For several semesters, in collaboration with Weigle Information Commons, the Weingarten Center has offered a workshop called “Tools Not Toys.” What we emphasize is that apps and technology are great and all, but the important thing is how you use those pushy little helpers. In this post, I’d like to share a few apps that are currently working with me. They may not impress your friends, but they are sturdy work horses that have helped me manage the constant inflow of information, appointments, and tasks that would otherwise overwhelm my composition notebook.

To start, I’d like to mention something that is not an app at all. It’s a pretty basic way to annotate your electronic course readings, but (I’ve noticed) it’s often not utilized by Penn students. If you use a Mac, take a look at the Preview application. Most likely, this is the default program that shows up whenever you open a PDF. At the top of the window, you’ll notice a pen icon, which is your very handy highlighter. You’ll also see a toolbox (#1), which has lots of interesting goodies. The thing that I recommend for students to use here is the sticky note or comment function (#2). This will let you annotate directly on the text, and then you can change the view (#3) to see all of your “highlights and notes” in the sidebar. When I was still taking courses for my doctoral program, this was an efficient way to review my readings before or during class lectures and discussions. Note for PC users: a very similar function is available in Adobe Reader.

Preview Image 1

As far as apps, it’s not revolutionary, but I currently can’t live without Evernote. During every meeting and lecture that I attend, I’m typing away in this program and tagging my notes to keep them organized. I haven’t played around with the chat or share functions much, but these seem like great features for group projects and collaborative writing. I’m also using Wunderlist as my “to-do” list. It functions like every other to-do list, but you can set due dates and reminders and even share lists with collaborators, relatives, and friends (which, in my house, is great for groceries). My colleague in Wharton Advising, Liz Sutton, recently recommended Asana (not a yoga app) for to-do lists. The added benefit of this app is that it will display your items in a weekly or monthly calendar.

Because it seems almost impossible to keep up with the newest and the coolest in the world of apps, I find the App Smart video channel on the New York Times website to be a helpful curator. In each brief episode, Kit Eaton highlights three apps under a common theme, such as “Modernize Your Meetings,” “Improve Your English,” “Smart Calendars” and “Finding Happiness.” The “Back to School” episode is particularly useful for time management and graphing calculations.

As you can see, I haven’t discovered an app that will work as a panacea for the variety of challenges that come with academic life at Penn. But maybe you have! Please join us in the comments section to share the newest, greatest, and hopefully free apps that are currently working with you.

Staff Blogger: Ryan Miller