Back to School Mastery: Part 1 — Technology

Don't let technology own you! Learn how to leverage technology to be the invisible helper that it should be.

Laptops, phones, and tablets. Oh my! Once upon a time, I began an educational program that was mostly distance learning, with occasional trips to the university for group projects. I refused to buy a smart phone or pay for a data plan, and the iPad was, one-of-a-kind, new, and expensive. I bought a portable desktop for school — a jazzed-up 17 inch laptop that would run anything my heart desired. During our trips to campus in the hills of Knoxville, I carried that 17 inch portable desktop in my backpack. I couldn't open it during group discussions without blocking out someone's head, and by the end of the week, my shoulders were crying from carrying its weight up the "hills". I failed to consider all the ways in which I would use (or not use) the device. There are many more choices now, each with their own pros and cons. Choose wisely. When used well, tech devices are great. They can, however, get in the way and be a serious nuisance. Before purchasing a device for class, consider how you will use it.
  • Phones are great for recording audio, quick notes, and calendar updates, but aren't very efficient for reading or typing.
  • Tablets are great for reading text books or notes, and are terrific for video meetings.
  • Laptops are great for typing, reading, and almost every function needed, but don't offer the same on-the-go convenience as a tablet or phone.
What will you really use your device to do? If you write all your notes by hand and like the feel of a real textbook, a phone might be the perfect study adjunct to keep your studying on task and organized. If you prefer to carry your 100 lbs. of textbooks on a 1 lb. device, then a tablet might just be for you. If you have terrible handwriting or really crave the utility of being able to use a search function for your notes, maybe a laptop in the classroom really is best. If you choose a laptop, do you need an optical drive for discs, plenty of internal storage, a web-based computer, a webcam, and do you want a Mac or PC? Ask similar questions before choosing a tablet or phone. What functions do you really need?


Do you sometimes get your notifications in stereo, hearing a message ping from your tablet, phone, and PC all at once? Maybe you have your device set to flash or vibrate. No matter the device or the type of notification, distractibility is a serious problem that you must get a handle on to be successful. Not many folks can focus amid phone calls, beeps, vibrations, and flashes. Banners, alerts, and tones must go! The "do not disturb" or "night function" is handy and turns off all phone and tablet notifications with a simple touch. If working on a PC, you may want to silence the Windows action center. (Side note: If you are afraid of missing a call that is important, you can typically set your device to allow that person's call to send an alert that supersedes the settings on the device.) Multiple articles tout the fact that multitasking is not possible; we are task-toggling. Toggling costs brain power and time — about 25 minutes to return to the original task, to be exact. Don't be a sucker for irrelevancy (Matter, 2013). When a task is boring or difficult, the brain wants to catch up on email, for example, to mark an easy task as accomplished. The Pomodoro technique is one method to deal with this, based on working in short sprints, and many apps are based on this popular concept. The goal is to make sure you aren't disturbed and don't end up exploring a Facebook rabbit hole just because you got a notification that your friend Sam liked your post about giving up carbs. (Incidentally, this is a terrible idea. Don't give up carbs while you're in school. Hangry doesn't look good on anyone.)

Applications & Programs

  • Studying: Of course, we think you should definitely have NCLEX Mastery, Drug Database, and Clinical Mastery in your nursing application toolbox on your mobile devices and computer! The ability to study anywhere, anytime is invaluable when every minute counts.
  • Cloud storage: I advise anyone to have at least one cloud storage application that they use for anything school related. There are three important reasons for this:
    1. You can work on anything from anywhere with any device if the work is stored in a cloud application like Google Drive, Dropbox, or One Drive.
    2. **it happens — dropped or drowned laptops, crashed hard drives, viruses. (I was once 24 hours from turning in a semester long work of art, AKA a term paper, when I turned to get a drink of chai tea around 0100 and .... you guessed it ... elbowed the whole drink into my laptop. My brother-in-law/computer guru saved my clumsy self, recovering the paper, but never again. If it's important, it might be backed up in two cloud drives.) Which cloud is a personal choice, and each has definite advantages.
    3. Group work is so much easier using a cloud-based document service. Edits, suggestions, and comments can be made and seen in real time. You can even get a partner to type class notes with, like a wiki page only infinitely better.
  • Note taking: Cloud note taking is similarly advantageous. Whether you like the notebook style of OneNote or the drop and search features of EverNote, these tools allow you a wide range of functions. For example, OneNote allows you to "print" your lecture PowerPoints into a notebook page so you can store all of your pharmacology lectures in one "notebook" and you can make notes beside them, copy in relevant web clippings, or share with friends.

  • Collaboration: Google Hangouts, Skype, and FaceTime are wonderful tools for working on group projects when you don't all live in the dorm. Commuter students appreciate not always having to drive in, and these present viable alternatives that still get the work accomplished. Likewise, GroupMe is a great group chat tool that helps you ensure no one gets missed in a text message. Label the group "SNA officers," plug in the names of the Student Nurses Association officers, send invites to the group members, and eureka!

  • Calendars: This should go without saying, but put every reminder, assignment date, and to-do item in a calendar. Lots of folks stick with the handwritten kind. Nursing school is crazy and exhaustion is real. It is so helpful to have a note pop on your phone to say, "Write research paper draft today starting at 8am" or "drive west today to get to work." (There's a sad, but true, story behind that last one!)
  • Flashcards: Study Blue is a useful flash card application that the whole class or just a study group can use to create flash cards for mobile use.
  • References: Epocrates and Medscape are great go-to reference tools for nurses, and there are thousands out there to pick from. (Did I already mention NCLEX Mastery?)
  • Games: Pick a game that requires concentration, is fun, and is easy to put down after 5 minutes of intense relaxation, like TETRIS, Flow Free, Stack, or Zen Sand.
  • Focus: Sound apps like Chakra Chime help you set a study timer so you don't have to look at the clock, but have a pleasing sound that encourages you to move to the next topic or activity. Coffitivity is a great background noise tool for those who would like to study in a coffee shop but can't. Spotify channels can be your best friend. Create or find upbeat tracks like the soundtrack from Inception, Galactic Empire, Jaws, NCLEX Study Jam, Extra Chill RN, CPR Beats, or 8-bit Video Game soundtracks to inspire your energy and concentration. Choose film score tracks, Deep Focus, or Afternoon Acoustic to create a more mellow musical backdrop.

What can't-live-without tech tips would you add to this list?