Summer is coming to a close and to replace it is another school year. Soon, it will be back to daily classes, practices, homework, and studying (or procrastinating). With this new school year, technology for school and learning also returns. The days of relying on just physical books, the standard No. 2 pencil, and paper are gone. Technology has allowed for education to become more efficient and to excel in ways that were never possible before.
Now, with all the technology out there, deciding on what to use may be difficult. Fortunately, this guide is here to help with sifting through all the different options available so you can make the best choice concerning educational technology. Whether you are a student or the parent/guardian of a student, hopefully this guide can help inform you about outfitting yourself or your student with the best technology.
First things first, computers. This mostly applies to college students, if high school students, your school already has computers available for student use. If you want to do much of anything in regards to technology, you’re going to need a computer.
However, there are many different choices for computers so let’s start from the top. First choose what operating system you want, Windows PC or Mac. Suggesting one or the other is pretty difficult because the choice mostly comes down to user preference. They both have their strengths and weaknesses.
Windows PCs are by far the most common, and they have the largest compatibility with any programs you may need or want to run. Windows PCs also have a wide variety of different styles, prices, and technical specifications (the list of parts that make up the computer). The variety of Windows PCs also allows for them to often be comparatively cheaper than Macs. However, sometimes issues with Windows can get very technical and difficult to solve.
As for Macs, they are less compatible with different programs, but make up for it in efficiency. Using a Mac can be a nearly seamless experience and issues can be quickly resolved. Also, if you are an iPhone or iPad owner, signing into the same account on your mobile device and Mac can provide you with many different ways to use them together. However, Macs tend to be more expensive. If you want a cheaper Mac option, your only option is to get an older model or buy pre-owned.
Another option if you prefer Mac but don’t want to shell out a bunch of money is using an iPad paired with a keyboard. This can be significantly cheaper than a Mac, and thanks to the large support of various programs on mobile devices and tablets, you can use an iPad to do many of the same things that you can use a computer for. Unfortunately, the abilities of an iPad are limited and very different compared to a traditional Mac or Windows PC.
Ultimately, whether to go Windows or Mac comes down to what your budget is, and personal preference. I have used both personally and cannot suggest one over the other. Choose the one that is compatible for the programs you need to use, and which one you are more comfortable with or accustomed to.
The next step for choosing a computer is relatively simple, and that is whether to buy a laptop or desktop. My personal suggestion is laptop as it just makes the most sense for a student. Students are going to be moving around between classes, home, the library, and more. Having the portability of a laptop will allow more work to be done simply because you can take it with you wherever you go. A laptop also allows you to type out notes in class which brings us to the next section.
Note taking is essential to being a student. Often good notes can mean the difference between passing and failing a class. However, taking notes on pencil and paper takes up a lot of space quickly, and carrying all those notebooks around can be annoying. Now, thanks to computer and phone note-taking apps, that’s a problem of the past. Instead of carrying around multiple notebooks, just open up your phone or computer and access them all. There are many different note-taking apps out there, and I encourage you to experiment and see which one works best for you. I personally suggest Microsoft OneNote.
OneNote is a very in depth program with many different options for note taking. It allows for lots of formatting as well as bringing in pictures or clips of webpages. However, it still remains simple and easy to use. OneNote comes installed for free on every Windows PC, and it can be downloaded for free on Mac, iOS, and Android. There’s also a web version.
OneNote also stores all of your notes in OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage system. This allows for your notes to be synced and accessed on any device you use. OneNote comes with five gigabytes of free storage and there are three different options to upgrade if you ever run out. OneNote’s many formatting options, syncing across devices, storage, ease of note taking from scratch, and its low price of free is why I personally use it and why I recommend it.
Next is textbooks. Textbooks are annoying. They’re often large, heavy, and take up an inconvenient amount of space. For high schoolers, there’s not much that can be done, as textbooks are generally issued in classes. However, for college students and others who must buy their own textbooks, eBooks are for you.
eBooks, in my personal experience, are incredible. All of the information in a three-inch-thick textbook can suddenly be opened up on your phone or computer and studied without any hassle. No more keeping track of five or more textbooks and carrying them around in heavy book bags. Even better, if you’re renting an eBook, you don’t have to bother returning it. Your access to the eBook will simply expire on the day the rental runs out. Simply put, eBooks are easier, quicker, and lighter than their traditional counterparts.
There are many different eBook services out there and fortunately, many eBook services offer apps on many different devices allowing you to access your books with ease from your phone, computer, tablet, etc. There is not one specific eBook app or service that I recommend as not one service will have every book you need. Also, the books you need may not be in eBook form, but I cannot recommend enough that you buy the book you need or want in eBook form if it is available. Next time you need to buy books, just look around and search to see if they can be bought as an eBook. Amazon is a wonderful place to shop for eBooks as well as Chegg.
Moving on. At some point in any class, you will be asked to write something. Whether this be a quick report or a research paper, writing it out by hand would take a long time. Fortunately, there are many different options for writing on a computer. If you are on a Mac, Pages is a wonderful free program that you can use to create documents with plenty of formatting options. Pages also comes preinstalled on Macs. If you are on a Windows PC, WordPad is a free program that has basic options and formatting, but can get the job done. WordPad also comes preinstalled on Windows PCs.
If you’re looking for more formatting options, Microsoft Word may be for you. Word is available on Windows PCs, Macs, and phones. It is an amazing word processing program that allows you to create documents with a huge amount of formatting options. Word has a ton of tools to offer its users so that whatever they need to do make the best document possible, they can. Furthermore, access to Word also comes with access to OneDrive: the same service OneNote uses. You can then store all your documents, Word documents or not, in OneDrive and know they are safe and secure.
There is a free web version of MS Word, but you can pay a monthly or yearly subscription service to unlock all the options and tools it has to offer. However, you can’t just buy Word on its own. It only comes in a package known as Microsoft Office with other useful programs such as PowerPoint and Publisher. Although, if you go to Microsoft’s website and search for the link to get Office for students, you may already own a free version of office through your school. All you have to do is enter in your school email to see. If not, individual Office plans with access to Word start at $69.99 for a one year subscription, or $150 for a one time purchase.
If you don’t like the free apps Pages or WordPad, and don’t have access to Word, the next option I suggest is Google Docs. Google Docs is a completely free online word processing program with fewer features than Word, but still an impressive toolset. Google Docs, unlike Word, is entirely online through a webpage, which means you can access it on any browser, Windows or Mac. It also has mobile apps and supports conversion to and from Word documents. All Google Documents are stored safely in Google Drive, available to access on all your devices and with the support to store other types of files than just Google Docs.
Now that you have all your notes, documents, and files, the last thing you would want to happen is lose them to a computer or phone crash. Luckily, as mentioned above, many different apps offer free online storage up to a certain amount with the option to pay for increased storage. This cloud storage will always be there provided you have internet access and it will act as a place to back up your important documents and files.
However, if the cloud isn’t a good fit for you and you still want to make sure all your documents are backed up safely, external storage is the next best option. If you only need to back up a handful of documents, a simple flash drive will do the trick. You can buy flash drives of varying sizes (1-128 gigabytes) for fairly cheap in many physical stores and online through retailers.
If you’re wanting to back up most of your computer along with your various school documents, a large external hard drive is a good choice over a flash drive. A large external hard drive will provide you significantly more storage than a flash drive. A WD brand one terabyte (1000 gigabytes) external hard drive can currently be purchased on Amazon for $50.99 and a four terabyte model can be purchased for $99.99.
Although I talked a lot about different services, ultimately many of my suggestions are based on personal tastes. Which is why I greatly encourage you use some the information in the guide, but ultimately experiment with different technology on your own to see what works best for you.