Going to college online is a great option if you can’t drop everything to move to campus for four years, and need the flexibility to take classes on your schedule instead of the university’s. Online classes allow you to fit the demands of an academic career into a busy life. But what tech will you need to succeed?
Of course, you’ll need a decent computer to do your online classes. Noise-canceling headphones can also come in handy, especially if you live in a home with a lot of distractions. You’ll need a webcam and headset for synchronous class meetings and video conferencing with classmates and professors. You’ll need note-taking software, video conferencing software, flash drives to store your data, and an external monitor so you don’t have to hunch over your laptop screen for hours a day.
A Decent Laptop
Every online student needs a laptop because online learning platforms like Canvas and Blackboard don’t support mobile devices. That means you won’t be able to complete all of your coursework using a phone or tablet. Even if you’re able to do most of your coursework on a tablet or phone, you probably won’t be able to take proctored exams on a mobile device.
What kind of laptop do you need? How much should you spend? That depends on your field of study. If you’re studying English literature, you probably don’t need much computing power, as you’ll primarily be using your laptop to read course materials and write papers. If you’re studying engineering or earning a computer technology degree, on the other hand, you’ll need a more robust machine that can handle the demands of the specialized software you’ll need to complete your assignments. Check with your university and your program director to find out what specifications your laptop should have.
Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones
If you live alone or with quiet roommates or family members, you might not need a pair of noise-canceling headphones. But they can come in handy for blocking out background noise and distractions, and they can make it easier to hear what people are saying in online meetings and lectures. A wireless pair allows you to stand up and move around the room while you’re consuming course material, which can be handy for those who like to move while studying.
You’ll need some note-taking software like OneNote or Evernote to take notes during lectures or while reading. Want to take notes by hand? Consider a reusable notebook that allows you to take notes by hand and then upload them to your favorite cloud service. The notes will be digitally searchable, which means you won’t have to flip through pages to find what you’re looking for later.
A Webcam and Headset
While many online college courses are asynchronous, there may be times when you need to attend virtual class meetings, study groups, or office hours. For these occasions, you’ll need a webcam and headset. Most laptops have a webcam already built in, but get an external one if yours doesn’t. Buy a headset that plugs into a USB port for the best sound quality.
You may need to download multiple kinds of video conferencing software, because different professors may prefer different software tools. Typical video conferencing software tools include Zoom and Skype. Your school and professors will recommend which video conferencing software you should acquire.
You’ll end up saving a lot of data throughout your academic career, in the form of PDF textbooks, academic articles, notes, papers, and presentations. You’ll need at least one USB flash drive to keep it all handy.
An External Monitor
Laptops aren’t super ergonomic, so it’s a good idea to have an external monitor set up at eye level on your desk. You could even get two monitors if you’re feeling flush – multiple displays can increase your productivity by as much as 42 percent.
An Internet Connection
You’re going to need an internet connection to succeed in online school, and the faster, the better. While there are college students out there right now using dial-up connections to take their online courses, a faster connection will come in handy when you’re trying to download lectures and course materials. Ask your school what connection speed they recommend for online students.
If you’re going to college online, you will need the right technology to succeed. Give yourself the best tools you can afford, so your college experience can be a seamless one.
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