It's no secret that one of the greatest challenges educators face is lack of time. In my position as instructional technology coordinator of a large district in West Virginia, there's a constant influx of phone calls, e-mails, and requests for assistance threatening to send my day into a proverbial black hole. To avoid this fate, I've come to rely on several hardware and software applications to help me perform a variety of tasks more efficiently — from something as simple as making a label to as complex as accessing my desktop remotely. What follows, in no particular order, are the tools I consider to be the best.
1. Business Card Scanners
Business cards from workplace contacts have a tendency to build up to unmanageable numbers over time. Corex CardScan (www.cardscan.com) allows me to scan all my cards and import them to a database on my PC. The screen interface looks like a Rolodex file which can be searched alphabetically or by category. Clicking on either the contact's e-mail or business URL launches my e-mail application or Web browser to facilitate interaction with the contact. The Corex CardScan Executive 600, which includes a color business card scanner plus one CardScan Version 6 Software license, costs $249. An option for six Version 6 software licenses sells for $349. Similar products are IRIS Business Card Reader (www.irisusa.com) and BizCardReader (www.bizcardreader.com).
2. Label Makers
Almost every day I need labels for letters, diskettes, file folders, name tags, shipping — you name it. The Seiko Smart Label Printer (www.siibusinessproducts.com), which connects to a PC by serial or USB cable, creates various types of label formats that can be stored in an easy-to-use database. Other features include built-in barcoding for mail labels and the ability to import and print black-and-white graphics. Prices range from $99.99 for the SLP 100 model to $249.99 for the SLP 240. Dymo LabelWriter (www.dymo.com), Zebra Desktop Label Printer (www.zebra.com), and Brother P-Touch Labeling System (www.brother.com/usa) are similar available products.
3. Handheld Computers
A must-have for the busy educator is PDA technology. Our district provided Palm Zire 71 (www.palmone.com) handheld computers, along with in-depth training on how to use them, for central office administrators and building principals. As a result, they have critical information such as calendars, contact information, and to-do lists at their disposal. The Zire 71 has a built-in camera and audio port and accepts various size memory expansion cards. We opted to include Documents to Go 6.0 from DataViz (www.dataviz.com), which gives users access to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files that they can "beam" to one another via an infrared port. Other feature options include portable keyboard, MPEG audio kit, and Presenter-to-Go from Margi (www.margi.com), software that lets users send their PowerPoint presentations to a multimedia projector directly from the PDA. Palm Zire 71: $249; DataViz Documents to Go: $49.95; Margi Presenter-to-Go: $199. Other devices to consider are Dell Axim X3 (www.dell.com), Hewlett-Packard iPAQ (www.hp.com), and Sony CLIE (www.sonystyle.com).
4. Document Cameras
For those who don't have access to a laptop-or the desire to spend hours perfecting PowerPoint presentations-but need to display documents via a data projector, the ELMO HD-80XG Document Camera (www.elmo-corp.com) is a compact and effective solution. Educators can move from location to location with this portable device, hook it up to a data projector, and within minutes display hard copy information to students and colleagues. The unit, which connects to a projector via a 15-pin VGA cable, easily folds into a briefcase or projector carrying case. The document camera features manual focus and zoom, and a built-in supplemental lighting source. Our superintendent uses the document camera regularly at board of education and staff meetings to display agendas, notes, and official school materials. The ELMO HD-80XG costs $600. (The latest iteration of the product is the HV-100XG.) Similar products are AVerMedia's AVerVision300 (www.avermedia-usa.com) and Yokogawa Super-Portable Document Camera (www.toshiba.com).
5. Remote Access Software
GoToMyPC from Expertcity (www.expertcity.com) gives me unlimited access to my computer from any Web browser, enabling me to securely view, edit, and transfer files, access e-mail, execute programs, and use network resources from any location in the world. When I'm traveling, I no longer need to bring my laptop. Instead, I can use any computer with an Internet connection to work on my office PC as if I am sitting in front of it and even remotely print documents so they're ready and waiting when I return. Features include built-in file transfer, dual password user authentication, screen blanking, and the ability to cut, copy, and paste between host and remote PCs. GoToMyPC is a subscription-based service that costs $19.95 a month or $179.40 per year. Volume discounts are available. Similar services to consider are PC Anywhere (www.symantec.com/pcanywhere) and NetOp Remote Control v7.6 (www.crossteccorp.com).
6. Mini Drives
When I need immediate access to documents and files and don't want to carry diskettes or CDs with me, I turn to plug-and-play mini USB drives that offer quick transfer of information. Iomega's Micro Mini 128MB USB 2.0 drive (www.iomega.com) at $69.95 can easily handle the sharing of digital photos, MP3s, and video clips, and comes with a light-up extension cord, key ring, neck chain, install guide, and three-year warranty. Iomega also produces the Iomega Mini 512MB USB 2.0 at $199.95 and the Iomega Mini 1GB USB 2.0 at $379.95. Dell Flash Memory Key Storage (www.dell.com), DiskOnKey (www.diskonkey.com), and iClick CompactFlash Memory Card (www.clubiclick.com) are similar products.
7. PC Management Programs
Rather than going from computer to computer to check individual student work or customize system settings, save time and energy by managing classroom PCs remotely. For this purpose our district uses AB Tutor Control (www.abconsulting.com), which lets staff control up to 50 student workstations from one computer. Teachers can watch student screens as they work, disable keyboards if necessary, chat with selected students, and much more. A single user license for AB Tutor Control is $185. Volume discounts are also available. Similar products are NetOp School v3.0 (www.crossteccorp.com) and NetSupport School (www.netsupport-inc.com).
What productivity tools are on your A list? Click here and share your picks.
8. File Transfer Apps
Technology coordinators and technology support people who work from multiple locations often need to transfer files from their base PC to various PCs in the district. I've found it's easier to move a file via File Transfer Protocol than it is to carry floppy disks or CDs with me. I use WS_FTP LE (www.ipswitch.com), a Windows FTP program that's free for noncommercial home users, students, and staff of educational institutions. Once configured to access the user's host PC, file transfers are a snap. The software also handles larger file transfers that are often not possible to send as e-mail attachments due to the file size restrictions of most e-mail servers. Other free FTP client products are SmartFTP (www.smartftp.com) and FTP Surfer (www.whispertech.com/surfer).
9. Digital Storage
At the central office level, administrators have evolved from managing their information in hard copy format, which resulted in mountains of paper, to storing important documents on electronic media such as CDs. My storage technology of choice is Kano ATLAS Stand-Alone Duplication Tower (www.kanotechnologies.com), a system that uses advanced multidrive recording technology and reliable, production-grade hardware. For multiple master duplication jobs, I create my own CD image library on the internal 40GB hard drive and duplicate copies whenever I need them. I opted for the seven-bay model at $1,299 from reseller PC Connection (www.pcconnection.com). Similar products are Kintronics CD Tracer Pro (www.kintronics.com) and Copy Pro 52x CD Copier Tower (www.cddimensions.com).
10. E-Mail Clients
What I consider to be the greatest time saver of all, most of us take for granted: regular, good old e-mail. The nuisance of spam notwithstanding (to counter it, see "How to Fight Spam"), e-mail gives me access to numerous resources across the globe and allows me to collaborate with other educators. In my district, school improvement plans are sent via e-mail, as are maintenance requests, school calendar events, and requests for technical assistance. Daily messages transmitted by our superintendent keep building administrators informed of important dates, upcoming meetings, and deadlines. E-mail clients are too numerous to list and compare them all. Outlook Express (www.office.microsoft.com), which comes as part of Microsoft's Windows operating system, is user friendly and has all the features I need to handle daily message exchanges. Other e-mail clients to explore are Eudora 6.0 (www.eudora.com), a freeware client, and Pegasus Mail (www.pmail.com), also a freeware product.
Bill Burrall, a former Technology & Learning National Teacher of the Year, is coordinator of instructional technology programs for Marshall County Schools in Marshall County, W.Va.
Read other articles from the March Issue