THIS one is for Students

David Parry bio photo By David Parry

Earlier I listed my top ten apps, that I use for academic purposes. Somehow this got taken as top ten applications for students. Actually that post was MY top ten list, not a universal top ten, or what I would recommend for everyone.

So. . .

Here is what I would recommend as applications for students (especially undergrads) and just to appease everyone, I will try and do this with reference to Mac and PC. (I am going to keep the Humanities bias though, as that is what I know best.)

And to make things even snappier, I am going to recommend apps that would fit onto a flash drive. Why? This would give students a set of apps they could use, without having to buy their own computer. This would allow students to run programs off public computers.

Every student needs a word processor to start. Go with AbiWord. Why? It is small, free and will get the job done. If you have room (don’t need to fit this on a flash drive) go with Neo Office, and/or Open Office. (There is also a portable openoffice.) Unless you can get it for free no reason to get MSWord, for several reasons: 1. Almost all community computers will have this available to students to use. 2. It is not small enough to be portable. 3. It is a large clunky program that has far more features than you will probably need. 4. It is expensive.

Almost as important for students is a web browser (Maybe even more important.) Here there are many choices but go with firefox. Why? First you need a browser with tabs. Firefox does this as well as any of them. Firefox is small, open source, fast, and free. You can also extend, and add plug-ins to firefox for your specific needs. I carry a copy of firefox on my flashdrive so I always have a good browser (this is super handy for those moments when you end up on a computer with restricted access and only internet explorer.)

A way to handle email: Thunderbird. Most students will have email access provided by the university, web mail access probably. This is woefully inefficent, and doesn’t keep addresses. To be successful in the future most jobs will require that students be able to navigate, and process large quantities of email. Getting students to use a mail application is the first step in this. While you are at it, get yourself a gmail account, that way you can keep your address after you leave school.

The astute reader will notice that basically I have just copied the apps that belong to the Portable Apps Suite. Well. . .why reinvent the wheel? and these apps are free, work, and are small. I think there are probably better ways to do most of this, with other apps, but those cost money, and the advantage gained is not worth it. (Until you get in a position like grad. school where you need something with more umpf.)
A way to take notes:
Many people recommend Freemind this is a mind mapping program written for most platforms, and its free. I personally don’t use a mindmapping program for notetaking, so I don’t have advice on how to use this, but maybe in the future someone will want to give a write-up on how they use this.
I am going to cheat here a bit, and suggest a program that only exists for the Mac, Voodoopad. You can get the Lite version for free. This allows you to write and take notes in your own personal wiki format. I don’t know the PC version, if someone does maybe they can recommend it below.

A way to stay organized:
One of the largest problems I have seen with students transitioning to college is learning how to plan and organize their week/semester. Get an account over at Google Calendar. Now start writing everything down. (You could also use Sunbird if you don’t want to use the web.)

A way to process all of the information on the web:
Making predicitions about the future of information processing is a bit risky, but for now it seems like RSS will be crucial. Right now second to email, I think learning to explore, organize and sort all of the information on the web is probably the key skill we can teach students. Get an RSS reader and start using it to process all of the information out there, stay tuned to blogs that interest you, learn a word a day, or heck . . .whatever. I use NetNewsWire, but RSS Owl should work for most purposes, and it is free, and available across most platforms.

This should provide you with 80% of what you need as a student. (Like I said above there are probably several tools that are discipline specific that would help depending on your circumstances).
This cost should be minimal-the price of a good flash drive-and with access to public computers fulfill most of your basic college computing needs. Unless of course you are in graphic design or CS in which case you need a host of other apps.