At the start of this new academic year, I thought I’d share some of the digital tools I wish students would use. These aren’t apps requiring particular hardware, but just online tools that are free (or very cheap) and that could make the life of the contemporary student so much easier.
So, dear students: here’s a quick rundown of some familiar and less well-known tools that I recommend.
- Readability. Though it has a lot of other features, the best thing about Readability is that with one click of a bookmarklet, you can immediately convert just about any cluttered, hard-to-read web page into a clean, nicely formatted chunk of text. The distractions of ads and poor layout are removed. More professors are assigning online readings in class, and I think you’d much prefer the Readability experience to the otherwise messy websites that we often encounter.
- Pinboard (or a similar social bookmarking service), which is not the same thing as Pinterest! As you go through your college career – and especially as you start into your major – you’ll come across lots of websites either as assigned readings or during research for projects that you’d like to save. The old bookmarking-in-your-browser model kind of sucks when you know you’ll probably have to use many different computers in the next few years. Instead, try out a service like Pinboard that saves your bookmarks in the cloud, and which makes them accessible, taggable, and searchable. You’ll build a repository of web-based knowledge around the topics you study that can be a resource for years to come…and that you can share with others if you choose. Check out my public Pinboard links. I’ve saved almost 5,000 bookmarks using Pinboard, on a huge range of topics, and refer to them frequently.
- Google Drive/Documents and Calendar. Yes, these are well-known, but every time I see a student struggling with a USB drive or navigating through 20 files named “paper 1,” I just wish they’d try out Google Documents (now known as Google Drive). All your files. Searchable. Anywhere. Automatically saved as you work. And Google Calendar is just a handy way to keep your days and weeks organized, plus it generally plays nicely with your smartphone and other apps you might want to use.
- TweetDeck. I and other faculty are also encouraging students to start to use Twitter to build their personal learning networks and to make online connections to people in their planned future professions. Personally, I prefer to use TweetDeck (almost never the Twitter website) for Twitter activities. You can maintain a search for a class hashtag (like my classes’ hashtags: #mscm150, #mscm175, #mscm345) or other key terms you’re interested in, as well as follow your professors and classmates who use Twitter.
- Evernote. Take all your notes in Evernote and then access them across all your devices and search them efficiently. It also lets you attach photos and audio to your notes at key moments!
- The Amazing Grade Calculator. If you have a professor who’s using percentages for their grading system, or who doesn’t post grades on Blackboard or a similar course management website, try out this calculator to see how your grade is progressing.
- SlideShare, Figshare, and Prezi. I wish more students would choose to post their class work publicly. It’s one way of demonstrating learning to the world, which — if the work is good — can be a great asset for scholarship, internship and job applications. Putting well-designed, thoughtful, carefully proofread class presentations on one of these sites creates another positive online association with your name and demonstrates your skill set.
What other digital tools should students start to use right away in college to make life easier and enhance their online profiles? Add your suggestions in the comments!
Edited 8/30 3:29 p.m.: Just thought of one more: Dropbox!