It’s getting to that time again, folks.
You know the one. No, not Christmas (but you’re panicking a little about that now aren’t you? Just a little over 3 months, people.) I, as the title above may hint at, am of course referring to Back to School.
I’ve been distance learning for 2 years now, and I’m still set for another 5 years going forward so it’s important for me to find things that will make my life just that little bit easier. I’m not breaking any great strides and these are, as described, very basic but I feel like not all of them are brought to the attention of distance learning students as potential resources – at least, I know they weren’t for me – and they really helped me this year.
1. Microsoft Office
Crazy as it sounds, I didn’t have this already on my computer before because 1) I hadn’t had an at-home use for it and b) it is crazy stupid expensive. I mean, £79.99 a year? Um, thanks but no thanks. There is of course the online free version that only requires you register for a Microsoft account, but its capabilities are limited. Because of this I took to eBay, where I purchased the full Microsoft Office Professional 2013 suite for £3.49 for unlimited use – they have so many different tiers and levels on there and I know it sounds dodgy (if my boyfriend hadn’t have done it himself earlier that year, I’d have balked at the very notion) it’s perfectly financially safe, especially because of the eBay money back guarantee, and frankly, compared to the alternative costs was a no brainer for me.
No, I am not a spokesperson for Microsoft. This online storage is free (up to 5GB which is actually a lot of documents, I still haven’t filled it) and works well with any browser I’ve used and you can easily download a desktop and phone app to integrate it with your other data storage and access it and (theoretically) work from anywhere with an internet connection.
I really aren’t a spokesperson for Microsoft I swear. But what can I say? They know their stuff. Again, online and app versions are free, accessible from any device and just great for taking any kinds of notes. You can type normally and write and draw free hand (especially useful if you’re using a tablet computer). You can also use a number of really useful tags to organise your notes including, ‘to-do’, ‘question’, ‘important’, ‘idea’ ‘website to visit’ and (my favourite) ‘remember for blog’. Other great apps I’ve heard are Notability and Evernote but I personally find it hard when all my notes are in different places, so I like to use just OneNote.
This is a great website to help you present your work in a new and interesting way, the only catch is that you need a ‘school’ email address to do it. I managed to use my old sixth form one (because my school still hasn’t shut it down) but if you can’t do it that way then contacting Prezi and explaining who you are a student with would be a way around it.
This is a more recent discovery as before I was using the perfectly reliable Neil’s Toolbox. This one is great because it gets all the relevant information from the page for you, rather than having to input it into text fields.
I will say with all citing applications though, is that it is hard to find them all consistently the same, so if your school has a specific citation preference you should check them against that first. I have been told that Neil’s ‘Harvard’ style isn’t quite right, though acceptable enough for the course I was on. This is why I ‘upgraded’ so to speak, to this plugin which is both free and so easy to use. (Kind of goes without saying that you need Google Chrome Browser to have it though, right?)
6. Google Keep
So, I can’t believe I didn’t mention this one earlier because I have probably been using it the longest but this app is great. You can access it in browser and on your phone and its main purpose is note taking, but unlike your generic memo apps it also lets you set reminders with those notes, colour code, add check-boxes and, if you upload notes/info in an image you can easily convert it to text (which is way more useful than you might imagine).
Okay, so hear me out – as great as Pinterest is for finding recipes of amazing food and DIY how to’s it is a really great central place to store online links. I created ‘secret boards’ on Pinterest, titled with an assignment or research project/topic, and use the Chrome Pinterest Plugin to pin research for that particular topic or assignment there. Then, when I’m writing I have something a bit nicer to look at and browse than a list of links.
As I promised, very basic but they made a world of difference for me this year. If you are a distance learning student however, it is very important to become familiar with the technology and sites your school uses, and more importantly utilise them.
My school, for example, also uses Padlet and Blackboard for group contributions as well as its many forums on their VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) and extensive e-library. These apps/resources are all very specific to my school but every school has some version of them. These are all fairly good apps but, useless unless they are backed, funded and used by the school as well.
Hopefully this was at least a little helpful to some of you!