These days, to get ahead at university -- and prepare for the rigors of the modern workplace -- students need more than a spiral-bound pad and sharpened pencil.Students and their families, especially those on a budget (and who isn't, these days?), need to think carefully about where to put their money to get the most out of higher education.
Computers have for a while been a necessity, not a luxury, for students wishing to succeed and be prepared for life after university. But the types available are bewildering. PC or Mac?Netbook or notebook? What about tablets?
Well, you can rule out desktops at least. Students lead nomadic lives, grabbing study time (like food) wherever and whenever they can --the library, cafe, friend's dorm room or on the bus -- so need the ability to bring their work with them.
While tablets seem idealfor taking written notes and reading class materials (if available in digital format), they probably serve better as complements to computers, not replacements. They lack power, often don't run standard productivity software and, obviously,don't have a keyboard. Using a standard notebook form factor will prepare students better for corporate life.
Netbooks are also verylight and portable, easy on the wallet andoperate like "real" computers, but they aren't very powerful either. They may be sufficient for students doing a lot of writing but not much else. Software requiring more computing power, like design or CAD, ITdevelopmentor analytical research, will be better off with a full-featured notebook.PCsand Macs can run the same software these days, so choosing between the two is a personal choice -- or a financial one, as Apple notebooksusually cost more than similarly-equipped PCs.
Smartphones are another tough decision. They can be enormously helpful as personal organizers: keeping track of important exam dates or essay deadlines, sending email to professors and classmates and offering the ability to go online while mobile. But they can be distracting as well, withgames, music, videos, social networks and the ability to go online while mobile (yes, that's both a pro and a con). I suggest them only for pragmatic students with self-discipline, but they aren't really necessary for easily distracted types or those on a tighter budget.
Digital audio recorders are handy little devices that can be used to record lectures; these recordings can complement notes (hand-written or otherwise), helping students retain lessons better. Of course, if you have a PC or smartphone with you in class, you can use those to record lecturestoo (with the right software or apps). Regulations about recording classes and lectures vary among universities, with some disallowing it, so make sure it's okay before you do it.
Ebooks are another consideration, as more textbooks are published in digital format. For liberal arts and literature students who read a lot of classical fiction, poetry and plays, there's already a wealth of available reading material (much of it free). Unfortunately,texts onmore esoteric, specialized or graphic fields like engineering, architecture and the sciences are harder to find. This is slowly changing, as academia is starting to realize the benefits of digital publishing.
In the end, nothing can replace the importance of studying and hard work inscoring good marks, but technology -- used pragmatically -- definitely can ease some educational hardships.
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