Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Wealth of FREE Online Education Awaits Boomers

Reading my most recent Temple Review, the alumni magazine for Temple University where I received my journalism degree so many years ago, I came across this quote from Nancy Henkin, executive director, the Intergenerational Center at Temple. Talking about Boomers she said,
"Essentially, we have added a new stage to  life. But for most people it's not about what stage you are in; it's about the overall journey."
Henkin's statement made me think about my journey and the journey of others around me, and how technology has changed that journey.

As you all know, I went back to Pace University for my master's degree in publishing a few years ago, and with luck and perseverance, I will finish it this December. I took about half of my courses online, and I wrote about that experience previously. I know others who went back to school recently, life long academics who are returning to school to be retrained, to take up new interests, to do something different.

However there are Boomers out there who just want to learn as much as they can about different topics, who want to exercise their brains, and who aren't after a degree. Unlike the scarecrow in the Wizard of OZ, they don't need a diploma. As the Wizard said:
"We have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven't got: a diploma." 

And there are those of us with enough degrees already. Recently, my husband --a very accomplished man with several degrees, not in science-- became interested in the topic of Biology and Evolution. At first he found several PBS Nova TV  shows online about the topic, but that wasn't enough. He wanted to delve into the subject deeper. My son pointed him to the wealth of university lectures available online, and for the last week or so, he has been watching and listening to lectures on this topic given by a professor from Yale University.

Just think about that, Boomers! We may not be the first generation of people to return to school after their children are grown. (I had an uncle who consistently audited college courses after he retired.) However, we are the first generation to have such a wealth of free educational materials available to us online. We are the first generation that doesn't have to travel to enrich our lives with education. You can have arthritis, be a shut in, and still benefit. My uncle had to travel to the campus to take his course, he had to enroll in classes, even to audit them. However, if you don't care about getting a degree, you don't have to enroll. You don't have to pay anything--except the cost of a broadband or even a dial-up connection-- to get this education.

And it's not just any education. We can see lectures from the best educators at the best universities. If you don't understand the subject matter the first time, you can listen to the lectures as many times as you want. How wonderful is that? And how powerful?

How do you find these lectures?

Go to Google and type in "University Lectures Online Free" and your search results will come up with a number of choices.

A trip to Yale's Open Courses  at brings you to this page or one similar. The featured courses change frequently:
If you click on the Courses tab, you'll find the whole list of courses offered online. It's quite extensive, but Yale is far from the only college that gives away its education for free. YouTube has many lectures given by university professors posted as does iTunes. In both of these websites, all you have to do is search for "university lectures." Some lectures are available in video form, some can only be listed to as an MP3 or a Podcast. You can listen to a lecture on the Economic Crisis and Globalization, or one about the Geography of US Presidential Elections, or Art History and English lectures. Whatever your desire, you can dabble in these courses, and if you are very interested, you can listen to the entire series.

A while ago, I posted about brain games for Boomers. Playing games that are difficult for you and require you to learn a new way of thinking is definitely something Boomers should do. Scientists speculate that playing games help you create new synapses and help keep your brain young. But so does learning any new skill or concept.

For enjoyment, I highly recommend online courses by great lecturers. I believe you will find listening and viewing rewarding and also strangely compelling. Once you start being bombarded with new ideas, you'll want to keep going.

Happy learning, Boomers!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Blog Basics for Boomers

Ideas for this Tech and the Baby Boomer come from a number of places.  About a week ago, my brother-in-law said he wanted to start a blog, but didn't know how to begin.  So in this entry, I'll talk about the mechanical part of how I started my blog and give some good references for people who want to start one. I'm assuming that Boomers and others reading this have a good idea for a blog, and want to try it out.

I know there are many competing, free, blogging "platforms" that people can use, but I wanted something that could be up and running within minutes and felt intuitive to use. After watching my daughter post her blog,  I chose Blogger, Google' s blogging software, hosted on their site. For the most part it has been easy to use and not intimidating at all.

To get to blogger, I went to Google's home page, and looked for the listings at the top of the page. I pressed "More."

After that I pressed the "even more" tab at the bottom. That opens up a screen with a vast array of options, including ones under Communicate, Share & Save.
 Here you'll find a connection to Blogger, Google's blogging platform. When you click on Blogger you'll find a page that looks like this:

You can sign into Blogger with your free Google account, and create a blog. As you can see Google has many tools for  you to use to understand how to start the blog. You can take their Quick Tour or watch a video about how Blogger works.

If you don't have a free Google account, you'll be asked to sign in to the account, create passwords, and accept Google's terms of service.

After you've filled in the form, you are ready to pick a name for your blog.

And after you've selected a name, you'll be asked to select how you want your blog to look from a few simple designs.

Choose one of the Templates, or designs, offered. Once you select one of the templates, you'll see a note that your blog has been created. If you want to start posting, you can, by hitting the Start Blogging button.
You'll be taken to a page that looks like this:
You can start blogging right away, but I'd suggest taking some time to take a look at the Settings page. Here is where you can decide if you want your blog publicized to the entire Internet, or if you want to keep it to a limited number of selected individuals. If you only want the members of your community --a club, a group, your friends, your family --to see the blog then select the appropriate settings.

Once you've selected your settings, go back to the blank blog entry, take a minute and decide on a title for today's post, and write. If you want to see how what you are writing or posting looks before you publish it hit the Preview button. You can go back and make changes before you publish. If you hit the publish button,and then want to make changes to your post, you can, just by selecting the Edit Posts tab.

That's pretty much all there is to it to get started in blogging. Of course, once you get started you might want to consider issues like how many people are reading your blog or how to make money blogging.

In this post, I gave you a step-by-step overview on how to use Blogger, and I hope it helps any Boomers out there who might want to take their first baby steps into this online world.  Blogging can be therapy, it can be a way to share ideas or pictures with a select group or a wider audience, it can be an online diary, or a way for you to share expertise with an audience. Frankly, I think more Boomers should get into blogging and I hope this post inspires you to do it.

Here are some additional resources beginner bloggers can use to learn about blogging:
Here is a link to the  Google YouTube video:
Here are a couple more articles about starting a blog:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Reading on the Beach for Boomers --iPad Vs. Kindle

I was very lucky that this summer ran into fall, and our family had a beautiful, sunny Labor Day weekend, as they say here, "down the Jersey shore."  The first thing I want to tell you  is that my Jersey shore is nothing like the TV show. We go to a beautiful little family-oriented town, calm and peaceful, with a great beach.

The second thing I want to tell you is this: reading on the beach with the iPad is not an experience I'd recommend. The glare of the sun on the iPad screen made reading very difficult. Yet, I wanted to try it out, and try it out I did, squinting through an entire book. My family was somewhat amused, especially those who vow not to give up paper reading.  I must admit that I didn't realize that you could change the background color to sepia, and that reduces the glare a bit, and you can adjust the brightness of the screen.

Still, walking out into the bright sunshine today I see that it really doesn't solve the problem. Since the iPad has a touch screen, each time you touch it you leave fingerprints. Normally, you don't see them. Under the glare of a beautiful beach day, or even a sunny fall day, you see every one. Yet my iPad has been so good for almost everything else I've wanted to do with it, I'd never give it up now. 

Another drawback, but one that applies to all e-readers, is that others can't tell what you are reading. My sister-in-law saw how much I was enjoying my book, and had to ask me what I was reading. That's because e-books have no covers to show the world. The covers appear inside the iBook application, for the reader's eyes only. Publishers have long used cover art for marketing their books, and when you are walking down an airplane isle, don't you take a peek at what others are reading?  One day, I'm sure, iBooks and all of the other e-readers, will have a way to tell the world what you are currently reading, if you want them to, and everyone will benefit from this. Maybe the answer will be a second screen on the back of the device, to display the cover of the novel that so engrosses you.

All that being said, I'd like to tell you some of the features of the iBook app that I really like.  I like looking at my books on the library shelf. That's where you see the covers of the books you've downloaded.  As you can see, I don't have a lot of books on my shelf as of yet, since I wanted to try the device out in various environments.

I  also like that the book has a clear table of contents. Here is a sample of the Contents from Hangman, by Faye Kellerman.

I really liked that Apple's format tells you how far along in the book you are and how far in the chapter. A little note comes up at the bottom right of the page saying something like "there are 15 pages left in this chapter."

It's amazing how much I missed those measures--the equivalent of flipping through the pages--on the Kindle I tried last year. They definitely help me figure out if I'm going to have enough time to finish the chapter before I start something else.   The new Kindle app for the iPhone says what "location" you are at and what percentage of the book you have finished but it doesn't  give quite the same feeling as the Apple app does.

So the dilemma still remains: do you go for an excellent single use device like the Kindle or a Nook, or do you go for a multi-use device that has some serious drawbacks? The prices of the dedicated e-readers have come down, and you can now purchase a Kindle for as little as $139 and a Barnes & Noble Nook for as little as $149. I've seen some other e-readers advertised for under $100. Those numbers look really good compared to the $499 starting price of the iPad, but then the iPad does so much more.

I've made my choice, Boomers, but you may make a different one. I've seen the ads for the Kindle, the ones showing people sitting on the beach, reading comfortably, and I can say, if all you want to do is take your device to the beach to read, then maybe the Kindle or any other e-reader made with e-Ink is for you.