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10 Practical Gadgets for Students

10 Practical Gadgets for Students

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    Imagine a darker age when students had to use the archaic pen and the notebook — a tool some may remember as the descendant of the scroll before it was made obsolete — and had to use “cassettes” in a “tape player” to listen to music they actually paid for. While these times have passed, it was a difficult era in which to be a student.

    While things haven’t really changed to the point where pen and paper are considered obsolete tools (heck, I have an entire cardboard box devoted to notepads), things definitely have changed. If you look around a lecture hall now, you’re likely to see at least half the students tapping away on laptops (whether they’re taking notes or hanging out on Facebook is another story) or fiddling with a phone or PDA. Technology has become an integral part of getting the most out of education. To that end, here are ten gadgets we here at Lifehack thought were pretty cool and practical for students.

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    1. Acer Aspire One

    The Acer Aspire One is the functional netbook that recently demantled the EeePC as the top seller in its market. This laptop has a 1.6Ghz processor and can fit a maximum of 1.5Gb RAM. It’s certainly no video editor or gaming machine, but it is small and has a lasting battery. Since the thing has to sit on those tiny, all-too-knockable lecture hall desks and last for several classes at a time, this machine — and many like it — are excellent choices for students.

    2. Macbook Pro

    It would be silly to mention a netbook and leave out a more powerful laptop, especially when many students are working areas that require some considerable grunt — multimedia and graphics, video, and audio might demand something like the Macbook Pro. This is a variable depending on your university or college, but from what I’ve seen most institutions dealing with these areas are running OS X and that makes the Macbook Pro a great choice. It’s got the grunt, it’s portable enough without making big sacrifices, and most importantly, it will be compatible with anything a Mac-based department throws at you. Also, solid aluminum enclosures look awesome.

    3. Fujifilm FinePix S1000

    Cameras are inherently useful. Take images of whiteboards and anything else you might want to remember later. For instance, in an audio engineering class, I took 30 or 40 pictures of various recommended microphone setups as they were demonstrated, and still have them for reference should I ever forget how an upright piano or trombone is done. The Fujifilm FinePix S1000 is a good choice because it’s a fairly affordable device, and can still capture the quality you’ll want for solid reference later on at 10 megapixels and 12x optical zoom.

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    4. iPhone

    I had to grapple with this one a little. It might seem like trend-following, and I didn’t want to be too biased to Apple — but after almost ten years using Windows Mobile, I couldn’t recommend it to anyone and still feel good in the morning. The iPhone is an excellent phone and PDA and comes in handy when you’d least expect it, especially once it’s fitted with the right apps. I’ve got task lists, notes from conversations, a library’s worth of good sci-fi books, even a piano, WordPress and a guitar tuner on the thing. Excellent for capturing the many bits of information you’ll need to capture throughout each day without lugging out a laptop. Oh, and it has Facebook too, if you’re so inclined.

    5. Alarm Clock

    You will sleep through an exam one day, or at least sleep through the bus that takes you there. It won’t be a fun day. Make sure you’ve got an alarm clock before you learn your lesson the hard way. Since bacon is so great, I recommend this alarm clock, but as it’s not on the market you might just want to go shopping and see which one at Kmart is the loudest.

    6. C-Pen

    The C-Pen book scanner is a great investment, both of money and time. It’s a great investment of your time because, since you’ll be reading your course books anyway, it takes no extra effort to use the pen scanner at the same time. Then when you need to get a quote from the book twenty minutes before the paper is due, you can search the text on your computer instead of wasting time looking manually, and simply copy and paste the quote. You’ll also have digital copies of your texts for years to come.

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    7. MP3 Player with Voice Recorder

    If you get a bad cramp trying to take notes as fast as your instructors speak, stop grimacing and get one of these devices. An MP3 player with a built-in voice recorder will allow you to sit back, record the lecture and focus on listening instead of keeping up, with the added bonus of providing musical entertainment when you’re not in a lecture. The Creative Zen Mosaic is an affordable option.

    8. Flash Drive

    Flash drives don’t provide a whole lot of space, but they are useful in a pinch. You never know when you’ll need to whip one out and grab something from a friend’s laptop. You can also load a flash drive up with portable apps so you have access to Firefox, OpenOffice and other handy tools no matter where you are. And while you’re at it, there’s no harm in going for one of the smallest flash drives available just for fun — but don’t lose it!

    9. Multifunction Printer

    Despite the rapid changes in the way technology is used on-campus, sometimes you still need to hand in an assignment on paper. Chances are, that’ll be the day when the library printer is broken. Don’t risk anything and make sure you have a multifunction printer at home. Since the price of multifunctions has dropped so low, you may as well grab one instead of a somewhat cheaper single-purpose printer, since a scanner and (decreasingly) fax machine can often come in handy as well. HP makes some good devices that don’t cost much.

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    10. LaCie Rugged Hard Disk

    Flash drives are useful, but as I said, they don’t offer much in the way of space. I always like to take a good external hard drive with me; just as much as you might need to grab a large file while you’re out, one of your own might come in just as handy for someone else. Furthermore, if you don’t have some sort of drive to back up your assignments on to, you’re asking for serious trouble. The LaCie Rugged Hard Disk isn’t very expensive and allows you considerable space and maximum safety. Try dropping this thing and see what happens.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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