Free web applications for students

Good review of some online tools for students, instructors and others who organize their work on computers and online from the Read Write Blog.

I think that there are many good arguments for allowing students to choose their own learning environments, and they aren’t difficult to find. Students can customize according to their own learning objectives or preferences. There is not a financial overhead for the free tools (it’s not incorporated into university fees, nor are their signup charges if you choose free software). There is more choice for students, they can take more responsibility for their own learning, and it’s something that will (probably) continue to be accessible for themselves after they graduate.

On the other hand, not all students will want this array of choices. If they are a basic user, it can be overwhelming to have to choose from several blog providers. Centralizing some services (blogs, learning management systems, synchronous communications tools) can help streamline communications and collaborations. I think there is value in having one place to access all online course materials, instead of logging into different systems, or tracking several new URLs each semester. Having a portal to one location for online discussions, materials, and assessments leaves students more time to study. If they are on the same system, then they are more likely able to help out with technical hurdles or other learning curves. I realize that this assumes that there is a portal that does all this, and we don’t have a portal that acts the way that I’ve described yet).

That being said, I use several of the tools lists. I’m a big fan of Google Docs (used to collaborate with my sister on our traveling plans), wikipedia (which is my jumping off point for so much peripheral or spontaneous learning) and del.ici.ous (in which I enthusiastically tag sites, explore other users sites, and send sites to my colleagues who are on the same system).

Actually that last description argues my point for universal platforms. I share sites via del-ici.ous almost exclusively with colleagues that are also members. I often don’t make that extra step to email an interesting link…

Right now, we’re mostly relying on word of mouth (blog postings count) to relay this to the students. Who’s targeting the students who don’t find these resources?


3 thoughts on “Free web applications for students”

  1. This is a great list. I tend to feel the students will gravitate towards the tools that they need or that suit them. most of that web 2.0 stuff is a little ‘out there’ for the average user, but as more of these tools are specialized, (and incorporated as facebook apps 8p ) I think students will catch on. The question is, will institutions provide support and service for these tools internally, put up barriers to there use, or do anything at all and leave the students (and all of us) hanging?

  2. Well, that’s the key issue, isn’t it: support! My reasoning is that faculty can’t and shouldn’t provide technical support to students. They’ve got their syllabus, and don’t need more. So how much are students supposed to rely on other students, and how fair is that? If there is a centralized support system, how many platforms are they supposed to support? While I love many of these softwares, and use many of them, that’s my reasoning behind supporting some “official” platforms, too.

    And as much as I do love my facebook account, i’m not convinced that education should get involved in it. It’s important to have some non-school space!

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