Since this is my first post for OnlineColleges.org, I decided to share some of the basic “tools” that every online learner needs to be successful. As a former academic advisor, I found that a “tech tool kit” was most often something that my students needed to know about. Regardless of your degree program or geographical location, these are indispensable items for anyone who learns via the web:
Update your browser
First and foremost, your web browser is at the foundation of your web experience. While most PC’s come with Internet Explorer pre-installed, I would highly recommend using either Mozilla’s Firefox or Google’s Chrome browser. They are extremely stable and are able to capitalize on the latest web technologies.
The Adobe Flash player is a browser plugin that allows you to play YouTube videos, listen to Pandora while studying and access a lot of multimedia-based content. Having the most up-to-date version will enable you to have richer, more immersive web experiences.
Many of your professors will share content with you that is in PDF format. Having the current version of the Adobe Acrobat Reader will allow for easy access to a variety of course documents.
In addition to the Chrome browser, Google offers students a wide variety of productivity and organizational tools. Use Google Calendar to organize your academic schedule and Google Docs to view/create documents and share information with your classmates.
Having a speedy connection to the Internet is critical for a successful online learning experience. My parents recently upgraded their internet access from a super slow telephone modem connection to super fast cellular-based connectivity. Granted, they are in rural Iowa. For most students, lightning fast broadband web access is readily available. To test your bandwidth speed, check out Speedtest.net.
Most PC or Mac users will have Microsoft Office on their computers. If you don’t have MS Office, you’ll most likely want to invest in a copy of it or look into something like Open Office. Open Office is an open source software package that will allow you to open/edit MS Word documents.
For a variety of open source applications that are useful for viewing/editing/creating media files, I would check out the Open Source for Mac or Open Source for Windows sites. They offer links to a wide array of useful applications that will enhance your computer’s functionality.
Email and telephone conversations can be very useful for information gathering. However, Skype offers free video + audio communications that allows students to create more meaningful connections with their fellow students, academic advisors, and course instructors. One piece of advice for students using Skype: Wear headphones. It’s easier to hear the conversation and you won’t have any issues with feedback from your microphone.
I always like to include a couple of personal details in my blog posts as a way of making my writing feel more personal. In addition to growing up in Iowa, I am also an avid coffee drinker. Thus, coffee (or your favorite beverage of choice) is my last tech tool kit resource. It might not be very technical, but it is a necessary element for success.
In the near future, I plan on featuring more tools/resources/tips for online learners. Stay tuned for posts about using social media to create community and information about how social bookmarks can assist with organizing your digital learning library.
What’s in your tech tool kit?
If you have anything that you would like me to write about, feel free to contact me via Twitter. (Note: If you’re not on Twitter, that’s okay. I’ll be writing about it’s usefulness soon enough.)