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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 September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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