The e-life doesn’t have to be so cloudy

“Did you all download my syllabus?”

This is the phrase heard in increasingly more classrooms across the SJSU campus.

And you shouldn’t be afraid: there are no gremlins inside the technology destroying the ways of old.

Albeit anecdotal, I can see this as proof in my own life. All but one of my courses this semester have distinctly set themselves up in this trend: a digital education platform, and I am, frankly, excited.

The transition of print to digital by university professors is nothing new, but it seems as if this semester, partly due to the rise in tablet and e-reader ownership and their further drop in cost, the digital classroom is finally forging as new age in platforms that don’t break.

From digital syllabi that allow students to learn all about the class before the semester starts, to the campus-wide adoption of Desire2Learn, to ebooks that cost only a fraction of a print edition, it represents a great societal change.

Forego the addiction to Angry Birds and promote your productivity.

Our digital devices that we use daily are finally becoming useful beyond one level, and not only can it save you money, but also make your routines much more elegant.

I was able to buy digital copies for most of my books for a fraction of what my paper-bearing classmates paid.

The niftiest store setup I found was Google Books, a cross-platform site and application that allows you to resume where you were reading on nearly every modern platform. From Android to iOS to all desktop platforms, you can share your digital library with all of your gadgets.

Most ebooks can also be downloaded as a PDF and printed on paper, liberating the freedom of the press to anyone with a desktop printer.

Now you can pick up where you were left off on “Pride and Prejudice” on your iPhone at the gym. It’s a pretty cool feature.

And while I might ramble about how the concentration of the world’s books into a single store owned by the largest information company and ad agency in the world is a terrifying concept, and further the concept that they are tracking what you’re reading and when, Google’s advancement of the technology is nonetheless a good thing because it means the competitors,

namely Barnes and Noble and Amazon, will implement the liberating features.

And in one sense, competition is generally a good thing, except when it comes to complexities due to lack of uniformity in products.

One of the most perplexing things about this new generation of products is that between the dozens of e-readers — from the original Kindle to the iPad — each has its own file restriction and integral downfall that leaves the consumer at a loss.

However, the key to the technological age we are in as a whole is to practice: to figure out what works for you.

What can do what, how long it lasts, and why you should use it are questions you need to ask of every app, device and website.

One of the niftiest note-taking setups I’ve seen is from students who use OneNote, a desktop app found in some versions of Microsoft Office, allowing typed outline notes that pairs with an audio recording of class

lectures.

If you add this to a Dropbox.com setup that syncs to the cloud, you have a powerful archive that lives beyond your device’s battery life and can be shared with classmates and multiple computers with great ease via a cloud storage system.

OneNote is a beautifully simple tool that makes notetaking fun and removes the complexities of word processing from the student.

Not sure what year Abraham Lincoln was assassinated? The recording feature, again, allows you to recall exactly what the professor said when you review your notes.

The only downfall is that OneNote does not work on Mac OS X, but compatible files can be exported. The SJSU Bookstore sells Office Professional Academic 2010 for $122, which includes OneNote.

Dropbox will give you 2GB of free cloud storage, and an extra 1GB if you use a .EDU email address. All faculty, staff and students have access to a free sjsu.edu email account.

And if any of this seems overwhelming, remember you can ask your friends how they use what they use. Talk about what apps you use and what sites work for you. Try new gadgets when they come out, and buy the ones you want when their prices drop and their bugs are fixed.

Be open to the rapidly developing changes, most of which come from Silicon Valley, where we live.

You can become as savvy as your savviest of “techie” friends. Besides the fact that it’s cool, technology is not supposed to be frustrating. It’s supposed to liberate us of the problems that we have, not make things worse.