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Lorena’s List: Five Great Technology Tools for Academics (and Everyone Else...)

In February 2013, I did a talk for the WSU Writing Program's Multimodal Composition Across the Curriculum series. My topic was Information Literacy and Technology-Assisted Research, and in the Q&A I had a bunch of questions about technology. So the convener of the series, Jennifer Lin O'Brian, asked me to write up a list of my favorite five tools. It was hard to limit myself, and you will see I cheated!
Originally written for the Composing the new Classroom (#CtNC) blog, which is no longer online.
  1. A reference management program: Zotero [Or EndNote, Mendeley, etc – see this article comparing reference management software]
    • Reference management software helps you keep track of material – books, articles, webpages, documents, multimedia, etc.  You can keep an electronic copy of an item (if available), bibliographic data, and your notes on the item together in a searchable database.
    • For information on Zotero classes at WSU, see ; for  information on EndNote classes see ; for information on other reference managers, contact Lorena O’English ( ; wsulorena on Twitter)
  2. A notes program: OneNote [Or Google Drive, OneNote,  SpringPadSimpleNote, etc.]
    • The advantage of something like OneNote is that you can access information on multiple devices (desk/laptop, smartphone, tablet). Depending on what device, you can also add in voice notes, images, photographs, etc.  I love the iPad and Android versions! Most of these have freemium options – some functionality for free, more for fee. Be sure to use a scanning app with your notes tool, i.e. Office Lens for Microsoft products. 2023 update - I've gotten into this a lot more! There are lots of options for notes these days - check out my PDI workshop on note-taking and annotation.
  3.  A screencasting program: Screencast-o-Matic (now called ScreenPal)  [Or SnagIt, etc.] Or you can just use WSU's Zoom. Or you can upload a SoM vbideo to Zoom (keep in mind that WSU's Zoom hosting is flushed every six months or so]
    • Screencast-o-Matic lets you make videos of what is going on your computer monitor, then save the video and/or upload it to YouTube, etc. SoM has a browser version and a desktop version (the desktop version requires a paid subscription, but its not very expensive). Screencasting is great for quick how-tos/demonstrations, reading a student’s paper and providing comments orally, and so much more! You’ll find it’s as valuable for personal purposes as it is for academic uses (I used it to show my Mom how to manage her Kindle via the Amazon website, for example.
  4. A Read it Later/Read it Nice application: InstaPaper [and/or Pocket, etc.]
    • I love these! I use InstaPaper to save articles that I want to read, but that I don’t think I need to save in my Zotero library – I can read them online, or I can send them to my Kindle and wirelessly download them (I also use it to read/send scholarly articles if they are available in HTML format, but it does not always work). Instapaper keeps an archive of all the articles I have saved on it online.  Although IP offers a “read it nice” option, I mix up my products and use Readability – it strips out ads and increases the font and the whitespace, making on-screen reading much nicer. Another option is Print Friendly. Kindle users who use Chrome will want to add Amazon's own Send to Kindle.
  5. An easy on your eyes application: F.lux
    • This is so useful! A free program for your desktop/laptop that “warms up” your monitor as it gets darker, so it’s easier to read on screen at night. Not good if you need exact colors, but you can turn it off temporarily.  Android has the apps Twilight which I use and like a lot.
Any suggestions for other useful tech tools for academics? Drop me an email or a tweet.
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