Last Minute Shopping Guide: Ten Back to College Tech Essentials
Perhaps you have already dropped your college student off at school, perhaps you are about to. Either way, a small care package or a last minute tech infusion to boost performance, confidence or safety is always appreciated. Here are my thoughts this college season on the latest in 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. What I mean here is a tablet computing device. First choice, of course, is an Apple iPad because it has the widest range of app support. Tablets will help reconnect learners with faculty because they don’t include intrusive pop-up hoods like laptops that create a barrier between learner and educator. They are also ideal one-stop devices for content and tools. 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.
A stylus As much as I love tablets, I don’t find that taking notes on them is all that great when fingers are asked to scrawl rather than type. Don’t get me wrong, I love finger painting and am big fan of ArtRage, but taking down formulas and equations requires a stylus. My favorite is the Kensington Virtuoso which comes in many colors and sports a real pen as well. Why hobble your handwriting for a solution that only costs $25.
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.
A case, a keyboard and a stand Get a case for your tablet. You know you are notoriously rude to your technology, and after a few drinks, you might get downright uncaring. So before walking across campus or going on a bender, protect your tech investment. If you plan on going tablet solo, you’ll also need a real keyboard. Tablets all talk Bluetooth so options are wide. Get something you can comfortably type on that doesn’t require its own suitcase. I use the Kensington KeyFolio Pro which combines a case with a keyboard for mobile work. I prefer the Microsoft Mobile Keyboard 6000 for more extensive work. And get a stand too. I’m a big fan of the LUXA2 H6 (portable) or LUX2 H4 (desktop). They are well crafted, durable and cool looking.
Headphone Headband Most headphones that come with MP3 players are pretty bad. Even Apple sells better ones under their own brand. Plenty of choices. But if you are in a noisy dorm or sleeping porch where you 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. And for someone with plenty of experience tyring to sleep on planes with Bose Quite Comfort headphones, SleepPhone offers much more in the way of comfortable and natural sleeping positions.
Livescribe Echo Some professors still don’t like computers in their classrooms, no matter how inconspicuous they may be. So bring a Livescribe echo smartpen and dot paper to capture the lecture. And record the prof’s voice. And play back the recorded lecture in the context of the notes. And share with your friends via free uploads and an app that even runs on an iPad. Livescribe isn’t going to be your answer to converting handwritten text into a report, but it may well be the perfect answer for creating study notes that are responsive to your learning needs. It’s easy to carry and lets you hide your inner geek until your friends start looking at your special paper notebook, which will make you all geeky again when you so “cooly” demo it for them.
Microsoft Office OneNote If you still have a tablet PC with a pen, or if you just take notes the old-fashioned computing way, with a keyboard, OneNote 2010 is the perfect companion for college students who not only take good notes, but also organization them. Like the Livescribe echo pen, OneNote can capture audio along with the notes and it makes playback contextual. Unlike a LiveScribe note, OneNote creates a complete organization environment, along with strong support for annotation and additions, including Livescribe pencasts. And if you can’t afford OneNote, then use Evernote. Both include password protection so you can keep all your private thoughts, passwords and other personal items, well, private.
Rechargable 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. Needs the big, powerful familiar tool to crunch the numbers her profs want crunched and graphed.
My daughter calls her TI 84 silver edition her BFF.
Safety Gear Although everyone should 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.
Additional Resources College Students should consider:
DropboxUSB sticks are so yesterday, and they are pretty useless with a tablet. Instead, go cloud on this one and make sure all of your work, your notes and other materials are all up on Dropbox.
Kindle, Inklingand KnoWe haven’t arrived in a world yet where the price of text books makes any sense, but we have arrived in a world where not lugging them around is becoming an option. Make sure you have Kindle, Inkling and Kno software on your device. 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.
SkypeYou may have a cellphone and that’s cool, but if you don’t, Skype is a must have. Even if you have a cellphone or a tablet with a camera (and everyone in the fam is on Apple so you can use iChat) Skype still offers value because someday you will probably need to talk to someone in another country or someone who doesn’t use Apple hardware.
iTunes University and other sources 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. Step it up to a scanner and eliminate clutter and improve organization by scanning handouts and worksheets directly to OneNote.
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.