This is the time of year where many students are going back to school. The students may be as young as pre-school on up to the retirees looking to add skill sets and accomplishments to their life’s work.
Fortunately, now, more than ever, there are many tools that are available via the Internet (or an internet connection or mobile phone connection). There are also websites that help to fulfill needs that students (and non-students) have. Here is a short list of some of these helpful resources. Obviously, these resources cater more to the high school and post-high school level (versus kindergarten), but they may be introduced in younger grades, to get the students on the right tracks for their future(s).
Google Hangouts have been around for a while. There are the private hangouts (also called “video calls”), and there are the public hangouts (called “hangouts on air“). A private hangout can be facilitated as easily as a click of the button on a contact within the Google contacts (also accessible via Gmail).
There are add-on applications that are available within the Google Hangout interface. This includes the ability to watch YouTube videos together (a possibility for study groups and projects) as well as screen share capabilities.
When it comes to connecting two computers, security is, and should be, a concern. With all of the cyber bullying going on, one does not want access to their private photos and videos to be exposed to public viewing.
Fortunately, Google piggybacks on an Internet browser, by installing a browser plugin (via a software download), to allow the access to the Google hangout process. This is much less scary, security-wise, than those applications that require (or strongly encourage) a separate application that connects two computers.
When comparing Google Hangouts with other applications that claim to do similar, or more, be cautious about what is accessed via those other desktop applications. It isn’t always self-evident on how the connection is happening and vulnerabilities may not be self-evident.
Other programs may allow other people to control the user’s computer. That should be saved for technical support, and the connection should not go beyond screen sharing. Google Hangouts seem to keep that in mind, focusing on what is needed, in this case for the student, rather than exposing vulnerabilities. It simply “gets the job done.”
Skype has also been around for a while. A few years ago, it was acquired by Microsoft.com, and so it is also tied to Microsoft resources. In the same way that Google Hangouts allows video calls, so does Skype. The advantage of using Skype is that it is also an IM (instant messaging) application and can allow for collaboration between students on group projects as well as coordinating study dates.
Study Material (Skill Assessment and Acquisition)
Two sites that offer courses (as well as instructor-provided cheat sheets, fact sheets, flashcards, and worksheets, as applicable) are Udemy and Lynda. Both sites have a wide variety of courses available in all different areas, from basic skills to professional-level skill advancement.
If there is a course that a student is struggling with in college, these two sites will likely have the answer to their question(s) with a simple search. In some cases, especially on Udemy, there may even be free classes (and downloadable resources) available.
Keep in mind that the resources are dependent on the instructor and his or her style of teaching. Not all courses have downloadable items and some courses have more. In the case of downloadable resources, it is all about the instructor and the instructor’s style of teaching.
Textbooks and Software
Amazon is the place to find discounted books. In comparisons among other popular sites, Amazon has proven to be the lowest prices in 97-100% of the cases (based on a private case study). If Amazon is not the top of the list, it is only because of availability and not because of pricing. Amazon offers the ability to buy used textbooks but also has rental opportunities (for hardcover books, softcover books, and digital content). One of the easiest ways to get a college textbook is to rent it via Kindle. It is very appealing, as far as price.
Another source that has affordable pricing is Vital Source, but it is not as dependable as Amazon (same case study). It may be a bit of a price reduction, but usually dependability wins out over a dollar or two of savings and Amazon becomes the desired option.
Academic Superstore is the “go to” place for reasonably priced software for students and instructors. In reality, the software vendor controls/dictates the academic pricing for their respective software. For this reason, some software will display a deeper discount than other software. This is not the fault (or credit) of Academic Superstore but is about the pricing that they can obtain from the software vendors. An exception to this is a possible sale.
Where Academic Superstore stands out among their competitors is in the academic verification/validation process. In compliance with the academic pricing requirements of the software vendors, there needs to be a way for the store (in this case, Academic Superstore) to verify the student status and eligibility for the shopper to purchase the software at the special academic pricing. At some stores, this can be a painful process, but Academic Superstore makes it relatively easy and painless.
Trello advertises themselves as the tool that “organizes everything with anyone.” Trello may be used as an individual or as a collaboration tool to use with study groups or even within a class, if the instructor suggests its use.
It is a free tool and the possibilities of its use are endless. It is not the normal ‘task list’ but goes beyond that list to create a clean way of expanding on the list. This is done by adding notes to the ‘back’ of what is called a ‘Trello card.’ In that way, the front of the card, in the Trello list (on the Trello board) services as the list item in a task list, but the back of the card provides a place for the user to add resource links and additional information.
The very nature of how Trello is set up, is ready for the student. A Trello board may be set up for each class and columns may be set up for each type of assignment. The assignments may be added to the Trello list as Trello cards. When the assignments are completed, those Trello cards may be easily dragged into a column that says “Waiting for Grade” and then when the grade is received, that grade (and instructor feedback) may be added to the Trello card and it could be moved to a list that is called “Graded.” By using Trello, the student can see, at a glance, what is going on in each class.
For more information about Trello, check out the video in this article, where Brian Cervino, Social Media Manager of Trello, talks about the tool and shares a little bit about himself.
Another essential tool is the Google Calendar. For those who are already using Gmail, this is a must-have. It is free to use and ties into mobile devices and tablets as well as other applications. There is also the ability to create multiple calendars and color-code them. The student could create one calendar that is for leisure time and another one that is only for school activities or assignment due dates. Both calendars are viewable on the same Google calendar and they can be toggled on or off, depending on the desired view at that time.
In addition to the online tools, the student will need the hardware, whether that is a laptop, tablet, or even a smartphone. Additional hardware resources are needed to support that choice as well. For example, ensuring that there are enough adapters for the laptop and resources for charging batteries for tablets and smartphones.
It is recommended that every accessory is purchased in a quantity of at least two. Using the laptop as the example, one power adapter can be left at home, and one can be carried in the backpack. Also, leave the expensive one at home, but pick up a generic adaptor at places like eBay.
Other examples of accessories may include things like headphones (again, purchased in a quantity that exceeds one). As long as the accessories do not break the bank, it is better to have more because the interruption that is caused when one accessory breaks could cost a grade, as it interrupts the flow in studying and affects the student’s time.
There are other tools that may be added to this list (like Dropbox or Google Drive), but this is a good start. The next step is practicing time management and finding a place to work. A good reward system (part of time management, too) is to work at Starbucks, utilizing their Wi-Fi and allowing the reward of hanging out with friends after a particular assignment or study process is completed. Incentivizing the work helps it to be more productive and helps the student toward their achievement of success in academics and life.