[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on March 6th of this year, was our #9 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2017 countdown!]
They say computers make life easier. I say they sometimes make our lives miserable.
During the past two years, I’ve visited Apple’s Genius Bar eight times. I’ve watched a student cry in front of her PC after she found a Word document she had worked on for days corrupted. I’ve witnessed someone spill coffee on my colleague’s MacBook, and then felt enraged when he had to spend almost half its price to make the thing work again.
Now you may ask me: What’s going on with our computers? Well, there is nothing wrong with the computers. It’s us. It’s our bad habits that led to these tragedies.
That’s what I’d like to share with you today: four good computer habits every teacher should have in the digital age. These habits may affect your productivity, data security, and health. Health…seriously? Yes: A survey claims that Americans spend two hours a week waiting on their slow computers, which are sources of immense frustration and constant stress.
Let’s jump right in. How many of these habits are a part of your teaching life?
1. Back up your computer: This may sound old-school, and you’ve probably heard people say it all the time; but let me tell you again that backup is the single most effective way to prevent data loss.
You may think data loss will never happen to you, but it happens to everyone at some point. It’s often too late when you realize it, the moment when you accidentally deleted a student’s assignment from your flash drive; worse yet, when your computer crashed all of a sudden due to unexpected errors. Having an up-to-date backup will avoid frustration and save you time to restore.
How to do? If you are using a PC or Mac, you can set up Windows System Backup or Time Machine to backup your computer regularly. For those important files, such as the students’ assignments and your teaching materials, make sure you also save at least one copy saved to an external hard drive. Another alternative that’s also convenient nowadays is online backup. For example, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or Dropbox all make it easy for us to upload files to the cloud and their services are free to get started. See also: An appliance approach to data backup.
2. Clean your desktop and hard drive: We all like to save files and folders to the computer desktop to make them easier to access. You probably never locate a file by clicking “This PC” (for Windows) or “Macintosh HD” (for macOS) because it’s a waste of time. But if your computer desktop looks cluttered with dozens of files, folders, or shortcut icons, it’s time to clean them up a little bit. Not only does a cluttered desktop affect your productivity, as files are harder to find, but it can even slow down your computer if you use a Mac.
Likewise, clean up your hard drive. Research shows that the first 50 percent of a hard drive performs better than the second 50 percent due to the way disk storage works. Also, if the internal hard drive of your computer is almost full, chances are everything will slow down and you’ll wait longer for your PC to fully startup, and apps won’t run any quicker than before.
How to do? Start by transferring large files to an external drive, then delete duplicates and remove third-party programs you no longer use. Last but never least, be more organized by having fewer folders to categorize all the files you have—your computer will be more productive and so will you.
(Next page: Good computer habits for teachers 3-5)
3. Wipe your old computer or device: Technology evolves fast. Chances are you’ll get a new computer (or a mobile phone) every several years. What about the old computer or device? You probably want to trade in or sell it; or if you’re kind, you may choose to donate it so teachers and students in poor areas can benefit from technology. But one thing you should remember to do before you let your device go—wipe out all data on the device. Wiping is critical because your computer or device may fall into wrong hands, thus putting your personal data at risk.
How to do? If you are a tech-savvy teacher, you know that data recovery is often possible even if you’ve emptied Recycle Bin or Trash or formatted a hard drive. For example, we all delete pictures or videos to free up space, but they can often be retrieved by photo recovery software. How do you erase these old devices? Visit your device manufacturer’s official website, do a quick search, and you should be able to find related guides.
4. Set strong and different passwords: If you have a Yahoo account, you probably heard that Yahoo announced 1 billion user accounts were hacked, and that was right before the holiday season in 2016. I use Yahoo’s email services, and at that time I received a notification from Yahoo security center with one important message about changing my password. I also remember one day a friend shared with me this PCMag article. I laughed because I had exactly three passwords for almost all my online accounts because I hated to reset passwords for security concerns.
What to do? Even if you think you have a strong password that no one can hack, you might be wrong because yesterday’s clever tricks could be dated to protect today’s hackers. A few password principles you should have are: 1) always set a login password for your computer and important folders, 2) don’t save your password in any web browsers, 3) use unique passwords for all sites, 4) manage them with a password management tool like LastPass or Roboform, and 5) change passwords on a regular basis, just in case.
In the digital age, computers are like co-workers. Building good computer habits will not only boost your productivity but also help you live a healthier lifestyle. What other good or bad computer habits do you think teachers should have or get rid of? Share your opinion in the comments below.