Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Our post this week covers classroom strategies and workhabits to help you and your students minimize the possibility of "lost" work.

It happens to every one of us. The power goes out, the surge protector switch gets flipped accidentally, the computer freezes up, and suddenly we're faced with having to redo that paper -- or hope that a technician can recover it from the bits and bytes before it gets gone for good.

Or: your hard drive crashes, and all the work you've saved to your computer over the last year or more goes kablooey.

Or you cut, and cut again...get distracted, and forget to paste...and lose your entire paper to the clipboard.

Errors happen, of course -- in the real world as well as the virtual. Just as a coffee spill can destroy a handwritten essay, there's no 100% solution to prevent loss of digital work.

But just as protecting the work environment and storing important papers carefully in real life can maximize the possibility of preservation, so can good workhabits and storage habits best preserve our words -- and the words of our students -- online.

Some habits to consider, for you and for your students:

  • Save early and often. Save documents after you create the heading, and before you type more than five lines. Save your work every time you lift their hands from the keyboard, and teach your students to do the same. Hint: once it's saved, holding down the "control" button with your pinkie, and hitting the letter S with your middle finger, is the fastest way to save.

  • Use copy-and-paste instead of cut-and-paste. Because you can always go back and remove the duplication afterwards.

  • Good saving habits begin with good naming conventions. Name documents as specifically as possible, so you can be sure you've found the right document before you even open it.

  • Practice good file management: make folders for related content, name them appropriately, and save files in the folder you'd be most likely to look for them in later.

  • Don't write pieces of substance in web environments -- including email. Many online writing spaces, from email to blogs, log you out of the service if you don't refresh the page often enough. If that happens (you won't know until you hit "send") your work may get lost. When it counts, stick to Microsoft Word, edit there, and then cut and paste the content into the web environment before publishing.

  • Learn to search effectively. The computer's advanced search functions are more powerful than most people realize. For example, a search for *.ppt will find ALL PowerPoint presentations (come on, how many can there be?). Or, if you can't find your paper, but remember you wrote it last week, try searching for all word documents created within the last week.

  • Make network back-ups! Having an archive of floppy disks or CDs on the shelf allows us to feel confident that we can recover most of our ongoing workwithout technical assistance, but disks can break or break down. Network backups don't go obsolete, and they're safer in the long term, as we back up that content on magnetic tape every night.

  • Back up everything, and do it twice. Because the network is only backed up after the day is over, save in-process documents BOTH to your network storage space and to your hard drive. (I recommend backing up work every time you finish a page of text.) In the long term, get in the habit of regularly saving your ENTIRE "My Documents" folder to your network folder.

Students can lose work, just like we can. They can also "lose" work. (The computer is a convenient scapegoat!) And trying to figure out whether a student genuinely deserves a clean slate in these cases can be tricky.

But lost work -- and the temptation to claim computer error when the work hasn't been done in the first place -- can be minimized if we make our expectations clear, and help our students and ourselves save and locate work properly.

In addition to helping them learn the above strategies, additional classroom strategies that might help students learn to minimize loss include:

  • Teach students the above strategies to save and locate their work properly.

  • Remind students that the network is a shared community space, and as such, it should be treated with respect and care.

  • Make your expectations clear. Do you only accept printed papers? Are your students required to do their rough drafts by hand? Students who have a better sense of where digital work fits into their work overall, and how to submit it, are more likely to do that work effectively.

Want some help learning some of the strategies mentioned above? Need a better network solution for a class or project? Interested in having someone come teach your students about how to save work better? The Instructional Specialist is available for this and other support -- and we can fit it into your curriculum organically, as students go through the process of developing work. Just ask Mr. F!


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