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Digital tools for university

A quick tour of some of the most widely used digital tools that you might use when you are at university.
Smartphone, keyboard and earbuds
© William Iven @ Pixabay

In this step, we’ll look at some common ways of using digital technology to help with university study, and offer suggestions on tools and techniques to make these work for you.

Before we go on, it’s important to say that if a non-digital option suits you better, for example a paper diary or calendar, then there’s no requirement to do everything digitally. Some things, like accessing emails and your timetable, will require using technology, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed with technological options, limit yourself to trying only a few new tools at a time and finding the ones that work for you. For example, you could use post-it notes because it’s easier to look away from the screen to check your tasks.

Email and calendar

You’ll get a new email account when starting university, and also probably have access to an online timetable and calendar. Email is a vital tool at university for getting important updates and communicating with your tutors so it is useful to get into a good habit of managing your emails using folders and labels; deleting or archiving emails you don’t need any more can help you keep on top of them.

Calendar apps are another useful tool for keeping on top of things. Most devices have a calendar app built-in, or you can download one like Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook. Use a calendar app to manage not only your scheduled teaching activities, but also social events, study time, and people’s birthdays.

Try specifying topics or activities for study time to help manage workload, and add links in the calendar event to key resources to save time when you sit down to work.

Productivity and collaboration

‘Office’ applications such as Microsoft Office and the Google G Suite apps are sets of tools that allow you to do tasks such as creating documents and presentations, calculating with spreadsheets, and storing information. Many of these tools now contain ‘collaborative’ features that allow you to more easily share work with other people and work on the same file in real-time

Quick tips for working with documents

  • Give files and folders meaningful names so you can find them again and if you send them to other people they’ll know what they contain.
  • Back up your work by saving it in multiple locations, for example on your computer and also on a cloud storage system such as Google Drive or OneDrive (GCF LearnFree: What is the cloud?).
  • Use a note-taking tool, which is designed specifically for taking quick notes. These often support handwriting on touchscreen devices and do voice recordings. Some popular options include Microsoft OneNote, Google Keep, and Evernote (which has a free version as well as a paid one).

Keeping in touch without the overwhelm

You may be using social media to stay in touch with family and friends and these tools are great but the other side of this kind of communication is being overwhelmed with notifications or distracted by incoming messages and social media pings.

You can turn on Do Not Disturb mode on your device to pause notifications whilst you work or try using one of the many tools that allow you to temporarily block unproductive websites so you can get things done.

Finding and managing your reading

It is important to keep track of what you read so that you know what you’ve done and can find material and cite information later on.

Keep your notes (whether physical or digital) organised and keep a list of what you read. If it is helpful, you can use a reference management tool to store the details about all of the books, articles, and websites you read, ready to use in your work. These tools include EndNote, Mendeley, and Zotero, and you can find out more about this in the library section of the course.

Your suggestions

In the comments, share your tips for digital tools that help with study or other areas of your life, thinking about:

  • What tool(s) do you find really useful?
  • What do you use them for?
  • How might they be useful in a university context?
© University of York
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