Dartmouth Honors ITS Staff in Annual Service Awards

Service Technicians stand in front of machinery in Dartmouth's computer store.

Service Support Technicians Stephen Glinos (left) and Derrol Carter. The Computer Store’s User Support Technicians are among 11 ITS employees who will be honored at Dartmouth’s Staff Service Awards later this month.

On June 22, 2015 Dartmouth will hold Service Awards events for staff who’ve worked at the College for 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 years consecutively as of June 30, 2015.

This year, 11 ITS employees will be included in the celebration. Two of them, Derrol Carter and Stephen Glinos, have worked as user support technicians in the Computer Store for 35 and 25 years, respectively.

Derrol remembers the days when what was then the Personal Computer Center only consisted of a service section—it didn’t include a store until 1995. In fact, when he first began working at Dartmouth in the late seventies, he didn’t repair PCs at all, but machines that had to be connected to the College’s mainframe to operate.

In the early eighties, IBM PCs appeared. Training programs weren’t available, and Derrol recalls buying manuals to learn how to service the machines. By 1984, Apple arrived on campus. “When the Macintosh came along, we got Apple School: a 3-4 day school held in Marlboro, Mass. I even have that certificate somewhere—my first certificate. Now, everything is online.”

Dartmouth_Computer_Store_Derrol_N_Carter_senior copy 2

User Support Technician Derrol Carter repairs a machine. This month, Dartmouth honors Carter for his 35 years of service.

Derrol, Stephen, and their colleagues service a variety of devices—anything the Computer Store sells. In terms of the repairs they’ve seen over the years? “Oh, anything you could imagine,” Derrol says. “Students’ machines, especially after a long weekend, pose problems: everything from cracked screens to liquid damage.”

Stephen: “We once had a customer bring in a laptop for repair that was left on top of their car. It fell off and was run over by the car behind them!”

Congratulations to all ITS Employees on their Staff Awards:

Stephen Johnson, 15 years, Campus IT Support

Keith Borgstrom, 20 years, Classroom Technology Services

Derrol Carter, 35 years, Computing Sales and Service

Stephen Glinos, 25 years, Computing Sales and Service

Craig Langner, 10 years, Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence

Natasha Brown, 15 years, Human Resources Systems

Joseph Cheevers, 15 years, Human Resources Systems

Gary McLean, 15 years, Human Resources Systems

Paul Schmidt, 10 years, Network Services

Sean Dunten, 20 years, Network Services

William Hamblen, 15 years, Research Computing

Experts Give More Data-protection Workshops

A crowd peers at Apple monitors in a croded hall.In case you missed us in March, Dartmouth’s cyber security experts will offer two more sessions of the popular “Staying Safe After the Anthem Breach” seminars.

In light of the recent Anthem Health Insurance security breach that affected 80 million accounts, the ITS Security Team will present an all-new cyber security seminar for Dartmouth faculty, students, and staff. No registration required.

We’ll offer the same workshop on two different dates:

Wednesday, April 8       11:00-noon in Haldeman 041
Friday, April 24               2:00-3:00 pm in Rosenwald Classroom, Byrne Hall, Tuck

Learn about credit monitoring and other tools you can use to protect yourself and your family, understand the motives behind cyber attacks, and determine risks to personal devices and data.

Contact us ahead of time with questions or concerns you’d like us to address: it.sec@cloud.dartmouth.edu

We’ll record one of the sessions to make available online.

Staying Safe After the Anthem Breach

A crowd peers at Apple monitors in a croded hall. Dartmouth’s Cyber Security Experts to Give Data-protection Workshop

In light of the recent Anthem Health Insurance security breach that affected 80 million accounts, the ITS Security Team will present an all-new cyber security seminar for Dartmouth faculty, students, and staff. No registration required.

We’ll offer the event on two dates:

March 12, 2-3pm      Location: Silsby 028

March 25, 11-noon   Location: Silsby 028

Learn about credit monitoring and other tools you can use to protect yourself and your family, understand the motives behind cyber attacks, and determine risks to personal devices and data.

Contact us ahead of time with questions or concerns you’d like us to address: it.sec@cloud.dartmouth.edu

We’ll record one of the sessions to make available online.

Dartmouth’s Admissions and Financial Aid Sites Get Revamped

ITS Web Services worked with project staff to update design, improve usability, and clarify language on critical Dartmouth gateways.

By Elizabeth Kelsey, Editor of Interface

When Dartmouth’s Admissions Department needed to update its website, the project posed unique challenges.

“Content redevelopment for large websites is always more time consuming than one initially imagines,” says Katie Santos-Coy, who served as Admissions’ Associate Director for Communications and Social media and was the project manager for Admissions’ new site.

Screen shot of Dartmouth's Admissions site's homepage. Photo of students at graduation, thowing caps in the air. Block of text describes Dartmouth's exceptional value, with a link to learn more.

The new homesite for Dartmouth Admissions. Language was a key part of the web redesign from the beginning, since the admission and financial aid process is challenging for applicants to understand. Short, clear sentences draw readers in.

When any organization decides to revamp its web presence, its project team must develop copy that is accessible to different audiences, and review content with precision. Employees end up adding new tasks to their current full-time work responsibilities to devote their skills to the project.

As the Admissions site developed, Santos-Coy and her team realized they needed to adjust the project’s scope and timeline. They decided to decouple what had initially been conceived as one comprehensive website —Admissions & Financial Aid—and establish two different launch dates for each, now separate, project.

The Admissions Site

Santos-Coy worked on the Admissions site with the Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Maria Laskaris, and the Director of Admissions, Paul Sunde, who oversaw the project and reviewed new content as it became available.

Their goals included updating the site’s design and achieving consistency with the 2012 rebranding of Dartmouth’s homesite; improving usability and accessibility to application information for prospective students, families, and student advisors; and installing a CMS (content management system) that was easy to edit.

The Admissions team met on a weekly basis with ITS Web Services: Director of Web Services Susan Lee, Web Architect/Engineer Christina Dulude, User Experience Designer/Information Architect Ben Morgan, Web Content Strategist Sarah Maxell Crosby, and User Experience Designer for Accessibility Matt Richardson. The team collaborated on user experience, architecture, design and engineering—all driven by communication and content strategy.

“Our experience with Web Services was very positive,” says Santos-Coy. “Despite the sheer volume of the work the team was handling, all members were available to respond to questions on a regular basis.”

The Financial Aid Site

Shelley Richer, Admissions and Financial Aid Communications Specialist, was an essential contributor to the development of both sites and worked extensively on coding. Virginia Hazen, Director of Financial Aid, and Patricia Briggs, Associate Director, guided financial aid content and improved usability on their department’s site.

Briggs says the project had a large learning curve for her, and was more time-consuming than she had anticipated.

“Navigation and accessibility issues—both ADA rules and reading level—proved a challenge,” she says. “We had many charts on our previous site and they were no longer considered accessible.  Presenting our complicated information without charts felt, at times, like we were going backwards.”

Ed. Note: Web accessibility refers to the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent access to websites by people with disabilities. When sites are correctly designed, developed, and edited, all users have equal access to information and functionality. Learn more about accessibility.

Screen shot of Dartmouth's Financial Aid homepage. Photo of students at graduation, smiling. Text to the left on why and how to apply for financial aid.

When they revamped the Financial Aid site, team members focused on the site’s audience: prospective students and their parents.

Briggs says the biggest lesson she learned was that the site was not intended for Financial Aid staff, but for prospective and current students and their families: “Of course, in theory, I already knew that,” she says. “But in practice, it didn’t really happen. It is very hard to separate from one’s own perspective.”

Overall, though, she finds the new site an improvement. “I like our videos and the entire site is much less wordy,” she says. “We tried to get more concise and I am sure we can continue to improve upon that going forward.”

 

Communication and Content

Language was a key part of the web redesign from the beginning, since the admission and financial aid process is challenging for applicants to understand.

The Admissions Department hired Heather McCutchen ’87, a notable playwright, as an external team member to work on the two sites. Web Services’ Content Strategist Sarah Maxell-Crosby performed a final edit of the text, which involved reviewing every site page to make sure the content was clear, well-structured, and appropriately formatted.

“We knew it was essential that text be clear and easy to understand for everyone who might need it,” Maxell Crosby says. “That would include users who had limited education or for whom English is not their first language.”

Web Content Strategist Sarah Maxell Crosby reviewed every site page to make sure the content was clear, well-structured, and appropriately formatted. “We knew it was essential that text be clear and easy to understand for everyone who might need it."

Web Content Strategist Sarah Maxell Crosby reviewed every site page to make sure the content was clear, well-structured, and appropriately formatted. “We knew it was essential that text be clear and easy to understand for everyone who might need it.”

In order to ensure the text was clear, Maxell Crosby and the rest of the Web Services team used an online analyzer that assigns scores to evaluate a text’s reading ease and grade level. They establish target score ranges based on user demographic data.

View an online analyzer.

“We were delighted to find that most of the pages were at or very near our targets,” Maxell Crosby says. “Those that weren’t were flagged for revisions, and we were able to revise the text until it hit our targets.”

Often, minor revisions have a major effect on readability. “Swapping short, simple words for longer ones—for example, ‘plain’ instead of ‘uncomplicated’—makes a passage much easier to read,” Maxell Crosby says. “The great thing about using plain language on the web is it improves the experience for all users; it fits how we read on the web, which is to quickly scan and read only the parts that seem important to us. Cutting the fat makes it easier to get to the meat.”

Information Architecture

The project team aimed to provide a consistent user experience across both the Admissions and Financial Aid Sites. Admissions launched first, in June 2014, and Web Services wanted to make it easy for users to navigate to its sister site when it launched in October 2014.

But according to Maxell Crosby, the first round of testing showed the team was too consistent: they had actually made it too easy for users to get to Admissions, because users consistently navigated there without realizing they were on a completely different site.

To solve this problem, the team changed the site’s information architecture and design: They altered top-level navigation labels on the Financial Aid site so they wouldn’t be identical to the Admissions labels. They also restyled the site’s navigation and banner so it would look more distinct from the Admissions site. A new round of user testing showed the IA design changes were successful.

Screen shot of user-testing video for Dartmouth Financial Aid site.

Web Services’ testing tool captures video of users trying to navigate the site in response to a generated task. The first round of testing revealed users leaped too easily from the Financial Aid site to the Admissions site, so the team changed the site’s IA and design.

“This project was very enjoyable to me because it really demonstrated the value of user testing and the importance of being willing to make changes to get a better result,” says Maxell Crosby. “I’m so glad that we were able to do the testing and learn from it, rather than learn after launch that the first path was not clear to users. The web is always changing, and building the web must be an iterative process. You have to be willing to be flexible in order to best serve your users.”

From the Admissions standpoint, Santos-Coy hopes the new sites provide better access to the services her team provides.

“The new site fits more seamlessly into the family of sites that make up the new top-level pages of Dartmouth’s web presence,” she says. “The Admissions team is pleased with new navigation and the better usability. We hope that prospective students and families feel the site meets their needs in terms of application information, getting a good sense of our community, and of the benefits of a Dartmouth education.”

Meet George Morris, Director of Research Computing

GMorris_alt

George Morris, Director of Research Computing at ITS

George Morris joined ITS as Director of Research Computing in January. Before arriving at Dartmouth, George was Chief Information Officer for Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum and Weld Hill Research Center. His role at Harvard included research computing as well as leadership responsibility for the division’s administrative and academic computing services. George has also held scientific informatics leadership positions at biotechs and pharmaceutical firms including Genetics Institute, Wyeth, Zycos, and Novartis. Throughout his career, he led initiatives to integrate computing systems with research and development lifecycles to help companies innovate, discover, and develop novel therapeutics.

We asked George a few questions about his background, his interests, and why he made the move to Dartmouth.

 

Why did the Director of Research Computing position appeal to you?

The primary appeal lies in the transformational nature of this role at Dartmouth. Secondly, it’s an opportunity to return to my passion for research. I join Dartmouth at a unique point in time where there is a vast appetite across all levels to leverage resources and talent in research computing. Higher education institutions across the globe are increasingly looking to research computing as a means to attract and retain faculty, drive student success, and compete for research grants. It is my view that success in this role will greatly enhance Dartmouth’s capabilities and standing. It is an immense challenge that I relish.

What would you like to accomplish in your first year as Director of Research Computing? 

I hope to accomplish many things, but my priority is to work collaboratively with Dartmouth’s faculty and IT community to build a common vision of high-performance computing. By doing so, we can leverage the vast amount of talent and resources already in place and simplify researchers’ usage.

[Ed. note: In order to solve large problems in science, engineering, or business, high-performance computing aggregates computing power in a way that delivers greater function than one could receive from a typical desktop computer or workstation.]

To remain competitive, Dartmouth must define a high-performance computing vision that meets today’s diversity in supply and demand. Our vision involves harnessing the power of the Discovery cluster and other high-performance computing resources available at Dartmouth; looking towards promising cloud-based opportunities; and working with our most important resource: people. We aim to expand a core team that will work with faculty and ITS to weave research computing technology into the fabric of teaching and research at Dartmouth.

What is the most surprising little-known fact about you? 

I’m a fairly mild mannered, low-key type of individual, but I have been an avid participant in amateur autocross and drift racing. This outlet permitted the “beast mode” in me to express itself. A squealing tire is a happy tire.

Where did you last go on vacation? 

This past summer, I spent two weeks in Europe with my daughter, Emily: one week in France, and another in England. My trip to France included fulfilling a lifelong desire to visit the Normandy beaches. It was a very memorable trip and perhaps a capstone vacation with Emily before she attends college.

Read any good books lately? 

Since I was headed to Europe for the summer, I most recently read D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Battle for the Normandy Beaches, by Stephen Ambrose. Since the summer, I’ve put a moratorium on recreational reading to focus on my transition to Dartmouth.

Are you using any new apps?

While not necessarily new, I have an increased appreciation for Waze, as I am commuting from my home in Salem as I transition to the greater Hanover area. It’s a terrific example of crowdsourced surveillance of traffic conditions.

Anything else you’d like us to know about you?

Before moving into the world of computing, I performed laboratory research in gene expression. My first job was working as a lab tech at MIT for Dr. Susumu Tonegawa who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine. It was quite the experience for me at such an impressionable age.

 

Staff Profile: Ben Morgan, User Experience Designer/ Information Architect

By Elizabeth Kelsey, editor of Interface

Ben Morgan, User Experience Designer/Information Architect in ITS at Dartmouth.

Ben Morgan, User Experience Designer/Information Architect in ITS at Dartmouth.

Before Ben Morgan joined ITS Web Services in 2012 as a user experience designer/information architect, he worked as a more traditional architect—the type who designs buildings.

There was, after all, some correlation between the two fields: “My old boss at the architectural firm used to say we have to know a little about a lot,” Ben says. “Our role was to take the electrical engineer, the mechanical engineer, the contractor, and the client, and bring them all together to make everything work. And I think that’s pretty similar to building websites.”

According to Ben, the person in the “webmaster” role once managed all aspects of a web project. Things are now too complex for any one person to handle everything:  “So we convene experts in the various sub-fields in this space and try to get all of the pieces to fit together,” he says. “At a macro level, Web Services is doing a lot of that with external groups with the recent visual redesign and platform migration to Drupal, but our group works like this on a micro level too.  Each of us is better at one thing or another, and I rely on the expertise of those people to get my work done.”

In the role of information architect, Ben organizes a website’s components, determining, for example, which material belongs on a landing page versus a secondary or tertiary page. As a user experience designer, he makes sure the College’s systems are easy to navigate, whether users access systems from the inside, as content editors, or from the outside, as site visitors. Although he had WordPress experience before working at Dartmouth, Ben says he hadn’t previously given much thought to what happens to a website after handing it to a client:

“This job has opened my eyes to the concept that you can have a really great design, but it can be like giving a Ferrari to someone who doesn’t know how to drive: if they don’t have the tools to maintain it, then it’s kind of a moot point.” His role at Dartmouth was also his first exposure to the idea of a content management system, or CMS:

“Giving folks the ability to edit content in their own site via a WYSIWYG [what you see is what you get], without knowing any HTML, is a really big first step,” he says. “It gets people on the road and driving. There are the purely mechanical issues that must be supported after that—like how to create a new page, or edit an existing one.  That’s the easy stuff though.”

The more challenging bit is helping people drive well. A lot of that is done through training and support, but a CMS can also help people by design.  “Whereas Dartmouth’s legacy CMS, OmniUpdate, is fairly open ended, Drupal allows us to create a more structured environment,” Ben says. For example, Web Services can design a system that automatically formats imagery in the best way, or assigns proper header tags to text. These steps set site editors on the right path, leading to a more consistent look on all the College’s websites. That consistency leads to a better user experience.

Ben has always been interested in technology.  “I don’t know what term applies to me, whether it’s geek, dork, or nerd — a little bit of each, maybe.” In his job in the architecture firm, he kept the file server running and the software and hardware up to date. As a self-taught developer, he’s been making his own HTML sites since the late 90s.

He arrived at Dartmouth in 2012 when looking for a career change. For someone who had only known small architectural firms, the College was a switch. Suddenly, he’d gone from working in a small business with a maximum of 13 people to what seemed like a massive organization.

“There was this sense that you were part of something very big and important,” he says. “I just suddenly felt like I was part of this larger community. I’d go out and meet people to train them, and for the most part, everyone was really positive and supportive. There’s a sense that you’re all on the same team—you go out to work with staff and you feel that you’re all in it together.”

More about Ben:

Favorite app:Strava, a Facebook for athletes. You can post your GPS data for a run or ride.”

Hidden talent: “I can whistle pretty well.”

 

 

 

 

On the Fast Track to Discoveries: Dartmouth’s Science DMZ

Elizabeth Kelsey, editor of Interface

Adaptive evolution. Space weather patterns. Complex systems. Dartmouth researchers carry out important work in fields including biology, physics, and computer science. In such a fast-paced intellectual environment, scientists need information technology that can keep up with their research. Dartmouth’s new high-speed research network, the Science DMZ, will now quickly transfer the large files associated with the field.

Usually, when we think of a DMZ, a demilitarized zone, we see images in our mind’s eye of neutral territory between nations or military powers, free of weaponry. But in the case of a Science DMZ, we have a computer network free of the campus security tools that slow down data transfer. Dartmouth’s new network will have fast-data switches designed to move large data, and will be free of other campus traffic that congests the information highway.

In January 2014 faculty from Dartmouth’s Biological Sciences, Mathematics and Physics departments, as well as ITS staff, won a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to implement the new network at Dartmouth. The team included Professor of Biological Sciences Mark McPeek, Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Dan Rockmore, Professor of Physics Mary Hudson, Director of Network Services Frank Archambeault, and Interim Director of Research Computing Susan Schwarz.

“The Science DMZ will allow Dartmouth to consolidate our high-performance computing assets onto one network to make computing more streamlined and efficient,” says McPeek, who serves as a principal investigator on the NSF grant. “It also opens up opportunities for building greater links between these assets and makes storage and computing more efficient on these machines.”

Instead of the different computing clusters and storage systems that currently act as silos on Dartmouth’s Enterprise Network (the main campus network to which Dartmouth’s laptops, desktops, and wireless networks are connected), the Science DMZ will be an entirely new network that consolidates all systems to operate at high speed. Based in the Berry machine room, the DMZ will run parallel to the main campus network to reach science buildings. Once there, new, faster network switches will reach research equipment, computers, and devices that collect and distribute scientists’ data.

A diagram shows high latency (slow links) versus Science DMZ pathways that are low latency (faster). Also depicted: the Science DMZ’s parallel position to the campus network.

A diagram shows high latency (slow links) versus Science DMZ pathways that are low latency (faster). Also depicted: the Science DMZ’s parallel position to the campus network.

Last April, ITS engineers began building the network’s core and data center switching infrastructure in the Berry Data Center, which will link to academic buildings. Network Services is currently installing a Data Transfer Node (DTN), whose purpose is to send and recover data from off campus, and is optimized for fast transfers.

Because of these changes, the Science DMZ will be able to route into campus without having to pass through packet inspection tools, which are used for security level inspection of data, but can slow down high-speed data transfers. “This becomes very critical when you’re trying to move terabytes of data in a short amount of time,” Archambeault says.  His team is working closely with the ITS Cyber Security group to provide the required high level of security while maintaining fast data transfer.

Assistant Professor Ming Meng uses the MRI machine in Moore to learn more about perception and facial recognition. An MRI  machine collects large amounts of data—making it a candidate for placement on Dartmouth’s high-speed research network.

Assistant Professor Ming Meng uses the MRI machine in Moore to learn more about perception and facial recognition. An MRI machine collects large amounts of data—making it a candidate for placement on Dartmouth’s high-speed research network.

In the next phase of the project, ITS Research Computing staff will contact faculty to determine who will need to use the Science DMZ.  Archambeault: “For example, in Psychology and Brain Sciences, there’s an MRI device that scans brain waves and collects large amounts of data—that’s a great candidate to be put on the high speed research network because scientists have to transfer that data, either to Discovery [a high-performance shared computing resource] to run application codes that analyze the data, or to a colleague at another university.”

According to McPeek, the faster-paced work being done on the Science DMZ will see broader impacts—at Dartmouth and beyond. “It should open up the opportunities for using these high performance clusters to a wider array of applications and users,” he says. And those include projects on clean energy, climate change, neuroscience, and ecology—areas where society needs solutions as fast as possible.

Collaboration in Action

What does a collaborative learning team look like?

Ashley Kehoe, an instructional designer in ITS, gives a first-hand account as a member of the Dartmouth Vietnam Project — a student-driven experiential learning program.

Read Ashley’s guest post, “Collaboration in Action,” on Inside Higher Ed’s Technology and Learning column. Josh Kim, director of digital learning initiatives at DCAL, is a frequent contributor to the column and had asked Ashley to write a guest post on the subject.

IT Services Headshots at Dartmouth College. Copyright 2014 Rob Strong

Ashley Kehoe, Instructional Designer, (Photo: Copyright 2014 Rob Strong)

The Vietnam Oral History Project team, including undergraduate student researchers, faculty from The Department of History, librarians/archivists, an instructional designer, a digital media specialist, a guest lecturer/oral history expert, and a local Army veteran. (Photo: Susan Simon)

The Vietnam Oral History Project team, including undergraduate student researchers, faculty from The Department of History, librarians/archivists, an instructional designer, a digital media specialist, a guest lecturer/oral history expert, and a local Army veteran. (Photo: Susan Simon)

 

 

 

 

A Return Trip to Holland is Different with a Tablet

By Elizabeth Kelsey, Editor of Interface

This column originally appeared in The Valley News on Sunday, October 19, 2014

1B

When I returned to Holland after a 10-year absence, I realized how much technology complemented my connections with people.

I traveled to the Netherlands for vacation in July. I once lived there, and the trip was my first time back in 10 years.

As I boarded the plane to Amsterdam, I thought of how much I had changed since I last made this journey as a vagabond grad student. But another type of transformation dawned on me in flight as I binge-watched episodes of Girls on my iPad: Technology would make this trip different.

When I last lived in Holland, Gmail was Google’s newborn infant and the iPhone was probably a mere napkin sketch on Steve Jobs’ coffee table. Still, on this trip, I wasn’t keen on using any of the advances that have come since those days. Why fly all the way to Amsterdam to look down on a retina display and not up at the city’s gables?

I limited Internet use to the evenings, when I contacted my husband Maroun on FaceTime to say good-night (good afternoon, for him, in New Hampshire). In the U.S., I’d used the service to chat with out-of-state family, but I always reverted back to regular phone calls. But intercontinental use proved a revelation as I connected with my husband from my cousins’ home in the village of Wassenaar.

Maroun had never met the Dutch side of my family, and I introduced them all one evening as my cousins and I mingled in the kitchen after dinner. My husband laughed when he noticed that the television in the background was tuned to the World Cup semifinal, the orange-clad national team darting across our screen and his. And he was surprised at how light it still was at 10 p.m. in the Netherlands, something that struck me too the first time I visited there. On his end, our cat Stella, hearing my voice, approached his iPod. She butted up against the device and I could hear her purr.

After I said goodnight to my husband and cat, I signed on to Facebook briefly, just to reassure myself that my community back in New England hadn’t changed in the three days since I’d left. Indeed, judging from their photos, friends still went to farmers markets, baked pies and took vacations. Even the Fourth of July was celebrated without me.

One afternoon I visited a couple of friends in The Hague. Over wine and apple tart, I described my home in America. The mountains I had hiked. The college where I worked.

“Show us,” they said, and handed me an iPad.

On Google Maps I hovered over New Hampshire.

“It’s all forest!” they said.

I zoomed in closer, to my office building, to the track where my running club trains, to my house, where my husband’s car was parked in the drive. I felt an unexpected pang of homesickness as a Dutch drizzle tapped against the windowpane.

But I would be going home soon enough. In the meantime, I had another social call. And unlike my serendipitous brushes with FaceTime and Google Maps, this was one technological encounter I had planned for.

My grandmother, who died over 30 years ago, had preserved several photo albums from her youth, which chronicled her time with our European family. In the years preceding World War II, she and her Dutch first cousin, Betty, took turns visiting each other, either at my grandmother’s childhood home in Trumbull, Conn., or in Wassenaar, where Betty, 91, still lives.

Before I left for my trip, my father scanned hundreds of my grandmother’s photos and placed them in a shared DropBox folder on the Web. On one of my last evenings in Holland, Betty, her son and I sat in her library, huddled around my iPad. As I uploaded photos, it crossed my mind that we looked like a multigenerational Apple ad. The images displayed beautifully: vibrant, even in black and white. Betty’s eyesight was poor, but I enlarged photos with my fingertips on the screen.

1A

I show family photos to Betty on the iPad.

We scrolled through photographs of my grandmother. My great grandmother. A great aunt. A neighbor, once forgotten, but now remembered. Like a magician, I conjured the past with a wave of my hand. Cousin Betty marveled at photos of herself she had never seen; at images, too, of those long dead, now resurrected.

PhotoC

My grandmother, left, with her cousin Betty, circa 1930

“Mijn schat (my dear),” she said, resting her hand on the tablet. “How did you fit so many pictures into one book?”

Later, on FaceTime, I recapped the evening for my husband.

“She really liked the albums,” I said.

At that point, my cat approached at the sound of my voice. I called Stella’s name and she purred back. Instinctively, I reached out to pet her, but my fingertips fell against a hard flat screen. It wasn’t time for that kind of iPod touch. But maybe it would happen. In another 10 years.

Student Voices: eTextbooks on the Horizon

2014-09-24 23.42.08 copy

Stacy Lee ’17

By Stacy Lee ’17

Writing for the exchange of thought, information, and knowledge has over 6000 years of history: Various characters and texts had been carved into mud bricks and animal bones and carried onto papyrus, then paper. And with the invention of printing, a myriad of published human thought became available to everyone. Now, the eBook has joined the list and is on its way to topping paper books in usage.

EBooks—digitized reading materials that can be downloaded to computers and portable devices—eliminate certain disadvantages of paper books. EBooks may be saving trees and also that trip around the block to the nearest bookstore, but what exactly may we be losing in exchange?

Looking around our own campus, not many classes are taught with eBooks, nor are many students aware that the exact textbooks they’re using in class are actually available to them in digital form. I have some avid-reader friends who claim to have “converted” to Kindles or Nooks—not for academic purposes, but for their own leisure reading. I myself am a Nook-convert because I’m attracted to its portability. My reading habits quickly diminished in college, since so much of my life began to take place outside my room. But the Nook’s portability was the right fix: I found it so much more convenient to have on hand when I arrived to class ten minutes too early, for example. It was easier to bring with me to the gym, as well, since I didn’t have to hold down the corners of a book while spinning on the elliptical. And the text-size control was just one more benefit to the bundle.

But apart from personal reading, I want to examine the plausibility of eBooks’ prevalence over textbooks in the Dartmouth classroom. The first advantage is convenience. The first week of a Dartmouth quarter always involves a hustle for grabbing books at Wheelock Books before everyone else in your class. If, by chance, Wheelock runs out of the required texts—which, most of the time, it does—you are stuck on the wait-list or paying shipping fees for used books of unknown quality, while the profs carry on with the material regardless. With eBooks, though, you can  easily buy a textbook anywhere within minutes. You can create a virtual library of 3000 to 4000 books without killing a single tree; you can even lend books in your virtual library to others. No more frustration in trying to sell old editions of a textbook for a fraction of its price.

With eBooks, buying textbooks could become much more affordable since many books that cost over a hundred dollars are $14.99 and under in Apple’s iBooks application. The pay-per-chapter and pay-per-page models allow professors to select excerpts from various materials to address their course topic. I believe this feature is especially useful in humanities classes, where exposure to many different texts are vital to a well-rounded, unbiased understanding of topics.

For all those students who aspire to be authors, eBooks present a faster path to publication by eliminating the publishing company. Writers can decide to only publish their work digitally and with comparably little cost. Software such as Kindle Direct Publish and iBooks Author allow new authors to debut their work relatively easily.

Although the benefits of eBooks keep growing, there are aspects of paper books that aren’t yet flawlessly emulated in digital form. There is a certain appeal to holding a tangible paper book in one’s hand that sometimes affects how one feels about the content of the book. Like all things outmoded by technology, paper books carry a particular charm that black and white e-Ink readers cannot imitate. The colorful covers, the feel of the paper, and the ability to highlight text and write in the margins are all part of the experience. I know an eBook definitely could not have replaced my art history course textbook from last term, which had big, colored pictures of paintings at every turn of the page.

Still, the advantages of eBooks outweigh their shortcomings. In no way does a paper book’s analog beauty compare to the cost they do to the environment. With more than seven hundred million eBooks being sold on iTunes U alone, it seems only a matter of time before digital texts make their way into university classrooms. As more and more analogue books become outmoded in the future, I am probably still going to miss sitting in a corner, carefully turning pages so as not to bend the spines of novels amid the smell of paper. More so, receiving a textbook from an upperclassmen and finding highlighted, scribbled remnants of their previous work would also become a melancholic thing of the past.

Editor’s note: The verdict is still out on whether eBooks are environmentally superior to their paper counterparts. Several factors must be taken into consideration, such as the materials used to construct an eBook, whether a paper book is purchased locally or shipped, and even what time of day you read your eBook or paper book. One 2010 study by The New York Times concludes: “With respect to fossil fuels, water use and mineral consumption, the impact of one e-reader payback equals roughly 40 to 50 books. When it comes to global warming, though, it’s 100 books; with human health consequences, it’s somewhere in between.”

Read more:

Should I stop buying paper books and use an e-reader instead? The Guardian, January 2013

Five Reasons why eBooks Aren’t There Yet Wired, June 2011

Are e-readers greener than books? The New York Times, August 2009