Saturday, July 18, 2015

Family Tech: Now some advice on software, hardware for college students - July 17, 2015

Last week we talked about the PCs, Mac or Windows that new college students need. This week, let’s touch on some of the software and other hardware they might need.

In addition to a computer, most students probably need a second tech item – a smartphone.

A smartphone gives them the ability to stay in touch and on top of things. They can use the calendar to track school assignments or download one of the many school assignment apps in their app store. These apps will help them manage assignments and deadlines. Some even silence their phone for them during class times.

Phones let them pull up the internet for quick research even when away from Wi-Fi.

The camera on a phone can act as a scanner so they can make copies of pertinent pages in a book, illustrations, and professor’s whiteboards.

Today’s college students often do not have much paper flow. Assignments are done online or posted to school websites such as Blackboard. Information from professors is often posted to Blackboard or otherwise shared with students.

There are few, if any, handouts anymore. However, if your student is in an environment where they receive data on paper, a scanner might be a good addition. Printers are almost never needed, I’m told, but if an instructor does want print-outs, it is a good idea for the student to have their own printer. Centrally-located printers in libraries may not always be available. And having a printer allows a student to make last-minute changes to a paper.

University-level learning is about taking in information from textbooks, lectures, assigned reading and research. This information is then organized for learning, studying for exams, and for production of papers and other projects.

In my day, we took notes in class – and ideally – as we read and kept those notes in notebooks. When producing a paper, we copied our research notes to index cards to organize our data and then finally typed our paper on a typewriter. If we lost the notes or cards, we were in bad shape.

Apps such as Evernote and OneNote now let students store data on their PCs and have it automatically backed up to the cloud. Students can type notes directly into them, take photos, import document files, and even record and store short audio snippets. Once the data moves to the cloud, it is available on the student’s PCs, phones and tablets.

They have powerful search capabilities and notebooks and tags for organizing their data. A student can save every piece of information they obtain in them, and then easily find and organize them later for learning and study.

I recently learned of another app that replaces index cards for organizing information for papers, media productions and other projects.

Trello is a free app that lets you create boards, one for each project.

In a board, you make lists, and in each list is a card. A card can be a note, photo, checkbox list or web link.

For example, to learn about Trello I created a board with lists “Details,” “Mention Column,” “Not Worthy of Mention” and “Place in Links Post.”

As I learned more about Trello, each detail went into the details list. When I had finished making that list, I considered each card and moved each to one of the other lists. You move a card simply by dragging and dropping it.

As I write this, I have made certain to mention the cards in “Mention in Column.”

Students can use Trello to organize data for papers. And, it can be used to organize a student's schedule, tracking assignments, exams and projects. It is easy to move data from Evernote to Trello.

For more serious papers and dissertations, there is a classification of software specifically designed to gather PDF files of academic papers for reading, annotation and organization. These are not dissimilar to Evernote and OneNote, but they also allow for creation of annotations in one of the thousands of annotation styles your paper might require.

These apps backup your files online and can also support a group effort for research.

Your university may have a site license for one of these apps. The common ones are Qiqqa, Mendeley and EndNote.

Finally, of course, is Microsoft Office. It is pretty much a given students will need Word and Excel, part of Office. They may need PowerPoint as well and OneNote if they are not using Evernote.

Universities will be able to offer academic versions of Office, including a four-year license as cheap as a non-student’s one-year license of Office 365.

Links for this column are here.

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