20+ Apps, Tools And Programs That Will Make You A Better Student This Year


Last summer, Sandra Zimmerman and I were working at Laurier Brantford’s Learning Services Centre, conducting research about learning technologies.

We realized that, although Generation Y is known for its tech savvy, not all students use technology to its full potential to help them learn.

I was guilty, too.  For the past year, I have piloted various learning technologies.  The following are some of the technology tips and tricks I would like to share, with contributions from Sandra Zimmerman.

Digital notebooks for in-class note-taking

Digital notebooks offer the best of both conventional note-taking and technology.  As with conventional notebooks, students can organize their notes by semester, class and lecture date; scribble on or highlight their notes; flag items; and add sticky-notes for summaries.

Yet digital notebooks also make possible storing information from multiple mediums including webpages and sound recordings, and some allow for group collaboration.

I started using the Notebook Layout View for Word for Mac.  A more popular option for PC users is Microsoft OneNote.  Available for free online is Zoho Notebook, which includes features such as content aggregation (add and access your Google calendar from inside your notebook) and collaboration (shared notebooks which multiple users can view and edit).

Evernote can be used offline as a desktop application and it will do many things, including synchronize the notes on the web, giving users access to their notes from multiple locations (e.g., different computers, mobile phones).

Time management tools for students

I use Google Calendar, which has many features that are helpful for students.  It lets you schedule events (including repeated events such as classes), set up e-mail or text message reminders, add attachments (e.g., meeting agendas) to events, set up appointment slots that others with Google accounts can self-book, and synchronize their calendar to other calendars (e.g., the BlackBerry calendar application).

iProcrastinate calendar view

Another option, Wunderlist, includes features such as email reminders and synchronization between electronic devices.  iProcrastinate for Mac allows for the synching of priority and task lists with other Apple devices such as iPhones and iPads.  iHomework helps your manage your homework assignments, course and teacher information, tasks, course schedules, reading lists, etc.

To help me avoid Internet-based procrastination, I started using Self Control.  It can block access to computer-based distractions such as email, Facebook and Twitter.  Another option is StayFocused.  A slightly different option is Rescue Time, which tracks your software and website usage to show you how you’re using your computer time so that you can increase your productivity.  There are also many other time-tracking tools.

Studying and test-taking

Genius is one of my favourite study tools.  Mac users, you can create flashcards to help you prepare for tests! The flashcards are repeated according to how many times you have answered the question correctly.  You can also score yourself after reviewing your flashcards to indicate how well you know the material.  A similar option is StudyStack.com, where you can create your own flashcards.  After creating these flashcards, other activities such as matching and crosswords are generated and can be used as study aids.

Study Rails helps you follow through with your studying by scheduling study time, being alerted via text message when the time comes and, most importantly, blocking out “procrastination websites” (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) during these designated times.

Currently I use MindNode to help me with exam reviews and essay planning.  It is mind mapping software.  Other mind mapping software, available for free online, includes Spiderscribe and Freemind.  Some university campuses have licences for Inspiration, which comes with templates that allow you to visually develop your ideas.

Research and writing help

Google Alerts is helpful if you are writing a research paper that requires you to monitor the web for the latest content about a particular topic.  You create alerts with particular search terms.  Whenever those search terms appear in newspapers (or blogs or any webpage, depending on your settings), you receive an alert.  You can have the alerts emailed to you as the content is published, once a week, or once a month.

Although some librarians warn students not to rely on Google Scholar for research, it can be a helpful tool.  It tends to have better search functionality than university libraries’ databases.   To save even more time when you’re researching from off campus, connect Google Scholar to your university library’s databases.  Go to “Scholar Settings,” “Library links,” and then search for your library.

I finally purchased Papers2 to help manage my research.  It is useful when I have to change the citation style of one of my papers.

Papers for Windows
Papers for Windows

I can store anything from books to articles to radio transcripts in my Papers2 library, which functions much like an iTunes library.  It has great search functionality and helps keep my research organized.  Another popular option is EndNote. A comparison of reference management software, including free options, can be found here.

What are your favourite technology tools for students? Let us know in the comments below!

About the author

Elizabeth Baisley is currently studying for an Master of Arts in Political Studies at Queen's University, where she works as a teaching assistant. She recently completed her Honours Bachelor of Arts in Human Rights & Human Diversity at Wilfrid Laurier University's Brantford campus. Elizabeth's academic interest in the rights of marginalized populations translates into her volunteer work and extracurricular involvement in the fields of rights advocacy, immigrant settlement, literacy, health, environmental issues, and local democracy. In September 2013, she will begin her PhD in Politics at Princeton University.