web tools that got me through college

college memories

When i first started college, i didn’t have a twitter account and i’m not even sure i had a facebook account. Definitely didn’t have a LinkedIn account. Was college responsible for sparking my interest in social media? Absolutely not. It hasn’t been on any curriculum in my 48 modules and 4 years of college classes…

Yet it’s the one thing which i have a huge interest in, that’s IT related and which we all use (lecturers & students). Do we use it to learn? Absolutely. Communicate? Yip. Collaborate? Yip. Find jobs? Yip. Get jobs? Yip. Why then, don’t we study it or learn more about it in a third level IT course? Beats me.

y u no social media


This year i set up a private facebook group for our own class. I think most of the class is now in that group but that was never my intention – i simply set it up to ‘manage’ college related chat between a few of us. It just sort of grew organically.

Why do we need a facebook group? As Facebook themselves would say, email is dead. It’s stop / start communication… too formal and slow. Plus i don’t know everybody’s email address. Can’t remember them all. Can i remember names? Just about.

what's your name boyCreative Commons License photo credit: *eddie

Half the population is now on Facebook, so there’s a good chance if you’re a college student, you’re on facebook. If you’re not, well, you’re missing out. It’s not all about time wasting… for example i try to create ‘events’ for all of our exams which means if you ‘attend’ the event, you’ll get alerts on facebook of an upcoming event. As stupid as that might sound, it’s incredibly valuable. You wouldn’t believe how disorganized we can be. Simply knowing and having solid dates for exams is peace of mind. It means no surprises.

The beauty of creating events means they can be discussed too. “What’s on the exam?” type of discussions. With the click of a button, we can create a live group chat and see who is online or offline.

Does all of that translate in to better results? I don’t know. All i know is that it helps me organise and prepare myself better for exams plus it gives me quick access to classmates if i have questions. That’s why i set the group up.

In an ideal world, lecturers would create and manage groups, we’d join and discuss class material before, during and after classes, in our own time. We’d share links, lectures would create events for exams and we’d all be better off because of it. The main problem with private collaboration tools / software is that they’re not Facebook. That means it’s ‘hassle’ for us as students to visit them. They’re taking us away from where we are already which is arguably a better collaboration tool given the fact everyone knows how to use it and everyone is on it already.

Google Docs

Again over the past year, i’ve used Google Docs more and more. The last 2 or 3 presentations i’ve been involved in have all been done on Google Docs. Traditionally, in a 3 person team, one person might create a framework of slides in powerpoint and email it to the other 2 members. Those 2 members would each do their bit and email the new slides back to the ‘coordinator’ if you like. The coordinator would then extract the new slides from both members, add them in to his original framework and then they’d all meet face to face to fine tune it. That’s how we would normally have worked it up until this year.

Google Docs Paper AirplaneCreative Commons License photo credit: colin_n

Now, any one of us can create a presentation on google docs, share it with two other members and we can build the slides live, plus chat simultaneously and watch each other edit slides in real time. Revision history ensures no changes are ever lost. So if i delete a slide which somebody else wanted, not a problem, we can simply roll back with couple of clicks. It’s all a much quicker, more pleasant experience and it means everyone has more equal input because there is no ‘coordinator’ as such.

I had used google docs to store documents myself going back years but the collaboration features they introduced last year meant i could ditch Microsoft Office for good. I only use Office now to save & fine tune assignments & presentations but lecturers generally only accept assignments in word format.

If you think about it, if we were to ‘share’ our document with a lecturer, they could offer feedback or grade the presentation quicker and easier (no downloading / opening / organizing files and folders), plus if we’re feeling adventurous, we could share the presentation to the class and get feedback before we present it. I’d love to do all of this, but until both students & colleges truly embrace & endorse it, it’s not going to happen. We’ll continue to work as individuals first and foremost rather than as a unit. As students, we need to be sold the idea of collaboration on day 1 which would help get us away from thinking in ‘pass/ fail’ terms.


Wikipedia is your best friend as a college student (when it comes to college work / exams). There’s no messing with wikipedia, it just gives you high quality information which is usually summed up neatly in a sentence or two at the start of every article.

Rookies will just copy / paste what they see. Smarter students will take what they see and reword it enough so their work can’t be googled and found on wikipedia. As you go up the ranks you kind of realise you have to actually know and understand stuff so then you dig deeper down in to the references and this is where wikipedia becomes extremely valuable.

Editing Elliot TiberCreative Commons License photo credit: Niccolò Caranti

You see you can’t really reference wikipedia and get away with it. I could come along tomorrow and edit a wikipedia article and give completely conflicting arguments compared to what was there yesterday. So the credibility of that wikipedia entry you just referenced gets shot to hell because i made changes. Because anyone can edit the entry, you end up with multiple authors of all ages with different backgrounds and viewpoints. It’s a bit of mess really.

For that reason it’s safer (and looks better) if you reference once of the references in the wikipedia entry. It looks as if you’ve done more research plus you can sleep soundly knowing that reference isn’t going to change overnight. Referencing wikipedia is the lazy man’s approach. It’s like opening a cupboard door and firing cups and plates in any old way, then closing it rapidly. It’s lazy, but it saves you time and effort and you’re safe in the knowledge you won’t be the one who has to open it. Provided it closes & stays closed, you don’t give a damn. When somebody does come along and open it, it’s in the lap of the gods as to what will happen 🙂


Believe it or not, i don’t like reading. However i do like design and colours and visual stuff. If words happen to look pretty and be surrounded by pretty stuff, i’ll be more inclined to read them. This year in particular we’ve been given links to pdfs with 50+ pages of nothing but black and white text. They’ll never be read. I might look a the headings and that will be it.

sixHexagons - Humano Urbano Music VideoCreative Commons License photo credit: Network Osaka

Youtube is a hugely under-rated resource as an educational tool. From lectures to animations and voiceovers…. there’s a wealth or material on youtube that is just as boring as the material in books and pdfs, but it’s something different and pretty to look at, so i find the novelty value alone is enough to keep me semi-interested in something.

If you’re really in to your videos, check out iTunes U where you can download video lecturers of entire courses from some of the most prestigious universities on the planet, for free.

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