I love web apps. Moreover, I think that the reasons I love them make them particularly useful and appropriate for college students. I love them because the ones I recommend below are (1) free, (2) online, (3) help with productivity, and (4) have apps that work with them.
I think the first reason is fairly straightforward. Both faculty and students like free things. Now some of these apps have premium versions that cost or the ad-free app costs some fee. But, for the most part these apps and their main resources are free. I have yet to have a student who is independently wealthy; at least not that they will admit to me. So a free app is the sweetest app of all (listen to this story to learn where I got this [para-]phrase).
Second, these apps are online. Online has its advantages. Online means these apps are available to you wherever you have Internet (pretty freakin’ ubiquitous these days). Additionally, most of the associated apps work offline too, so you even have access to your data offline. And given that they’re online, your data security (and backing up) is someone else’s concern.
Third, these apps are major boosts to productivity. They are go-to resources that quickly become indispensable. There is rarely a day when I don’t make use of each of these. Many are simple…but that is their genius. As M.A.S.H.’s Charles Winchester said: “I do one thing at a time, I do it very well, and then I move on.” So far, most of these haven’t become bloated with unnecessary add-ons and they make getting my job done easier and simpler.
Finally, many of these web applications have mobile apps that work with them allowing you to take their productivity with you. All have some iOS app or other such add-on. I’m not sure about android or Linux for all of these, but I know many do exist. Like the ‘online’ advantage, the fact that these resources have apps that can run on your favorite mobile device makes them that much more useful.
So what are my “must have” web apps? Here they are:
Dropbox My first go-to app is Dropbox. Dropbox is a cloud-based storage system. When you sign up, you’re allocated a set amount of space to store files online. There are also desktop and mobile apps you can download and install. You can access your online storage via a web browser. The apps keep copies of your files synced on your desktop and mobile devices. If I’m about to leave work and have a file on my work computer that I want to work with at home, I simply drop it in my desktop Dropbox folder. It syncs automatically and when I get home I can pull it up on my netbook or iPad. Any changes I make to it get synced back up to the cloud. I can also access my files from any browser anywhere, and even undelete files I removed from my Dropbox. This last feature has saved me several times. Whenever I have important files I’m working with (e.g. manuscripts I’m writing, lecture notes, etc.) I put them in Dropbox for safe-keeping. Additionally, many apps are built to work with Dropbox. For example, the app I use to mark student assignments and read PDFs, iAnnotate, can directly access my Dropbox account. Finally, you can share folders with colleagues so if you are working on a project with others, you can all have access to the same folder of files.
Google Docs & Google Drive GMail, Google Calendar, etc. All things Google! While I don’t use Google docs all the time, nor do I use my Google drive to store lots of things, the Google suite of applications is infinitely useful…especially if you are collaborating with others. It’s also useful if you choose not to use the Microsoft Office suite. In a pinch, you can use the Google suite to replace any of the normal desktop applications; Gmail and Google Calendar in place of Outlook, Google docs in place of Word and Excel. There are loads of other applications you can “connect” to your Google Drive as well. And while I would probably recommend having Open Office (or something like it) on one’s machine if you didn’t have the Microsoft Office suite, the Google suite of applications is a great online alternative.
Feedly I really should write a complete and full post on RSS feeds and their usefulness. Suffice it to say here (briefly) I use RSS feeds to keep me up to date with publications in my field and news items, blog posts, and current events. Feedly is an RSS feed reader that aggregates all my feeds into one place. Instead of having to visit the American Journal of Physical Anthropology‘s webpage each month to see what’s new, Feedly automatically lets me know when something has been added. I’m amazed how many times someone mentions something to me and I had already read about it in my Feedly feeds.
Toodledo To do lists are important and Toodledo allows you to access your to do list anywhere. You can create items that repeat on a regular basis, like each week or each month. You can also create categories for your items to organize your to do lists by project or course. You can set priority levels (from low to high) for your items. Toodledo allows you to export your to do list and also import new items. Toodledo helps me plan out the various steps of the projects I’m working on and while I don’t always get everything done that I want to, I get the important things done and done on time (and I know which things I’m not getting done and can reschedule them for later).
WordPress I’m just getting to know WordPress, but I’m already impressed with its ability to help create a very professional webpage and blog. I created the main pages and look of this website in about a day and half of moderately intensive work. It takes a bit of getting used to and I probably could have saved myself a bunch of time if I had watched the tutorial I downloaded instead of just blundering around. But what they heck, I rarely read the manual anyway! An iOS app gives me the capability to post on the fly. And I set up an IFTTT recipe to save a draft blog post to my WordPress account whenever I save something for later reading in Feedly so I can easily post on anything in my RSS Feeds that I want to.
Zotero I’ve written about Zotero elsewhere…so see this post.