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Top Back-to-School Apps
Posted On September 3, 2013
Many educators believe that classroom time and cellphone time are two independent entities and never the twain shall meet. They’re right in thinking that the most commonly used apps among students (we’re looking at you Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit) can be distracting in a classroom. But let’s not be too hasty.

Here are a few digital tools that might change the landscape for getting organized, whether you’re in school or in the office. Students and teachers could benefit from some of the apps we’ve assembled, whether for a last-minute life-saving file share or at-home searching for a critical reference made earlier that day. Note: We’ve provided links for applicable versions on Android and iOS because they’re the big players in the mobile field, but some of the more popular additions are available on PC, Mac, and occasionally, BlackBerry.

Notes: Note-taking apps are a dime a dozen in the app stores, but one of the best free note-taking apps for both Android and iOS is Evernote. After you create a free account, you can record text, picture, and audio notes. It’s organized and easily searchable, and you can access it from different devices as you move throughout the day. Users can jot down in-class brainstorms, reminders, or questions.

Mendeley: Mendeley, the reference manager extraordinaire, is a great boon for anyone who needs quick access to files they consult often, as well as the ability to annotate PDFs. Although Mendeley’s only official mobile app is on iOS, Android users are still in luck. There’s a collection of independent apps on the Google Play Store to provide mobile seekers with all the information in their Mendeley account on-the-go. Scholarley, one of the best of the independently created Android versions of Mendeley, has a login with a user’s Mendeley credentials and provides access to any papers saved and downloaded. Imagine that a student asks an in-depth question after class; instead of racking your brain for a paper and author name on the spot, you can pull up Scholarley and find the pertinent paper that would help this student in their research.

Passwords: The smart money on passwords these days is to make them long, and if you can stand it, to stay away from real words and try not to reuse them too often, if at all. So when you have eight or nine separate passwords that look as though they were made by playing a forehead sonata on your keyboard, you’ll need to remember the login info for your Blackboard account when you really need it. If you weren’t born with a perfect memory, password managers are the next best thing. 1Password on iOS and Android is generally accepted as the best at the moment, so long as you don’t mind the $7.99 price tag. Fair warning: You’ll have to remember a single master password to access everything else. And if that password is easy to get or you forget, that’s lights out for everything else. For a free alternative, see RoboForm.

Wolfram|Alpha: Besides being a really interesting case in the evolution of semantic keyword search, Wolfram|Alpha provides statistics and information about mathematics, science, and general knowledge from its massive, mind-boggling database. Available for both Android and Apple devices, it costs $2.99 to access the mobile version, even though the same features on the website are free. But if you need quick statistics on Nebraska’s unemployment rates in 2010 if you’re stuck on a long bus trip or if you need mercury’s freezing point if you’re doing field work, the mobile model may be worth a look.

File Storage: Dropbox for Android and iOS is a free way to make sure your documents/photos/videos are easily accessible from wherever you are. Upload a file on your computer and access it from your phone. It has a limit of 2GB with the free version, but if you’re just uploading papers and datasets, you’ll be able to get a fair amount of use from it without paying a higher rate. Google Drive is another option and integrates easily if you’re already a Gmail user. For reading those documents on your phone in something other than the default viewer, try Adobe Reader.

Time Management: Remember the Milk (RTM) for Android and iOS is helpful for more than just daily chores and reminders. Users can also take advantage of RTM’s features to set an alert for upcoming meetings, birthdays, or the due dates for papers. A reminder will pop up at a predetermined time, at which point the user can check the task off the list or postpone for another reminder. RTM also offers the ability to sync with the online version to back up your notes and reminders. The interface tries to mimic a series of flashcards that the user sorts through, and it works pretty intuitively, which is a bonus, considering the app is both useful, stylish, and free on both operating systems.

Voice Recorders: You don’t have to be Lois Lane to know the value of a good voice recorder. Whether you’re recording a lecture, practicing a speech, dictating notes to yourself, or transcribing an interview, you’ll need clear audio and an easy interface to play back your recordings. Of course, dedicated voice recorders are preferable if you need professional-grade quality, and come with a price tag. Easy Voice Recorder for Android is a great alternative, with a simple interface divided between current recording and a player that features previous recordings a finger tap away. On the iOS end, there’s Voice Record Pro, which provides the same features with an impressive retro interface. Both apps are free and allow the user to transfer files to a computer for further work.

Donovan Griffin is the editor of Information Today.

Email Donovan Griffin

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