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Using the Cloud to be a Better Student

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

My students regularly ask, "What’s the Cloud?" And I never have a really good answer for them. "It’s saving and doing stuff online," seems completely inadequate, while launching into a detailed explanation of any one or two Cloud-based services or tools doesn’t seem to cover it either. I generally end up describing a few resources that I think would be useful to that particular student. This usually seems to satisfy their curiosity, but still leaves me feeling like I have done them a disservice because the Cloud is far more than a description of any one or two of its’ pieces can do justice to. The Cloud is actually an umbrella concept covering any service or tool that is housed on the Internet so you don’t have to install an application on your local computer to use it. This makes "cloud computing" or files saved in the Cloud accessible from any machine, anywhere (Campus Technology).  In keeping with that idea, here are some of the things that you can find in the Cloud that will help you in your quest for success in higher education.

Textbooks
Whether you are looking for a textbook for a particular class, have a personal interest in a subject, or are brushing up on information for the SAT, GRE, MCAT, or LSAT, there are thousands of free, high quality textbooks available online. Start with these sites for books from all fields, from literature through astrophysics.

Math/Science/Grammar
Maybe you have a big science or math test coming up and need to do some catching up on your calculus. Perhaps that English prof you have for the advanced writing class is a real bull about all the grammar you have forgotten since high school. There are resources on the Web that can help you brush up on the basics of almost any subject that you might need in college, and many of them are fun and interactive. Here are just a few to get you started:

  • Calcoolate: Web based online scientific calculator with unit conversion and financial currency conversion functionality. It automatically displays the history of previous calculation results.
  • Science books online:  Lists free science e-books, textbooks, lecture notes, monographs, and other science related documents. All texts are available for free reading online or for downloading in various formats.
  • Khan Academy: Khan Academy has instructional videos and interactive practice for many subjects, but what it does best is mathematics. Need to learn differential equations? It’s on Khan Academy with interactive practice exercises to make sure you master the concepts you study.
  • Maths Online: This site contains a  list of free, online math-related tools for things like conversions and calculators.
  • Online Science Tools: A science-focused site similar to Maths Online, this one contains links to online science tools like an equilibrium calculator.
  • Grammarly: For the grammatically challenged, Grammarly and GrammarCheck.net provide online tools to check the grammar and syntax of your writing before you turn in that big paper.
  • Dictionary.com: If you forgot to bring your dictionary or thesaurus along to study at the local coffee shop, you can access them online at this site.
  • In addition to these, the Online Degree Programs website contains a list of 50 Really Cool Science Tools if you didn’t find what you need above.

Study Aids
If you have a big test on the horizon and you’re having trouble focusing on the material to study, look to some of these online study aids to help motivate you and make the process much easier.

  • Quizlet: This handy little Cloud-based resource lets you create flashcards to study languages, vocabulary, or just about anything else you might need to learn in a hurry.
  • StudyStack: Not only does this site let you create your own flashcards, but it also houses an archive of other people’s already made sets that you can access for your own cramming needs.
  • MakeUseOf.com’s 3 Great Online Tools: Three fun tools that allow you to make flashcards, mind maps and cheat sheets (the latter is in no-way endorsed by this educator!)
  • Flash Card Machine:  This Web application enables users to easily create interactive web-based flash cards and share them with others.
  • Mynoteit: An online note taking tool for students. It allows you to take and store your notes online. You can even edit and revise notes with peers.

Document Creation, Storage and Collaboration
Every college student needs to create documents, store them somewhere, and possibly even collaborate with peers from time to time on them. These tools allow you to do all of the above.

  • iCloud: Working on a Mac or iPad? iCloud will allow you to store files in the Cloud and access them through any device that synchs up with the iCloud service.
  • Windows Live Mesh: For the disciples of Gates, Windows Live Mesh installs on a PC and integrates with Office programs to provide seamless backup and storage of documents.
  • Google Docs: This one from Google not only provides free online storage but also has tools to create documents and the ability to share them easily with others for collaborative editing.
  • GigaOm.com’s 10 Collaboration Tools: If you need to collaborate on a project with your classmates, you are sure to be able to find a tool on this list that will let you share your work smoothly and efficiently.
  • Slideserve: Enables you to easily upload and share PowerPoint presentations either publicly or privately with others. You can even email the presentations to friends and embed them on social networking sites and blogs.
  • Docshare:  This social document sharing community allows you to easily find, upload and share documents. You can download, print, and embed the documents as well.

Self-Improvement/Self-Help
We’ve all had times of personal reflection and revelation during our college years. That’s part of the process. But if you’re feeling low and need a helping hand these resources will help with everything from slow typing to depression.

  • PowerTyping:  A free web-based typing tutor. It also provides free typing lessons, games, and exercises to practice.
  • 43 Things: This community-oriented site lets you set, track, and share your personal goals. Think of it as an online support network.
  • ToolsToLIfe: Need some life coaching? This community self-help site can aid you in overcoming obstacles in your life and provides a supportive online community too.
  • PeopleJam: This self-help site provides information about products and services that can help you help yourself.
  • MSU Counseling Center: For those not interested in sharing their personal foibles with online strangers, the Michigan State University Counseling Center provides an excellent list of resources to help with dealing with the most common problems that college students encounter.

Career Networking
Last, but certainly not least, as you near graduation you will want to begin looking for employment. This can be very challenging in a tough economy, but these tools will help you establish a network before it’s too late and get your resume in front of some employers when the time comes. In addition to working with your on-campus career counselor, check out all of these sites and create engaging profiles on each to highlight your strengths. The more you network and get your name out there, the more luck you will have finding a job.

Get Your Head in the Cloud(s)
The Cloud can be a valuable resource for anyone, but particularly for college students who are struggling to make their way in higher education. Many of the services and programs available are free – perfect for cash-strapped college students. There is a good chance that you can use the Internet to find anything you might need to help support you in your education, but don’t forget to also make use of the local resources available to you on campus and in the community too.

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