“The number one benefit of information technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive.” This statement is just as true for business mogul Steve Ballmer as it is for students all over the world. Whether your classes are fully online or on campus get information you need to leverage some of the best free online tools to help you succeed in college.
Researching and Sharing Information
Every student, whether in a traditional or nontraditional academic setting, relies on the internet when conducting research for term papers, projects and presentations. With over seven million users, Diigo helps organize online information and allows users to access content from any device. Virtual highlighters and notes can be annotated directly to important websites which can then be reviewed from a centralized personal account. This systematic organizational structure can be used in group settings, often leading to streamlined communication and greater transparency among members. It’s been recommended by high powered publications and organizations from Forbes to lifehacker.
The bibliography or reference page of any paper can be oddly terrifying for some students, especially if their teachers choose to be sticklers for citations. Although it may seem simple, oftentimes misplaced punctuation and capitalization in titles can make or break a grade. Like many of the best free online tools we mention here, EasyBib is offered on a freemium basis, and the basic complimentary access is all that most students need. The most popular citation formats follow the Modern Language Association (MLA) or the American Psychological Association (APA) style standards, but the resource offers help with other options like Chicago as well. Users simply select the preferred format, identify the source (out of a comprehensive listing of 59 options) and EasyBib delivers the perfect citation for sourcing research.
Formerly called Wallwisher, Padlet is an interactive planning tool with a social media twist. It’s essentially a virtual board with sticky notes that can be easily moved, shared and embedded. Students can personalize their experience by setting their preferred views, including one that resembles a scrollable blog. The interface is extremely user friendly with simple drag and drop functionality, auto save capabilities and instant collaboration tools. The privacy settings can be completely customizable, with the user controlling permissions for group members, including their individual activities. And for an added benefit, users can place their personal walls on their websites or blogs to elevate engagement with their public portfolios.
Engaging Projects and Presentations
Art students don’t have to be the only ones who can create beautiful imagery to enhance their portfolios or visual presentations. Ipiccy is similar to the powerful Photoshop, but less complicated, making it easy for users to edit pictures, apply photo effects, add text and paint on a digital canvas. With over 20 photo effects and advanced online photo editing, students can create unique visuals that complement their individual and group assignments. There are so many possibilities with the tool, from business students creating marketing pieces and logos for strategic planning presentations to liberal studies majors creating fun and engaging materials to facilitate learning in classroom settings.
This free online tool is rightfully becoming more popular among students when putting together a presentation. Instead of spending time picking out standard animations to flash up a PowerPoint, Prezi allows for natural animated transitions among information sections. The platform has beautifully designed templates that can help students express their ideas as virtual metaphors or they can start from scratch and imagine their own. It is easy to add content with intuitive frames that guide the user through the steps and includes familiar menus for adding multimedia such as YouTube videos, images and even PDF files within the presentation. Basic photo editing features are also made available such as red eye correction, filters and more. And of course its fully online with auto save settings so presenters can never lose their hard work.
Infographics are becoming not only more common for presenting statistical and informative content, but also increasingly more impressive. Easel.ly provides hundreds of pre-designed themes for students to begin their projects then they can use the tools provided to add icons, text and images. One of the only challenges that some users experience occurs when objects are very close together, it can sometimes be difficult to select individual items to adjust. Other than that it is relatively straightforward and can be used to amplify many different school assignments and projects. For example, those in statistics courses, may transform their normal Excel solution data into a more visual and comprehensive infographic that is both unique and professional.
Creating Productivity Efficiencies
As a university that focuses on delivering high quality education to working professionals, Brandman understands that productivity is of the utmost importance! RescueTime helps busy students manage their time and create efficiencies that make their lives easier. It allows individuals to gain fresh perspectives on daily work habits by leveraging goal setting to help them stay focused. Detailed reports show users which applications and websites they spend time on, and helps categorize activities. They are continuously aware of their progress with weekly email summaries and an overall numeric score to help plan for the following week. Students may even want to consider setting alarms for distracting actions such as when they spend more than a certain amount of time on Facebook to minimize wasted time. This product is also available on a freemium basis, with advanced features such as blocking certain sites from use, tracking offline activities and logging daily highlights about activities throughout the day.
Studies have proven that flash cards can be highly effective tools in learning at every level of education. Study Blue takes this concept to another level by digitizing materials and even allowing students to insert multi-media as part of the content. They can not only create and customize their own cards by adding text, images and audio, but also archive user-created information within a rich virtual library. Lifelong learners can get recommendations based on the subjects they are interested in and study guides are automatically updated when new cards are created. The Study Blue system also allows students to track their progress in real time with self-assessment scores. With apps for web, iOS and Android, students can make the most of their study time and access pertinent materials when and wherever they need them.
As the story goes, “17-year-old Andrew Schaper was frustrated that he couldn’t find a convenient way to keep track of all of his school work…so he decided to do something about it: He created Shoshiku, a free homework and time management app for students.” This is particularly useful for those who are on accelerated academic plans like Brandman University’s eight-week sessions. Free accounts allow users to keep track of 20 assignments per course, upload 10 attachments per assignment and document 20 tasks per assignment. Users may opt in to upgrading their accounts to take advantage of features such as text alerts for due dates, expanded calendar feature, file and note sharing with other students and more.
These are some of the best free online tools that students can explore that can positively impact both their academic and professional performance. The majority of them even have advanced options for educators to leverage to facilitate learning in today's modern day classroom. As with most products and services, there are alternatives for those willing to buy up and take advantage of some extremely powerful resources. Here is a short list of other free and paid products that may help others succeed in college:
- MindMeister – Much like a Google Docs for brainstorming, this service provides a live chat function and offers easy viewing of old versions ($24.50 per year).
- CampusBookRentals – A great search engine, up to 90% discounts, simple rent extensions, and free return shipping!
- FindTutorials.com – A website that collects useful tutorials from across the web. Users can vote on the quality of materials to ensure they are relevant and appealing to students.
- Getting Smart – One of the most passionate learning-focused communities on the web that will lead students to ways and resources that will increase studying effectiveness.
- The Rapid E-Learning Blog (Articulate Network) – Blogger Tom Kuhlmann shares practical tips that all students can benefit from including up-to-date information on different education-related topics for them to become e-learning pros.
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