The smartphone is the new student planner — a virtual repository of dates, deadlines and important info. But unlike the traditional planner, there are options for countless add-ons in the form of mobile apps for college students.
Across the vast digital realm there seems to be an app for almost everything, whether ordering food, hailing a ride, posting silly videos, identifying dog breeds or reviewing virtual flashcards for college classes.
The ubiquity of mobile apps means that the options are nearly endless — but what about the value?
“I think with any application, it’s not a one-size-fits-all,” says Jessica Shelley, head of curriculum at Dailies App, a self-learning platform that features educational challenges to teach short lessons in brief intervals.
How an app works for one student may vary from how it benefits a classmate. When assessing a mobile app, students should ask: “What do I need the most help with?” says William Watson, a professor at Purdue University–West Lafayette in Indiana and director of the Center for Serious Games and Learning in Virtual Environments.
Finding the Right Apps for College Students
Educational technology such as apps can help students with time management, organization skills, homework, collaboration and more. Applications that keep students on task can be a big help, considering that incoming college students can often be unmoored, in Watson’s experience.
“I think the biggest challenge for most learners today is that they really have underdeveloped self-regulated learning skills and the reason for that, by and large, is that our educational systems — particularly our K-12 systems — are very teacher-centered,” he says.
Watson adds that college students should identify their strengths and weaknesses to see where they need help.
“Students need to identify areas they want to work on, such as time management,” Jenna Sheffield, assistant provost for curriculum innovation at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, wrote in an email. From there, students “can look into researching the effectiveness of different apps or platforms” to meet those needs.
Sheffield adds that college students often need help with time management and study skills. She suggests that students check to see what free tools are available from their college before seeking out apps on their own, noting, for example, her use of Microsoft Planner, which links to Microsoft Teams.
When it comes to assessing the value of an app, look to reviews and the number of downloads, experts say, adding that students should also ask their classmates and instructors about their own app experiences.
Useful Apps for College Students
Below is a list of apps for college students recommended by educational technology experts interviewed for this story. As noted, the needs of individual students vary and finding the right app will likely require some experimentation. Unless costs are noted in the app descriptions below, these learning tools are free to users:
— AnkiMobile Flashcards
— Blackboard App
— Canvas Student
— Google Calendar
— Google Drive
— College mobile apps
AnkiMobile Flashcards. This flashcard app supports multimedia and scientific markup, according to its website. AnkiMobile Flashcards is listed at $24.99 in the App Store for iOS but free for Android devices.
Blackboard App. A popular learning management system, Blackboard is used at many colleges across the U.S. The mobile app allows students to access coursework for online classes or in-person classes with virtual components. Students can view course content, complete assignments and tests, view grades and more.
Canvas Student. Similar to Blackboard, students can access coursework, submit assignments and view grades with Canvas Student. Which app to download — Blackboard or Canvas — depends on the platform used by the student’s college.
Duolingo. Billing itself as “the world’s best way to learn a language,” Duolingo offers lessons in 35-plus languages, helping users with speaking, reading, listening, writing, grammar and vocabulary. Duolingo offers both free and paid versions, the latter with an ad-free experience and offline access to lessons. Additionally, Duolingo has emerged as a test of English proficiency accepted at some U.S. colleges.
Evernote. A note-taking and task-management system that offers the ability to sync across devices, Evernote allows users to create to-do lists, save webpages and digitize documents via a device’s camera. Evernote is free, though a premium version with more features costs $7.99 a month or $69.99 annually.
Google Calendar. Given the reach of Google, students may already be familiar with commonplace apps like Google Calendar, which can be used to schedule events, create reminders, share availability and more.
Google Drive. Another classic, Google Drive can be used for free Google Cloud storage, which makes it handy for writing that term paper across various devices or for collaborating on shared documents with classmates.
Mendeley. A reference manager and PDF reader, Mendeley offers students the ability to annotate and highlight PDFs, generate references and citations, sync work across devices and search a vast online library. The first two gigabytes of storage are free, with plans ranging from $55 to $165 a year for additional capacity.
MindMeister. A tool for visualizing ideas, MindMeister allows users to generate idea maps. According to the app’s website, uses include project planning, note taking, meeting management and more. Though the basic version is free, plans for personal, pro or business accounts run from $4.99 to $12.49.
MyLifeOrganized. A task management app, MyLifeOrganized allows users to break down tasks into obtainable goals, automatically sort priority action items and see what’s scheduled for the day. Both free and paid options exist for the app with a cost of $29.99 for a professional account on mobile devices.
Quizlet. Another flashcard app, Quizlet allows users to create their own decks, which can be shared with other users, as well as the ability to play time-based games to help students with memorization. Quizlet is free but an upgrade to Quizlet Plus, which is ad-free and offers offline access, costs $23.88 for one year.
College mobile apps. College-specific apps have become fairly common. While these apps may differ by college, users can often find campus maps, news, safety information, scheduled events and more.
Considering the number of free apps in the marketplace, it makes sense that some college students may be reluctant to pay. Shelley suggests that students test-drive paid apps, which often offer a free trial period, to determine their value before springing for the cost.
“For myself, I’ll try out probably between three and five apps, doing the same thing, and then I’ll invest in the premium version if I see the features being something that’s worthwhile for me,” Shelley says.
Sheffield encourages students to think about academic integrity when choosing an app.
“I think it’s important to be aware that there are websites and apps that sell themselves as legitimate study aids, when really they are providing answers to quizzes and tests,” she says. “I won’t name names, but I would encourage students to do some research and consider that if it feels like cheating, it probably is cheating.”
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