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Top tips for digital learning

Stephanie Webb discovers how new technologies can help you in your studies.

A quick Google search can produce literally millions of results but for academic research you need to be sure that your sources are objective and reliable. Going beyond Google will help you find the most relevant, trustworthy material and unearth the hidden gems that Google doesn’t find.

Subject gateways

 When you find information on the internet, you always need to evaluate it before using it in your work. Anyone can upload pretty much anything to the internet from anywhere in the world and the information can quickly become out of date. It’s important to assess the accuracy, objectivity, relevance and authority of a webpage. Subject gateways reduce your workload by doing this for you. They are subject specific search engines and all the results they bring up have already been quality checked by academic experts. You might like to try: 

  • Arts and Humanities Data Service Useful for a range of subjects, including history, English literature and language, and performing arts.
  • Biz/ed Resources for business studies, economics, travel and tourism and other related subjects.
  • Infolaw For finding legal documents and resources.
  • Math Guide For locating mathematical information.
  • Scirus A scientific research tool.
  • Pinakes A collection of links to gateways for a large variety of subjects.

Alert services

If you want to keep up to date with all the latest news and resources related to your area of study, alert services could be a useful tool. They collate everything related to your areas of interest into one news feed so that you don’t have to check websites individually. You also get notifications letting you know whenever new information is uploaded. 

To get started, you’ll need to sign up for an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) service or aggregate reader, such as Google Reader. Then, you can start subscribing to your favourite websites. Look out for the RSS logos on websites, which will allow you to add pages to your feed.

Podcasts and videos

If you’re fed up of reading, there’s plenty of quality information out there in other media. iTunesU, Apple’s education download service, has a large searchable collection of podcasts and videos, including lecture recordings, uploaded by universities from all around the world. You can access iTunesU via the iTunes store on your computer and search according to subject or university. Alternatively, download the app for free and use it on a mobile device. There are over 500,000 free resources to explore from colleges, universities, and other organisations like museums and libraries.

Social bookmarking

With social bookmarking, you can save useful resources to come back to later and share with others. Unlike adding websites to the favourites section on your browser, social bookmarking means you can access saved pages from any computer or mobile device, saving you time and effort. You can bookmark web pages, blogs, pictures, videos, and even tweets and tag them by adding relevant keywords so you can easily find them again. This will group together similar items and help you to keep on top of a large collection of resources.

As the name suggests, social bookmarks are public, which means that your peers can see the pages you’ve found, along with their tags. By searching keywords, you will also be able to see what sites other users have tagged. The chances are that you will have found slightly different resources to other people searching on the same topic. By sharing your bookmarks, you can create a network of people working together to produce a good pool of useful material.

Delicious is one of the most popular social bookmarking tools. Once you’ve signed up, you will be able to add a button, known as a ‘Bookmarklet’, to your browser toolbar. Clicking this allows you to quickly add and tag web pages as you come across them. If you’re looking for a bookmarking tool especially tailored for studying, CiteUlike specialises in academic material and will even save references for you too.

Organising your notes and ideas

Once you’ve found your information, you’ll need to make sense of it all. There are hundreds of apps to help you study. Browse through them by clicking the Education button in the Quick Links bar on the Apple App Store interface. Here are just a couple of suggestions: 

  • Evernote This app allows you to collate all your notes in one place and access them from wherever you are, on your computer, phone or tablet. As well as adding simple text such as lecture notes or ideas for an essay, you can record audio reminders, add photos from the internet or pictures you’ve taken yourself, and save emails for future reference. Evernote organises your notes into different notebooks so you can keep material for one module or assignment separate from all your others. The app automatically syncs notes to all your devices so if you jot something down on your phone on the bus home, it will appear on your tablet or desktop when you get in.
  • Mind Mapping software Mind mapping is great for getting your head around a large amount of information and ideas. It can be a good start to approaching revision, essays, or projects. There are lots of different mind mapping apps out there to choose from. Many allow you to add notes, images, audio, and web links to your maps, or to turn them into innovative presentations.

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