Archive | March, 2011

Back When I Was Your Age… (or, Technology and Education)

29 Mar

I had the good fortune (and eye-opening occasion) of lecturing at my undergraduate university via webcast last night.  The surreal experience brought me down memory lane, and as I reflected on my own collegiate experience, I also thought about the drastically different academic experience my munchkin will have in 18 years.

While earning my undergraduate degree, my formal education was limited to my textbooks, my talented professors and the four walls of the classroom or on-campus library.  My “outside” or “real-life” knowledge was limited to the academic journals I read and the occasional guest lecturers my professors managed to lure to the outskirts of Virgina.

To schedule a meeting to work on a group project, I called my fellow students on my dorm phone, we’d meet at the campus library, and we’d all bring hard copies of our parts of the paper, piecing everything together manually with tape, staples and Post-its.  And then the least argumentative person would be the unfortunate soul to take the final draft home to retype.  (Hey, at least we had computers… My freshman year, I used a word processor to write papers.)

To research, we scanned microfilm and photocopied hundreds of pages of journal articles, using highlighter pens to select key text and citations.  And we didn’t have Powerpoint or access to any real graphics or photo libraries, so almost everything we presented was heavy text.

Class registration was done via phone, and I’d pray I would get through and not get disconnected so I’d get the class I wanted.  And we were only able to purchase textbooks at the campus bookstore when everyone else was doing so, which meant colossal lines and hours of wasted time.

If I overslept a class, there were no online notes or presentation archives… I simply missed the class and photocopied a fellow classmate’s handwritten notes.  (Presuming their spiral bound notebook wasn’t in tatters.)

It was college, and it was great.

As a graduate student fifteen years later, the Internet, email, cell phones, Powerpoint, laptops and jump drives have made research, connecting, sharing, presenting, collaborating, note-taking and transferring information much more easy and convenient.   Webcasting, online classes and videoconferencing technology have also changed the game.  Experts and professionals all over the globe can lecture and have one-on-one interactions with students in a classroom, while chat rooms provide convenient locations for passionate post-class discussions.

Last night, I emailed my presentation to the professor 10 minutes before class started.  Because the school had difficulty streaming video, I Fed-Exed the professor a DVD of the video the Friday prior.  I logged on to gMail, connected with the class via gMail Chat and an HD web cam, and I could see the class and they could see me (when my Powerpoint slides weren’t up.)  They could hear me the whole time, and I could hear them.  It was a quick, easy, and interactive process, and something I would have never conceived of when I sat in those same seats back in 1996.

I’m sharing these details, because even some of my fellow grad students are too young to remember word processors or phone registration or campus bookstore lines.  That’s how quickly tech changes.  And when I tried to talk to last night’s students about the very limited email capabilities I had as an undergrad or the manual HTML programming I did at the campus newspaper, or this relatively new “Internet thing” we were exploring in 1995, they just couldn’t relate.

While I recently shared a post on the interesting iSchool concept, I honestly can’t begin to imagine what the college experience will be for my munchkin 18 years from now.  I can’t conceive of the technology that will help her expand her horizons, broaden her world view, and learn, share, and connect with others.  I’m excited for her and the opportunities, exchanges, and possibilities she’ll have, all thanks to technology.

As long as she doesn’t sleep through her 8 a.m. classes, she’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of where I was at that age.  (And heck, she can always check the archived webcast of her class!)

Bravo for Google Recipe Search

28 Mar

Kudos for Google’s new recipe search option

This new feature can help busy parents scrape up quick dinners or make a full-fledged feast.  The recipe search feature offers an ability to search by cooking ingredients, cook time or calories, which gives home cooks tons of options – whether you’re time pressed, calorie conscious or just combing the pantry because you don’t have time to make a grocery dash before dinner.

Here’s a video that illustrates the tool, or just visit the site and play around like I did.   (I entered a random ingredient list of spinach, red peppers, eggs and pasta and a requirement for 15 minutes, and the tool delivered a soup recipe in less than a second.) Pretty impressive!
 

While you can’t necessarily vouch for the recipe taste, and many require additional ingredients (my soup above also required parmesan and chicken stock) it certainly gives you some great ideas and gets you in the ballpark.  And if you put in more “traditional” combinations of ingredients, (e.g. “chicken” + “rice” ) you get millions of results.  All for free (vs. being a subscriber to a cooking magazine.)  My type of info!

 Bon appetite, y’all!

Groceries Gone Digital

27 Mar

A few weeks ago, I tried the Peapod grocery service by Stop & Shop.  While it went well, it was a challenge to schedule the drop off window for a time I could guarantee to be home.  (Weekends are tough, since they’re “errand” time and I hate to be locked at home waiting for groceries for four hours.)  But I did appreciate the convenience of online lists and ordering.

This week while grocery shopping, I found a flyer in one of my Stop & Shop grocery bags that introduce the free Stop & Shop app for iPhone and Android.  The app allows you to view the S&S circular on your mobile phone, access your account and find the nearest store.  It also offers Peapod as a mobile service – which is what I’d most be interested in.  Might be a good way to place my grocery order while I’m waiting at the pediatrician’s office or running errands.

While I have a Blackberry, I’m considering purchasing an iPhone, and this is one app I’d definitely download.  Busy mommies take note!

Parenting Tips: Kids and Recent News Coverage

25 Mar

Looks like I’m not the only one concerned about how recent news and media is affecting our kids.  Kudos to the Today Show for offering parents some quick tips from Dr. Michelle Borba on how to “calm kids’ jitters in a scary world” this morning.

My favorite piece of advice: 

Monitoring  what your child watches is always a good idea. But especially be aware of television that shows graphic images of tragedy. When in doubt, turn the television off. Studies show that even though kids may not have personally witnessed a tragedy, they can still be traumatized from viewing troubling news images.  A child’s age dictates what they can absorb.

Another interesting tidbit:  A study of over 600 middle-school students found that “late-breaking news without an adult there to comfort or explain” produced anxiety.  

So even older kids – who can more maturely process the content – are feeling it.

A smart way to counteract the bad news?  Find some good news to balance it out.  Highlight some of the good things people are doing (support, relief efforts, stories of survival, etc.)  Or, just go for a walk and connect with your child.

Great segment and solid tips for tech-savvy and techno(t) parents alike.  Thanks Today and Dr. Borba!

 

Free Lecture for CT Parents at Darien Library

23 Mar

For Fairfield County, CT parents who might be interested, Warren Buckleitner will be speaking at Darien Library on Thursday, March 24 about parenting with technology.

Buckleitner is an educational psychologist, editor of Children’s Technology Review and a blogger for the NYT. His discussion is titled “Raising a 21st Century Problem Solver: A Recipe for Modern Parents.”  Sounds perfect for this techno(t) parent!  Sign me up.

Thanks for sharing, KS!

“Friday”: What’s the Big Deal??

22 Mar

I’m baffled by the crazy media coverage of thirteen-year-old Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video. It’s as if she’s the first person ever to record a less-than-etherial pop song and post it online:

Just not sure what all the fuss is about. It’s a “tweener” pop song. Is it supposed to make sense? Because I remember a few Tears for Fears ditties that didn’t quite make sense in my day… And they probably cost way more than $2,000 to produce.

Personally, I think the criticism is a little harsh…

Please, enlighten me as to why 1) people are being so mean about this song and 2) why it’s considered “news” and being covered on NBC, ABC, CNN and other major media outlets?

And as a parent, would you encourage your child to post a music video to the Internet, knowing it might draw similar criticism?

Online Weight Loss Program Review

21 Mar

I. Am. Officially. Fat.  No way to get around it.  Call it “baby weight,” call “post-nursing gain,” call it whatever you want… I’m full-on fat these days. 

And to those who say I should “find the time” to go to the gym, I’d say I’d love to.  The gym, yoga studio and pool were once my second home, and I miss them terribly.  But between work and school, I’m away from the munchkin for 55+ hours a week; I don’t want to be away another seven – even if I am feeling physically better afterwards.  And once she’s safely in bed at 10 p.m., it’s lights-out for mommy too.

So until I’m able to find the extra time, I’m exploring some online weight loss tools: 

Weight WatchersI am blown away by Jennifer Hudson’s transformation from chunky mom to curvy diva, courtesy (she claims) of Weight Watchers.  (I’m sure there’s a personal trainer also in the mix!) 

That said, at $47.90 for the first month and $17.95 for each following month, this “convenient, customized, online plan” is a somewhat pricy option to explore, especially because it doesn’t even include the food.   The site promises healthy, family-friendly menus, workout demos, interactive tools, an online weight monitor and personal goal-setting, as well as a community to chat, but it looks like major time commitment.  I’ve also met several Weight Watchers devotees, and while incredibly successful, the maniacal obsession they have with points and meetings is a little off-putting.

Nutrisystem

A friend’s mom has had some great success with Nutrisystem recently, and I confess, I tried Nutrisystem years ago, but the food was just so awful, I lost weight because I didn’t want to eat it.  The Nutrisystem of today has an interesting online component, offering free meal-planning and progress tracking tools and a rewards program. That said, the program requires a 28 day commitment, and meals that are hard to replicate at home if you decide to stop the program.  The food is shipped directly to your house, so while convenient, you also have to make arrangements if you’re ordering frozen food.   The menu comes out to roughly $11/day – before shipping – and you still need to augment the diet with grocery shopping.

Lean Cuisine

As a time-crunched mommy, I tend to turn to Lean Cuisine once or twice a week anyway.  My husband will eat it, and when it’s on sale, I can get 5 decent-sized dinners for $10.  I’ve never been to their website, though, and I was surprised to see the free tools they have to offer.  They have a free exercise tracker, a meal-planning tool, a rewards program launching in April, and an online nutritionist to answer questions.  Plus, they also have a free bag promotion that I didn’t even know about.  Because I already eat this food, this seems like a no-brainer fit for me.

On the weekends, or nights when I get home at a reasonable time, I can take the munchkin for a walk, but for the most part, I’m stuck running errands and playing “catch up” on nights and weekends.   Anyone else have any helpful weight lost suggestions?

Anxiety and the Techno(t)parent

18 Mar

I’ve been feeling particularly – and inexplicably – anxious recently.  Me thinks the world might be “too much with me” – courtesy of technology.  And I’m wondering if our kids might be feeling the same.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m glad to be aware and informed about the world around me.  And I certainly don’t believe “ignorance is bliss”.  Technology has given us access to real-time news and information at mind-blowing speed, and we are informed  like never before with regards to global events.  We’re using digital tools to fuel humanitarian aid, lend support and connect with people and news far and wide.

But lately, the global news hasn’t been very good.  And from the nightmare still unfolding in Japan to unrest in the Middle East, to local tragedy, my heart has been aching at every turn.  If our kids are watching the news on TV or seeing these sad images online, I’ll bet some are also feeling the world’s grief – even if they’re not talking about it.

One important lesson I’ve learned through this Techno(t)parent experiment is “balance”.  And all the experts I’ve talked to have said media consumption should be done in moderation.  A self-professed news-addict, I’ve been deeply immersed in recent world events, and I’m wondering if that might be causing the anxiety.  It might just be time to bury my head in the sand a bit and “unplug.”

So this week, I’m limiting my screen time and focusing on the things I can control – working a good, honest day, getting home to my family, cooking a nourishing meal with love, and cherishing every second I have with the special people in my life.

Because sometimes, counting your blessings (without a calculator app) is important.

Digital Lessons from PepsiCo’s B. Bonin Bough

17 Mar

I confess, I’m wildly inspired (and slightly intimidated) by the uber-early-adopters who attend the  South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas every year.  These people are basically the pioneers of the digital frontier – and I’m excited to learn as much as I can from the gurus that network, present and share there.

I recently watched this great mini-clip of PepsiCo’s B. Bonin Bough’s SXSW presentation:

My favorite is was Bough’s reference to “digital physical fitness”…

“Digital physical fitness is the ability to adapt to changes in a digital environment.  And how do you get digitally fit?  The same way you do physical fitness.  It requires training, commitment…rigor.  It requires you to push beyond the point when you want to say ‘no’.”

For late-adopters, this is an inspiring concept.  Just like going to the gym and “catching-up” physically, we can “catch-up” in the digital world too.  It takes some work, but it’s certainly doable – even in the ever-evolving tech environment.

Thanks, Mr. Bough, for the real-life perspective, and check out more of PepsiCo’s interesting contributions to  SXSW.

Time for this techno(t)parent to hit the digital gym!

Technology for Kids… And Babies?

16 Mar

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of Jeana Lee Tahnk’s Screen Play blog.   She recently posted a roundup of sites designed specifically for babies.  As a somewhat tech-cautious parent, I didn’t know how quickly I’d embrace sites designed specifically for babies, especially the BabyFirstTV site, which touts itself as “The First Site for Little Ones”. I decided to check BabyFirstTV out for myself.

This comprehensive site  is geared towards babies 18 months and older, offering both free and subscription-only games and lessons that introduce numbers, art, music, and language.  While some of the navigation was awkward, the content was age-appropriate and mostly educational, and there were no ads.  What I especially like is that the programming seems to have been developed with the support of an advisory board of credible experts.  (This info was hidden in the FAQ links, so I’m not sure how active this advisory board is… But it’s nice to see there’s some content oversight.)  The site also has a place for parents with questions, and offers videos in other languages for parents wanting to expose their kids to French or Spanish.

I’m happily surprised to say I’d be okay with my child interacting with this site occasionally.  My only concern is that it’s very easy for kids to “shop” online, and with a single click, they’re able to add a costly gift set to their parents’ shopping cart.   (Not sure how easy it is to actually “purchase,” but it’s a little worrisome.)  Other than that, this site seems like a fun, interactive way to engage babies at an early age.

What do you think?  How early should babies be interacting with technology?  Are sites like these of interest to you?  Or should parents wait until children are older to introduce their babies to websites?