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Selanit (192811) writes "I teach an introductory web development class at a large public university. The classrooms I use are equipped with computers for each student, recent iMacs which dual-boot OS X 10.5 and Windows XP. Frequently, I have to distribute files to all of my students during class. For example, as part of a lesson on the CSS box model I have a bare bones HTML file containing some content and markup for my students to practice their CSS on. My problem is that distributing those files takes up valuable class time that could be better spent on actual teaching. Is there some platform-independent software I could use to send the files directly to all of their computers at once?
The current system consists of a Samba install on one of our FreeBSD servers. I drop the files in a shared transfer folder on the server, and students copy it out of there. It works okay, but there are drawbacks. The transfer folder is auto-mounted on login as a folder on the desktop. Many students assume that it is in fact a local folder, which leads to situations where, say, Alice and Bob are simultaneously editing the same file and get terribly confused when their changes overwrite one another's. I work around this by explicitly instructing the students to copy the files to their own desktop before working on them, but even so people get confused, and then I have to go fix things so we can move on with the lesson. Not everyone has trouble with this of course — many students have no trouble figuring it out at all. But there's always one or two who just don't get it even after I've explained it half a dozen times. Usually everybody finally gets it straight, but even so it means that I've spent far too much time just getting the files distributed to the students instead of actually teaching them. Also, the Transfer folder is shared across ALL classrooms in the unit, which often means that other teachers leave files for their classes in it too, leaving my students to figure out what files they need to grab.
I know that it's probably good for them to learn how to copy things across the network. Teach 'em to fish, and all that. But it irritates me to spend valuable class time on basic file copying when that's not the topic of the course and I've got so much else to teach them. There must be a better way.
Ideally, I'd like some way that I can just push the files out to the students. Maybe drop them in a special shared folder on the server and have it distribute copies through a client of some kind running in the background on each classroom computer which currently has a student logged in. Or something. I've spent several hours with Google on this, but haven't found anything really suitable. There are a couple programs which come close, but there's always something wrong. For example, Impero LAN Director can send files to multiple computers, but it does eight bajillion other things I don't need or want, and the fact that there's no price given on their web site leads me to believe it would probably be far too expensive even if it supported Mac OS (it doesn't).
Given enough time, I could probably write suitable software for this myself. But it would involve learning a new programming language (maybe Python, or Java, for their cross-platform capabilities), and I don't have that much time on my hands. Anyone who's ever taught in a computer lab and needed to give duplicate copies of a file to all the students has faced this problem before. Surely someone somewhere has come up with a better approach than simple shared directories. I'd prefer an open source solution, but proprietary may be an option as long as it's reasonably inexpensive. I throw myself on the tender mercies of the Slashdot hive mind (ouch): how can I push files to my students?" top
Selanit (192811) writes "The U.S. Forest service plans to test a network of tree-powered fire sensors, according to a report in the Boston Globe. Electrical potentials arising from a pH imbalance between the tree and its surroundings slowly charge a battery, allowing a small humidity/temperature sensor to periodically zap reports back to solar powered weather stations, and thence via satellite to the Forest Service. The sensors represent the first practical application of work published in PLoS One last August. Voltree Power, the company developing the technology, expects that applications might be extended to security or climate research. The Forest Service tests are scheduled for next spring. No word on whether the Forest Service will set up a massive VR simulation to persuade the trees they're not being used as batteries." Link to Original Source top
Selanit (192811) writes "Cathy Davidson, a professor of English at Duke University, has written an interesting reflection on Wikipedia's place in the academy for the Chronicle of Higher Education. She picks up from the Middlebury College Bans Wikipedia, but she does not condemn Wikipedia. From the article: "I urge readers to take the hubbub around Middlebury's decision as an opportunity to engage students... in a substantive discussion of how we learn today, of how we make arguments from evidence, of how we extrapolate from discrete facts to theories and interpretations, and on what basis. Knowledge isn't just information, and it isn't just opinion. There are better and worse ways to reach conclusions, and complex reasons for how we arrive at them. The 'discussion' section of Wikipedia is a great place to begin to consider some of the processes involved." Good to debunk the common stereotype that all academics dislike Wikipedia." Link to Original Source top
Selanit writes "Lots of socially-oriented sites provide suggestions for things you might like based on user-provided data. But how many can claim to offer you things you'll probably hate? LibraryThing, the social book-cataloging site, has used its database of personal libraries to create UnSuggester, which does exactly that. You type in a book you like, "It analyzes the seven million books LibraryThing members have recorded as owned or read, and comes back with books least likely to share a library with the book you suggest." For example, apparently readers of Edward Said's "Orientalism" rarely purchase "Ella Enchanted" by Gail Carson Levine. Who'd have thought? Quirky though it may be, the tool seems an interesting way to broaden your horizons. If you're a hidebound, crufty old fogey, I un-recommend it!" top
Selanit (192811) writes "David Pogue recently published a review of the Sony Reader, under the title Trying Again to Make Books Obsolete. Though he likes the device in general, he concludes that it's not destined to replace the book any time soon. Well worth a read."