr. Dwayne VanRheenen, ACU provost, said, ‘This is exciting to me, not only because we’re giving students new tools, but because we are transforming the learning environment.'”

And, in my opinion, they really are.  This idea is perfect for the productivity-minded student who has to have everything with her at all times, and can now put it in her pocket; but it’s also perfect for the organizationally-challenged student who will be able to receive homework reminders anytime, and for the teachers who want to take attendance but can’t be bothered to ask 100 students to sign in.  Oh wait, maybe that last one’s a bad thing.

I think that ACU has the right idea on how to get through to this generation.  Think about it: they’re aiding and encouraging the constant connectivity that sometimes defines this age group, and they’re giving college students free stuff.  It doesn’t get any better than that.
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