First, let me start out by saying that I’m currently based abroad in Beirut, Lebanon. Yes, far, far away from my native Los Angeles, California. Yet, that hasn’t stopped me from pursuing another master’s degree through the University of Florida or prevented me from checking out books from my local library in the U.S. You might be wondering how this is possible. One word: technology.
Technology is making my life easier and more enjoyable in more ways than one. Let me explain…
Adobe Connect in action during a UF imagery course in Summer 2012.
Adobe Connect: Today, you can find hundreds of e-learning programs that are substantive and of high-quality. This means anyone who can afford it can now get a bachelor’s, master’s, and even a PhD through schools that might have once been difficult to access geographically. For me, it means I don’t have to quit my job and life abroad to pursue my second master’s at the University of Florida, ranked 125th in the world by the 2011-12 Times Higher Education Report. My program employs Adobe Connect, web conferencing software for our classroom sessions, which are all live. It’s truly extraordinary that I’m able to engage with my classmates in real-time as if I’m on UF’s campus in Gainesville, Florida. I can chat with the professor and my peers, turn on my webcam and microphone, raise my hand, ask questions, and basically do everything I could do in a normal classroom setting. My classmates and I have presented countless projects and homework assignments to the class with no real issues, except that since class is live in Florida, it’s usually well after midnight here in Beirut when class meets. No big deal!
Overdrive for Kindle: One aspect that I truly value about being an American is the access I have to lovely public libraries, which are located across every community in the nation. Borrowing the latest books, periodicals, magazines, films, and music at no charge is unheard of here in Lebanon. To make matters worse, this country doesn’t feature massive book stores that carry every possible title like what is typical at U.S.-retailers Borders and Barnes and Noble. Frankly, public libraries are one of the top things I miss about life in the U.S. So it’s no surprise that I purchased a Kindle through Amazon.com and began buying books that piqued my interest. A few years after my Kindle purchase, Overdrive was launched. Basically, it’s the best thing since the Kindle. Overdrive allows library users to borrow Kindle ebooks just as you would with a hardcopy book. You check them out, you return them, and you basically have a virtual library at your fingertips.
Lynda.com: Want to learn AutoCAD? SEO? Google Analytics? HTML5? Digital photography? Photoshop? InDesign? Lynda.com is a one-stop hub for tutorials on how to use software or learn web skills, and beyond. I discovered this site last year and was amazed at how inexpensive the monthly fee is and how comprehensive the tutorial offerings are. More than that, the video tutorials are super high-quality and have greatly supplemented my University of Florida courses. In fact, I sometimes contemplate whether I should forgo the master’s and just learn everything from the Lynda.com tutorials. It would be cheaper and perhaps faster. But hey, a degree holds more weight so I’ll plod along until I’m done with my grad program.
Coursera.org: Want to take courses from world-renowned universities like Johns Hopkins University,Princeton University, and Caltech? More importantly, do you want to take courses for FREE? Coursera.org is a website I discovered earlier this summer. It offers nearly 200 courses that are taught by instructors from top universities worldwide (University of Florida is one of them—Go Gators!). Students who successfully complete Coursera courses receive a certificate from the university that facilitated it. So I could theoretically come away with certificates from Stanford, Rice, Duke, and Penn, among many others, which is quite incredible. You’re probably wondering who is running this website. It was started by Stanford grads who wanted to make higher education accessible to everyone. It’s a great premise and while I’m too busy juggling a full-time job and graduate school to enroll in courses, I’m definitely keeping it in mind for when my life settles down.
What technology is drastically improving your life?