By Andrzej Sienko
Ours’ is the first generation raised on the internet. Instead of writing love letters, we went on instant messenger. Hanging out outside? A casualty of Myspace. And libraries, to the chagrin of educators everywhere, have gone the way of Wikipedia. Yet many students still overlook the free and easy tools born out of this new digital age.
“It’s clear that industry and business are picking them up, students should too,” said Maurice Krochmal, Assistant Professor of Journalism, Media Studies, and Public Relations in Hofstra’s School of Communication. Krochmal teaches online journalism, and uses online tools extensively in his class. “If I have a problem to solve, I can usually find the software online that will help me solve it.”
The tools listed below are just the beginning. New sites open everyday with untested and sometimes revolutionary features. Getting to know them will not only help you now, but will also prepare you for a rapidly changing digital future. So put on your away message, and let’s get started…
Zoho– Think Microsoft Office, but online, and with more features. Zoho gives you the ability to work on documents and spreadsheets wherever you are, a useful tool for commuters. There is nothing worse than putting hours into an assignment only to realize its on your desktop at home, or worse, gone for good. As long as you have an internet connection, you can immediately continue or print your work.
Zoho also allows collaboration, or the editing of a document by more than one person at a time. Collaboration can change the way you do group projects, opening up new ways to work together from the comfort of home. This is not only convenient, but also efficient, because group members can review and use each other’s work without having to meet in person.
“Who wants to plunk down $150 on office software? You’re in college, after all, and I’m sure you can think of better uses for your cash” wrote Josh Catone, writer and web entrepreneur, in Web 2.0 Backpack Apps for Students on http://www.readwriteweb.com.
Facebook– Just mentioning this website is enough to send chills down a professor’s spine. How can Facebook, the scourge of every classroom with computers, be used for something productive? Firstly, it’s the perfect way to work and share information with your classmates by creating a Facebook group. Honestly, how many times are Blackboard message boards used by students? Since most of your peers are already on Facebook, it will be easy to share notes, find out about homework, or just get help.
Secondly, it can be used as the perfect networking tool. Many leaders in your field of study can be found on Facebook. If they accept your friend request, consider this person a “hot lead” who can offer advice, research, or even employment. The other side of the coin is that your profile should be professional. Unless you’re planning to work for Playboy or The Defense Department, there should be no compromising photos.
“Many students have Facebook accounts, but are shocked to learn that employers now are checking those profiles,” said Krochmal.
Free Website– Actually, it’s called Synthasite. Or Weebly. Or WordPress. Or even Blogger. Any of these will allow you to set up a free website in minutes, even with little or no experience. They may not offer all the bells and whistles a web designer can give you, but designers have to be paid. You can afford any of these sites, even after a trip to the bookstore.
Use Synthasite or Weebly to make a biography page. No, this page isn’t about your stamp collection. Instead, consider it your digital resume. Include a picture, your education, work experience, online profiles, and links to your content. It’s a good thing when potential employers or internships find your page.
WordPress and Blogger are simple to use blogging tools. Use these to showcase your work, ideas, experiences, achievements, or anything else that you are involved in. A popular, frequently-cited blog can make you an “expert” in your field. Also, don’t underestimate the usefulness of feedback from readers, both approving and critical.
“Your resumé gets you in the door, but your digital resumé really pulls them in,” said Steve Rubel, Hofstra alumnus and blogger, whose blog MicroPersuasion.com has more than 50,000 unique visitors a day.
Google Tools: If you think Google is just about searching, you’re missing out on a treasure-trove of features too numerous to list. And I’m not just talking about Image search, guys. Visit googleguide.com to learn how to use Google as a calculator, dictionary, unit converter, and anything else you may need during your class or internship.
The News feature will keep you update with the click of a mouse, while Maps not only gives directions but also shows traffic. Setup a Gmail account with your last name: it will look professional and help you organize emails. After setting up the account, customize an iGoogle page with personalized news, weather, and much more. So much more, in fact, that Google includes a More and Even More tab, each guaranteed to help you sometime during your college career.
“What most people don’t know… is just how many useful tools Google has out there than can make everything from tracking a package to creating and publishing webpages a breeze,” wrote Christina Laun in 57 Useful Google Tools You’ve Never Heard Of¸ a blog entry on http://www.collegeathome.com.
Jumpcut: So you need to make a video. Possibly edit it. Maybe even add a photo slideshow. Don’t withdraw from class just yet, there is hope for those inexperienced with video. Its called Jumpcut, a free site that lets you do all the above and more.
Video files can be uploaded and edited right on the site, without a degree from the film department. Add titles, effects, and photos to make any video presentation complete. Jumpcut will also email files from your phone, finally putting that built-in camera to good use.
The Jumpcut community is a great resource in itself. You can “grab” video, audio, and images from other users and then mix it with your own content, or create something entirely new. This is the perfect way to find that missing piece for your assignment or project. So when you hear the dreaded “v” word, you’ll be ready.