3 Tech Tools to Simplify College Life

Life at Claremont McKenna College is simple. We don’t have to worry about cold weather, crowded lecture halls, or sharing our sports teams with Pitzer. Getting work done shouldn’t be complicated either: grab your notes, seclude yourself in a corner in Poppa, and bang your head against the computer until an essay appears. Unfortunately it’s rarely that simple. Sports, extracurriculars, TNC, classes, and beautiful Claremont afternoons tend to get in the way of uninterrupted studying. Matters only get worse if you’re working on a group project.

What’s a Stag to do? Grab a beer and call a Mudder? Maybe. But that’s not the kind of attitude that’s going to get you to that glorious Monday of thesis-completing, Andre-drinking, and fountain-splashing euphoria that every CMCer dreams about. Instead, make your laptop and campus-wide Wi-Fi work for you and use these technology tools to simplify your college life.

First, a disclaimer: I prize true usefulness above all else. Moreover, an application has to be fast, reliable, accessible, and so easy your grandmother could figure it out. I won’t adopt something until I’m certain that it’s an improvement from the way I did it before. Here are three truly useful tools that will make your college life a tad easier:

1. Google Docs

Let’s be honest. Can Google Docs do everything that Microsoft Word can do? No. Can it do almost everything? Yes. For free. Try to convince yourself you’ve used more than eight of the dozens of fonts in Word, a view besides “Print View,” or figured out what “styles” are. You can’t? Exactly. Plus, is looking at this screen for 20 seconds before you can start typing really the best use of your time?

How is Google Docs better? First, you can access it right from your email. Or the Google homepage. Or just about anything else on the internet that Google touches. No need to worry about saving things in “.doc” versus “.docx” or hoping that everything will display the same way whether you’re on your laptop or at Ryal.

Ever had Word crash after you’ve diligently typed out several pages of A-quality work? Or thought you saved only to discover that your file was “corrupted”? Not so with Google Docs. It basically saves any time you pick your hands up from the keyboard. Working on a group project? Why bother saving a Word document, firing up your email, attaching the document, and emailing all your group members? In Google Docs, just click share, type in your group members’ names, and the exact same document is in their inbox in seconds.

Sometime soon, incoming freshmen are going to realize that they can get along just fine witout investing $80 in the Office Suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.). That’ll be a scary day for Microsoft, and it’s not so far away. In the meantime, if you have something that absolutely has to be done in Word, just go to File>Download As>Word in your Google Doc, and a Word document version of your Google Doc will download in seconds.

2. Dropbox

Sure, it’s easy to have your group collaborate on a Google Doc instead of passing a Word file around via email. It’s slightly more complicated to share the other material--PDFs, spreadsheets, pictures, and especially videos. CMC has very generous attachment size limits, but try to send more than one hi-res picture or *gasp* a video and your attachment fails. But before you pull out trusty old flash drive, check out Dropbox.

Once you create your Dropbox account, you can download the Dropbox application for your Mac or PC. It places a folder on your computer, right next to “Documents” for Mac users and “My Documents” for Windows, called “Dropbox.” Anything in this folder syncs to the web instantly. Even better, you can do this with much larger files, like video files that you could never email. There are no upload limits for the desktop app. Worried that Mike Malsed won’t let you download Dropbox on his precious Poppa computers? No problem. Everything is available on Dropbox.com and your iPhone/Android.

Best of all, you can create “shared” Dropbox folders between multiple people. It’s a great way to have one simple gathering place for the assorted documents, data, and materials that accumulate when working on a group project.

3. Prezi

There are few things more excruciating in college than sitting through in-class presentations. Not only are most people bad presenters (that’s another article), but they make bad presentations in PowerPoint. After spending five minutes plugging their flash drive in and waiting for their PowerPoint to open, you sit there while they read off their slides.

Prezi changes everything. Prezi is an online presentation maker that allows you to create sliding, zooming, panning, rotating, dynamic presentations that will keep your classmates engaged and amazed. (If they haven’t seen Prezi before, you’ll probably get a few “Whoaaaa, how did you do that??”s too.) Prezi is one of those things that’s easier to show than describe, so check out the embedded Prezi below:

Look complicated? It’s not. After you create your first Prezi, you’ll find yourself wondering why Microsoft had to go and make PowerPoint so complicated. Plus, it saves automatically and is accessible anywhere that has an internet connection, just like Google Docs. If you don’t owe it to yourself to try it out, at least you owe it to your classmates not to create another abysmally boring slideshow.

People come up with new ideas and new technologies to make our work more efficient, effective, and effortless. Not all new technology does this, but these three applications do. Plus, they’re all free.