6 Great Apps For College Students (Guest Post)

Great apps for college students

Great apps for college students

Mobile devices like smart phones and tablets have become thoroughly integrated into the educational community. Whether or not professors use these devices, a growing number of college students have access to them. In the eyes of many, such devices are little more than distractions for students – but, on the other hand, their utility cannot be denied, and they’re not going anywhere! Here are 6 apps that can be particularly helpful for college students.

1. iStudiez Pro Think of this app as a student planner for a new generation. iStudiez Pro allows you to input everything about your academic schedule – classes, class locations, homework, deadlines, etc. You can check into the app to keep track of your week, and receive automatic updates when deadlines are approaching. The app also allows for coordination with extracurricular events, helping you to keep your whole college life in order.

2. Evernote This is a great note-taking app that can sync across all of your devices for easy access. With Evernote, you can take notes, take pictures of whiteboards and lecture photos, and even record voice reminders and notes to listen to later. It may be an adjustment at first, but you may find it’s an easy and convenient way to take notes and keep track of lectures.

3. ShareFile ShareFile is an advanced file sharing and cloud computing service used frequently in business environments. However, the services available in this app are becoming increasingly useful for students, as more and more of the college experience occurs online. Use this app to send and receive communications efficiently and securely, and take advantage of the cloud computing for incredibly convenient data storage. With access to a cloud network, students can store work online instead of on devices, meaning it’s accessible from any device that can access the Internet – a very convenient perk on a college campus.

4. Amazon Student E-books are becoming quite popular for students, as they often amount to cheaper alternatives to big, expensive textbooks. These electronic books can be purchased through various providers, from Barnes and Noble online, to Amazon, to the iBooks library. However, Amazon Student offers students another way of making textbooks more affordable – it allows you to scan barcodes of textbooks, and then performs a search to find those books wherever they’re cheapest. Additionally, you can use the app to sell back used textbooks to Amazon in exchange for gift cards!

5. IFormulas This is a pretty straightforward app, but for students toiling away in math and science courses, it’s pretty handy. Basically, it provides an incredible library of over 380 mathematical formulas that can be useful for various classes and applications. Of course, you don’t want to get caught using this app during a quiz or exam in class – but as a handy reminder, or even study tool, on your own time, it can be quite useful.

6. iTunes U This is a pretty revolutionary app that allows you to access and download legitimate course material from top colleges all over the world. Depending on your specific need or area of study, selection can be limited, but the app can also be a phenomenal reference tool. Of course, the notes from your own courses should be your priority, but if you’re looking for extra research, clarification of material, or even support for a paper or project, iTunes U might be worth looking into.


Want to improve your grades?   Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

Thinking outside the box on education: 4 great books with a fresh new perspective

Some of the books with the most original, thought-provoking ideas about education these days aren’t even on education. They’re on subjects such as sociology, psychology, technology, and self-help, among others, but they challenge what’s going on in schools today. Here are some books that don’t fall into the category of education, but which have a lot to say about the way we learn.

1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain (Crown, 2012). This book is ammunition against a school system that increasingly views classroom education as an endless stream of group projects. While it’s important for kids to learn teamwork, all too often we forget the importance of solitude, concentration, and deep thought in the learning process. I know that when I was in school, I did my best work alone. As Ms. Cain writes:

What’s so magical about solitude? In many fields, Ericsson told me, it’s only when you’re alone that you can engage in Deliberate Practice, which he has identified as the key to exceptional achievement. When you practice deliberately, you identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly. Practice sessions that fall short of this standard are not only useful – they’re counterproductive. They reinforce existing cognitive mechanisms instead of improving them. Deliberate Practice is best conducted alone for several reasons. It takes intense concentration, and other people can be distracting. It requires deep motivation, often self-generated. But most important, it involves working on the task that’s most challenging to you personally. Only when you’re alone, Ericsson told me, can you “go directly to the part that’s challenging to you. If you want to improve what you’re doing, you have to be the one who generates the move. Imagine a group class – you’re the one generating the move only a small percentage of the time.” [page 81]

Another book about deliberate practice is Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, by Geoff Colvin (Portfolio Trade, 2010).

2. The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30), by Mark Bauerlein. (New York: Penguin/Tarcher, 2008). The title says it all. Technology may be causing untold damage to the brains of young people. I’ve written two articles about avoiding the pitfalls of technology in education (see my piece in USA Today and the follow-up post on my blog). In this passage, Mr. Bauerlein paints a disturbing picture of this country’s rising generation of scholars:

Most young Americans possess little of the knowledge that makes for an informed citizen, and too few of them master the skills needed to negotiate an information-heavy, communication-based society and economy. Furthermore, they avoid the resources and media that might enlighten them and boost their talents. An anti-intellectual outlook prevails in their leisure lives, squashing the lessons of school, and instead of producing a knowledgeable and querulous young mind, the youth culture of American society yields an adolescent consumer enmeshed in juvenile matters and secluded from adult realities. [page 16]

There’s a book on a similar topic, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr (W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), which I hope to read soon.

3. Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008). In addition to talking about the 10,000 hour rule (the theory that it takes at least 10,000 hours of practice for someone to become an expert in something), Mr. Gladwell also discusses why Asian students often outperform their American peers, especially in science and math:

We should be able to predict which countries are best at math simply by looking at which national cultures place the highest emphasis on effort and hard work. So, which places are at the top of both lists? The answer shouldn’t surprise you: Singapore, South Korea, China (Taiwan), Hong Kong, and Japan. What those five have in common, of course, is that they are all cultures shaped by the tradition of wet-rice agriculture and meaningful work. They are the kinds of places where, for hundreds of years, penniless peasants, slaving away at the rice paddies three thousand hours a year, said things to one another like “No one who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year fails to make his family rich.” [pages 247-49]

4. The 4-Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss (Crown Archetype, 2009). This one may be a bit of a surprise. Am I suggesting that you can get great grades by working four hours a week? Not at all. Nor am I encouraging you to outsource your schoolwork to India. But Mr. Ferriss does present some useful advice on how to work more efficiently and effectively, whether you’re a student or an entrepreneur. Here’s an example:

Parkinson’s Law dictates that a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion. It is the magic of the imminent deadline. If I give you 24 hours to complete a project, the time pressure forces you to focus on execution, and you have no choice but to do only the bare essentials. If I give you a week to complete the same task, it’s six days of making a mountain out of a molehill. . . . The end product of the shorter deadline is almost inevitably of equal or higher quality due to greater focus. . . . . There are two synergistic approaches for increasing productivity that are inversions of each other:

  1. Limit tasks to the important to shorten work time (80/20).
  2. Shorten work time to limit tasks to the important (Parkinson’s Law). [page 75]

What are some of your book recommendations?


Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

The Benefits of Going Low-Tech in College

Low-tech tools

USA Today‘s College Blog just posted my article on the benefits of going low-tech in college!  In it, I explain why ditching your laptop may be good for your GPA.  There were a bunch of things I didn’t get to include in the article, though, so here’s some more advice about how to avoid the pitfalls of technology in the classroom.

      1. How to use slides.In my article, I caution against relying too much on the professor’s PowerPoint presentations, which are now commonly posted online.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them at all – they can make taking notes easier and faster, if you use them the right way.  Here’s one way to do it:
        • If the slides are posted before class, print them out and number each one.  Bring the print-outs and a notebook to class.  Write today’s date on your slides and in your notebook.
        • Take notes directly on the slide printouts as they are covered in class.  Flesh out the slide’s outlines with details and examples provided by the professor.
        • If you run out of space on a slide printout, write that slide’s number in your notebook and continue taking notes there.  That way, when you’re reviewing, you can easily match up the slide with the relevant section in your notebook.
        • If the slides are posted after class, take notes as you normally would and use the slides as a supplement.

The benefits of paper

    1. When in doubt, print it out. Many professors have joined the environmental movement by posting syllabi and assignments online instead of printing them out.  This is all well and good for Mother Earth, but it may not be the best thing for your GPA.  If you don’t print out important documents, there’s a much greater chance that you will overlook some key detail.  I observed this numerous times in my paper-free classes.  For example, when essay assignments were posted online, many of my classmates were unaware of essentials such as the due-date and topic.  During finals, they often lost points because they hadn’t noticed certain required readings on the online syllabus.  During meetings for group projects, I was often the only one who could clarify the requirements because I had the assignment right there in front of me.  Printing out documents saves you from having to turn on your computer and navigate to your course’s web page every time you want to check something. If your conscience nags you about killing trees, remind it that you can recycle the paper when the term is over.
    2. Books aren’t dead yet. Dr. Jakob Nielsen, a web usability expert, has some alarming things to say about how technology affects reading comprehension.  “The online medium lends itself to a more superficial processing of information,” he says. “You’re just surfing the information. It’s not a deep learning.” Although reading speeds on electronic devices have improved, they’re still not as good as reading on paper: in Mr. Nielsen’s study, the iPad measured at 6.2% lower reading speed than the printed book, whereas the Kindle measured at 10.7% slower than print. And if you’re even thinking about doing serious reading on your iPhone, I have one word for you: don’t. Reading comprehension scores are 48% of the desktop level when using the iPhone-sized screen. That is, it’s twice as hard to understand complex content when reading on an iPhone versus on a full-sized computer screen.
    3. Be more independent. Lastly, this week’s Time magazine provides more evidence that we’re becoming overly dependent on technology and losing our ability to contextualize information. According to Annie Murphy Paul in the article “Your Head Is in the Cloud”

      Research conducted by Betsy Sparrow, an assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University, and published last year in the journal Science has identified three new realities about how we process information in the Internet age. First, her experiments showed that when we don’t know the answer to a question, we now think about where we can find the nearest Web connection instead of the subject of the question itself. . . . A second revelation: when we expect to be able to find information again later on, we don’t remember it as well as when we think it might become unavailable. . . . The researchers’ final observation: the expectation that we’ll be able to locate information down the line leads us to form a memory not of the fact itself but of where we’ll be able to find it.”

      Scary stuff. You can’t have an intelligent conversation if you have to look something up on your computer every 20 seconds. We must use technology with restraint, both in school and in our post-graduate lives.


Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

Education Update

1) There’s an interesting article about the 10 most educated countries in the world. The U.S. did better than I expected. China isn’t on this list, which is evidently a sign that even though privileged Chinese students have been beating American students in science and math, the country as a whole has a long way to go.

Here are the top 10, with postsecondary education rates:
1. Canada
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 50%

2. Israel
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 45%

3. Japan
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 44%

4. United States
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 41%

5. New Zealand
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 40%

6. South Korea
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 39%

7. Norway
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 37%

8. United Kingdom
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 37%

9. Australia
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 37%

10. Finland
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 37%

2) Technology in the classroom.
There’s a good infographic about how professors are using social media:
Key stat: 80% of faculty use social media for some aspect of a course they are teaching.
Reading professors like an open facebook, or how teachers use social media
Courtesy of: Schools.com
And here’s an infographic on how 100% of colleges and universities are using it:
Pros and Cons of Social Media in Education

On a related note, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski have been promoting digital textbooks. I’m not about to join the debate on this divisive issue, but here are some thought-provoking articles:
The Promise of Education Technology (It’s Not Just About Lighter Backpacks), by Joel Klein
Who really benefits from putting high-tech gadgets in classrooms?, by Michael Hiltzik


Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

Want to increase the number of students in STEM? Try grade inflation

There’s been a lot of talk these days about how to get more students to study STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) in college. Of course, one of the problems is that the math/science education provided in many high schools is inadequate. But there are also lots of students with exceptional educational backgrounds who decide they just can’t hack it in STEM. See the article “Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard),” by Christopher Drew in The New York Times, from November 4, 2011.

Here’s my half-serious suggestion: use grade inflation. Elite students are used to getting straight-As and stellar SAT scores. Throw them into an environment where they’re suddenly getting Bs and Cs, and of course they’re going to freak out. The humanities have endured grade inflation and survived. Many teachers now use A+s to signal extraordinary achievement. Honestly, I don’t care if you raise grades in STEM or lower grades in the humanities, but there should be some kind of standardization. Why should STEM courses have completely different grading criteria? Teachers can do whatever they want; there’s almost no regulation. If an engineering student is struggling just to get a C and sees his roommate earning an easy A in anthropology, he’s not going to be happy.

Top universities also need to offer more practical STEM courses, not just theoretical. Students who can’t or don’t want to join academia are given short shrift. I had to take a continuing education web design course at NYU one summer because there was nothing like that offered at Columbia. The requirements for STEM majors should also be less restrictive. As a Computer Science major at Columbia, I couldn’t take a lot of CS courses that interested me because they didn’t fulfill the requirements for my concentration, and I didn’t have the time or money to pursue them. Instead I had to take a bunch of required theory courses that I detested and never got any use out of.

As a side note, Sesame Street is also getting in on the math/science craze. I’ll be interested to check back in 15 years and see if it made a difference.

I selected this post to be featured on www.educationblogs.net. Please visit the site and vote for my blog!

Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

More on STEM

I like this information sheet from onlineengineeringdegree.com.  As a former Computer Science student, I have some major unresolved issues with STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) courses.  I found that my program catered to people who already had a strong foundation in technology – i.e., not me.  Most of the professors were unfriendly or at least uncaring about how the undergraduates in their class were doing.  I had one professor who said that he wanted 10% of the class to drop out by the end of the semester – to this day, I don’t know if he was joking (and if he was joking, it wasn’t very funny).  The CS program I was in trained people for academic jobs and very advanced commercial jobs, but I felt completely unprepared for regular technical job interviews.  I also didn’t like that some STEM classes were graded so much harder than others – in some classes the average was a B or even a C – and so really don’t look good on your transcript.  In one class the average midterm grade was in the 40s, and we didn’t know how it was going to be curved till we got our report cards – scary!  I think part of the problem is that I am naturally a liberal arts person and not a math/science person, but STEM classes in general are not very welcoming.
STEM Shortage
Created by: Online Engineering Degree


Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

Are we raising a generation of Philistines?

That’s what I thought when I studied computer science. My classmates had trouble understanding basic written instructions. They were outraged when they had to read articles that were more than 10 years old. Most of them looked down their noses at liberal arts majors. Half of my professors didn’t know the difference between “it’s” and “its.” You would think they could at least have done a spell check.

According to Alexander Astin in What Matters in College, engineering majors actually suffer a decline in things like writing ability, cultural awareness, and political participation. I know that STEM classes are becoming privileged in this society, but I fear a world dominated by technocrats.


Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

Liberal Arts Easier?

The Wall Street Journal published the article “Students Pick Easier Majors Despite Less Pay,” by Joe Light and Rachel Emma Silverman, on 11/9/11.  A few comments.  I dislike the use of the word “easier” – I know lots of people who find science and technology easier than the liberal arts.  They’d much rather code than write a history paper or read a book.  It’s just more natural for them.  I also disagree with the statement that “introductory courses [in science and technology] are often difficult and abstract.”  In my experience, the introductory courses are the easiest, and the advanced courses are killer.  But maybe that’s just the program I went to.  As for math/science/tech classes taking more time, well, I probably studied more as a history major than as a CS major, because I had hundreds of pages of reading to do every week.  Maybe there are some liberal arts majors that take less time, but history is not one of them.  I know that lots of students are being pushed to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, but we shouldn’t forget that the humanities are important – and challenging – too!


Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!