Technology has a very useful place in education. Very useful. Teachers and professors have smart boards and these days everyone seems to be using Blackboard or a similar technology to encourage group discussions and have a repository for course materials. Every class dealing with numbers is using specific software and/or requiring super fancy calculators (which as we all know are best used for an intense game of Tetris®). Many classes are having you write papers or do some intense research for papers. So what tech might you actually get to use? What tech might get your work done and make everyone else want to be your buddy?
We’ll start with a a piece of relatively low tech. If you’re having trouble seeing, don’t be “that guy” – get an eye exam and pick up some cool new glasses or contacts. They won’t be the Google glasses (darn!) but it will help you use all the rest of the tech mentioned here.
Digital Voice Recorders
If you find it difficult to get down all the notes your professor is saying during the class, or you think you’re missing something, try a digital recorder or ask if you can use your smartphone or tablet to take a photo of the board. If you have a documented learning disability, make sure your school knows so you can use these options for sure. Otherwise, just ask your professor if it’s ok to use them. Don’t post everything where anyone in the world can get it, but everyone else who’s in the same boat will want to be your buddy when they realize you’re having a breeze studying for exams.
Olympus has an impressive line of digital voice recorders. While each might let you use a memory card, find one with flash memory and a built in USB so you can transfer to a computer when you’re ready. The Olympus WS-600S is a moderate priced option that should suffice and hold up for several years. There are some different options that might serve better if you’re a music major or need very specific tones to come out in your recordings. You might consider this Sony model or this model from Zoom.
Tablets have become very popular in the last few years and there are many to pick from. Arguably the most advanced tablet is the iPad and it has been incorporated into many classroom scenarios. Some schools have experimented with using it as the educational tool of the present and many libraries have iPads available for checkout. But we’re not limited to the iPad for great performance anymore. The new Galaxy Tab 2 is all the rage this year and at a price lower than the iPad and the Android Ice Cream Sandwich build, it certainly is a great competitor. The Galaxy Tab 2 is available in 7 and 10 inch models and both the iPad and the Galaxy Tab 2 are available in wifi only or with data plan models. Don’t forget accessories like a portable keyboard (if you plan on typing a lot) or a case to protect your investment (Timbuk2 is one of several makers with large selections).
I’m sure you’re asking “What about the Kindle Fire? The Nook Tablet?”. Those models are great but are really a hybrid between a traditional e-reader and a tablet like the iPad but lack some functionality you’d expect in a tablet. Not that anything is wrong with that. Everyone doesn’t need their device to do it all. Many people also don’t mind that some devices an only read certain types of materials. But regardless of your device choice, you can’t avoid the fact that many professors are using electronic documents – textbooks, PDFs, e-articles – as mandatory reading. It gives them some freedom and you just have to download them all. So why not have an e-reader? You could choose one of the hybrids (Nook Tablet, Nook Color, Kindle Fire) It will give you the ability to take any of these materials anywhere (except the shower, that was an oopsie!), highlight and notate them without killing trees or worrying about paper everywhere. While the Nook and Kindle lines from Barnes and Noble and Amazon respectively run the category, you may also be ok with a Kobo or Sony model. As a note, some people are ok with using a tablet as a reading device but some people see better on e-ink screens. Find what works for you.
If you have a paper to write or someone uses a word in lecture you don’t understand, jump on one of the many electronic dictionary or thesaurus sites. These aren’t new but they are improving everyday. Definr, Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com – all of these sites can be a great friend to you. Just like the use of great reference software can be. Or free software for word processing, presentation and spreadsheet needs. Check out one of our previous posts for the free software pack suggestions to make life easier. You’re going to save some dollars while getting your work done.
Social media is often just used for being social with friends, but it can be a great way to keep up with current events (think of that Poli Sci class), communicate with group project members, or learn about a new topic. Some professors communicate with their students via social media. Libraries use social media to share information about their services and you can even ask a librarian a question using some of these tools. You might need to step outside of your comfort zone of Twitter and Facebook and dig into some other tools such as Path, LinkedIn, and Del.icio.us. You might also check out some sites such as tinychat to set up group chats where you can print a log of the conversation.
What other technology do you think you’ll see in the classroom this year? If you’re a teacher, what tech do you use in your classroom?
Keep checking back weekly for updates to this year’s back to school series and check our archives for tips from year’s past! See you next week!