More news, less jargon--welcome to TechNews '07

IET senior writer Bill Buchanan has started writing a quarterly column with the latest issue of the IT Times. This is the first one.

Ever heard of TechNews? Not really? You're far from alone.

For a site that was launched in 2003 to inform the campus about campus technology, it hasn't achieved the reach or consistency that it should. TechNews does pretty well in overall visits, and has often carried useful items not available anywhere else. But promotion of the service has been modest, and sometimes nothing has been posted to TechNews for weeks at a stretch.

So that's the history. Here's the news: TechNews has changed. We here in Information and Educational Technology have rebuilt the service. We have overhauled its architecture to improve its access and appeal, made it easy to receive news feeds, and have set a goal of posting news and useful information at least two days per week--more when times are fat.

That's the start. If we really get this thing going, we'll add opportunities for reader comments, blogs, and whatever else we dream up that makes sense. All to make TechNews more reliable, useful and engaging.

Exclamation mark warning!

Notice, please, the realism of that target. One of my goals as TechNews editor is to resist puffery and cliches. We deliver good material, drawn from the many corners of campus tech. But I don't want to bludgeon you with a Promise! To Keep You! Fully Informed! About Everything Relevant to Campus Tech!

The site doesn't need to be that grandiose to be worth your time. TechNews will draw on the resources of dozens of people, not always in IET, who have news and information about campus tech that faculty, students and staff should know. That's our beat. No other publication covers it.

We've tested our improvements, and have watched visits to the site incr ease. The tryouts have included daily reports from last July's Summer Institute for Teaching and Technology, news about free research software for everyone on campus and the spread of "clickers" in classrooms, and a Web-only story about the stunningly detailed photos produced by a new piece of equipment on campus. (Read Stevie Jeung's story about the "Better Light" camera hybrid.) And we added an RSS feed in the fall.

That's on top of the security alerts and other material that TechNews has carried all along.

My role in all this is to oversee TechNews, plus write or edit some of its entries. I work from a desk in the Information & Events corner of the ex-Pacific Standard Life Insurance building in southeast Davis. I also help edit IT Times, write other articles, assist other publications, supervise students, and do other assorted tasks. (We are a flexible bunch, over here in our corner.)

As common as lights on your ceiling

We're beefing up TechNews because campus tech is not a separate activity cordoned off in a building or two, run by and for people who speak in code.

Well, OK, part of it is. But high tech now permeates the campus. Information about campus tech needs to do the same, in the plainest language possible.

Tech has become a tool to assist any piece of campus business from recording grades to reviewing dissertations. From research to ...

...well, surely there's no need to write a list. I might as well expect you to need me to recite the alphabet. Tech is that established.

And really, the spread of tech into everyday w ork is nothing new. Tools like wikis and wi-fi are simply following the path blazed by telephones, electricity, driving, and email. When tech tools are useful, they become so thoroughly integrated that they lose their freaky, baffling technological identity. When's the last time you thought of an electric ceiling lamp as tech? But that's what it is.

(Let's not forget the initial wonder, if not confusion, that all new tech creates. My late grandmother, born in 1894, told me her small town in Iowa was dazzled when the town utility began offering electric lighting at home. She was in school. The ceiling light in her home had no light switch--all the house lights in town were controlled by a central switch down at the power plant. The plant operator turned the lights off at something like 9 p.m. No one minded; just having the light was stunning.)

Miracles become ordinary in time. Someday we'll judge wireless Web access to be as ho-hum as the bank of fluorescent lamps above my desktop Dell. I expect the Class of 2010 already thinks that way.

Look, we'll make it really easy

But my purpose today is not to predict. My purpose today is to invite you to check out TechNews, to offer you another window on events on your campus.

We'll even pull back the drapes for you. Sign up for the weekly TechNews email, and we'll send you headlines every Monday morning.

We define tech broadly, by the way. TechNews items are as likely to touch on teaching as they are to report on profiling tools that can put metrics on .NET applications. More likely, in fact.

Read it. Use it. Critique it. Tell me about it at wrbuchanan@ucdavis.edu, or call (530) 754-5466.

Bill Buchanan is a senior writer in the Information & Events section of Information and Educational Technology, the main campus tech department and the publisher of the IT Times.