Last-Minute Shopping Guide: Ten Back to College Tech Essentials (2022 Update)
Perhaps you already dropped your college student off at school, perhaps you are about to—or after a few weeks, you feel a need to send along a care package. Regardless of the cause, an infusion of the right technology can boost performance, improve confidence, or improve safety. And technology is always appreciated (though perhaps not as much as cookies). Here is a list of the latest learning-conducive and personal safety accessories that you or your student might want to consider adding to their backpack, purse, or dorm room.
A Tablet I don’t mean an antacid, though that would probably be appropriate for this list as well. What I really mean is an Apple iPad. A lesser tablet may suffice, but Apple’s iPad offers the widest range of apps and support. A tablet and pen prove much less intrusive than a laptop with a screen open cutting off line-of-sight between students and educators. iPads are also ideal one-stop devices for content. Yes, PCs can do that, but they are heavy and increasingly archaic-looking as tablets absorb their basic functions into sleek, easy-to-carry packages.
An Apple Pencil Don’t stop at buying an iPad. Make sure it comes with an Apple Pencil, especially for drawing and notetaking. The process of writing notes enhances memory. A pencil is essential. To save a bit of money for students not so artistically inclined, consider the Zagg Pro Stylus that aims primarily at notetaking and basic drawing as it does not include the pressure-sensitive or shading features of Apple’s Pencil.
Notetaking software I live in Noteshelf. But there are many options, including Microsoft’s OneNote, which either arrives pre-installed on a Windows machine or is available from the college as part of their student Microsoft licensing. Apple’s Notes has come on strong over the last couple of years. And those with a Google preference can you Keep.
A case, a keyboard and a stand Keep it simple. Get a case that is also a stand and a keyboard. I’m a fan of Zagg’s Pro Keys, it protects, has a good keyboard, and easily disassembles for lighter lugging.
Headphone Headband If your child is in a noisy dorm or sleeping porch where they may even face alarm noise restrictions, what to do? The answer is SleepPhone, which embeds speakers into an easy-to-wear headband. Sleep to music, awake to an alarm that others can’t hear. SleepPhone supports comfort and natural sleeping positions. Earbuds, like the 1More Comfobuds designed for sleep also do the trick.
Netflix Streaming Account Basic cable just isn’t going to cut it. Once you have watched new episodes of Glee and Top Gear, then what? The only way you will have access to those trippy 1970s versions of Doctor Who is to get a Netflix streaming account. And for what it’s worth, they also stream some cool documentaries that might just supplement your learning.
Rechargeable Batteries College requires power. From stick-up lights in tiny closets to electric toothbrushes, you need power. Of course, tablets, electronic pens and other tech gadgets (or if you are reading this in the UK, kit) also require power. If you find yourself away from a traditional power source (AKA, a plug) you may want to consider some rechargeable batteries and a universal USB charger that can kick up both your phone’s power and your tablet’s.
Graphing Calculator My daughter insisted that I include this. She says she can’t live without it. iPhone versions are too small. Those focused on math needs a big, powerful, familiar tool to crunch the numbers the profs want crunched and graphed.
My daughter calls her TI 84 silver edition her BFF.
Safety Gear Although some might place doubt on the need for everyone to own a rope ladder and shin guards, you might want to consider these more practical items. A portable breathalyzer for times when you know you shouldn’t drive, but you are too drunk to believe yourself. Let your tech step-in and confirm your worst nightmares: you will be sleeping on a 20-year old couch tonight because its just the right thing to do. And if you feel uncomfortable crossing campus late-at-night (even in a pack, which is the way you should travel) then buy a portable panic button to provide you a more attention-getting-sound than over-taxed vocal chords can conjure up after a pep rally.
Cloud-based storage USB sticks are so yesterday, and they are pretty useless with a tablet. Instead, go cloud and subscribe to a service that allows cloud backup, file sharing, and other features. Microsoft, Apple, Box, Google, DropBox, and many others offer a variety of free and paid plans. Make sure you get a plan that offers version archives for times when something inadvertently, perhaps deliberately, goes wrong with that assignment due on Tuesday.
A Kindle We haven’t arrived in a world yet where the price of textbooks makes any sense, but we have arrived in a world where not lugging them around is becoming an option. Make sure you have Kindle, or at least the Kindle app. Tablets are ideal as they will run almost any e-reader software so you end up just carrying one device regardless of how your textbooks are delivered electronically. For long text, though, Amazon’s Kindle is easier on the eye, and it offers a second screen for reference.
Realtime conferencing software When I first wrote this post I recommended Skype. But post-pandemic (or during a pandemic) everyone became an expert in video conferencing. Between FaceTime, WhatsApp, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex, and others, connecting to loved ones is not a problem anymore.
iTunes University and other third-party educational sources like MasterClass offer backup lectures as well as opportunities to learn a little, heaven forbid, beyond the curriculum, and enjoy some intellectual spelunking besides.
A printer Yes, shared services like printing are available and they are more environmentally friendly, but when you need to print a paper you don’t want to go in search of paper, toner or ink. So have your own little captive printer. Make sure it has a scanner to help eliminate clutter and improve organization by scanning handouts and worksheets directly to notetaking software.