Mobile devices are becoming more prevalent with each passing year and with every new product launch, including the recent Apple iPhone 5 announcement. In a March survey of 2,253 adults over the age of 18 by the Pew Research Center, 67 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds surveyed noted owning a smartphone—up 18 percent over 2011.
Tablets have also seen growth in academic settings, with Apple announcing in its July quarterly earnings call that it had sold twice as many iPads as MacBook laptops during the quarter.
With the growth in mobile technology, more apps are being created to capitalize on the demand—the Apple Store notes that there are now more than 20,000 educational apps alone.
"I think the whole movement of material being delivered electronically is actually a benefit," notes Chris Hakala, professor of psychology and the director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Western New England University. "Students can get access to their materials … wherever they are."
But, while many apps are marketed as an easier path to learning, Hakala says that grasping the material still requires effort from students.
"That caveat is always the same: [Apps] need to be used effectively," Hakala says. "Students should never lose sight of the fact that there are no shortcuts. Learning requires conceptualization of material for it to be long term and lasting."
Here are five mobile apps college students should consider as the school year gets underway.
1. StudyBlue Flashcards: When college students are preparing for a big test, flashcards are one tool to help with memorization of key terms. While students have used paper flashcards for years to prepare for an exam, there are emerging digital options.
Enter StudyBlue Flashcards, which already has millions of flashcards created by other users. Using the mobile app, students can receive test score feedback so they can focus on material they haven't yet mastered. And, unlike paper flashcards, a student can set reminders on the app so he or she can maintain a study schedule before a big test. (Available for: iPad, iPhone, iPod, and Android; cost: free)
2. Evernote Peek: For students who use iPads in the classroom, Evernote, which is most known for its note-taking cloud service, provides a way for students to organize their notes into study materials. Using Evernote Peek, students' notes—whether text, audio, or image—are turned into study questions.
By using an iPad Smart Cover, students can lift the cover to see the question, and then lift more to see the answer. To move on to another question, a student simply closes the cover and restarts the process. For students who own an iPad but do not own a Smart Cover, the app produces a digital cover to hide answers. (Available for: iPad; cost: free)
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3. Graphing Calculator: Whether a student is majoring in a math field or needs to complete basic requirements, it's likely that a college student will need a graphing calculator. While many students may purchase a graphing calculator, these devices can cost upwards of $100.
Graphing Calculator, from Appcylon LLC, provides a scientific calculator that allows students to plot and trace multiple equations on the same graph at a fraction of the cost. The app also comes equipped with a custom keyboard and is set up for students to take screen shots and share the graphs via E-mail. (Available for: iPhone, iPod, and iPad; cost: $1.99)
4. School Helper: Managing a schedule in college can be difficult, but there are many apps that specialize in daily organization. School Helper focuses on helping students manage their academic schedules by tracking things such as grades, homework assignments, notes, and exams on the home screen. Students can add widgets to this main screen as reminders for assignments that need to get done.
Under "Marks," students can track grades in a particular course, and can adjust the percentage each assignment or exam counts toward the final grade to get a clear picture of their performance throughout the semester. (Available for: Android; cost: free)