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Tech tools for college

August 17, 2013
By KIM LOCCISANO - Staff Writer ( , Times Leader

And so it begins.

Congratulations parents of America's incoming college freshmen - your child is about to enter a phase of life that is completely new to them: their personal college career.

For many, the first real emotional connection to their new reality will begin with the initial successful use of the all important college issued "swipe" access card, ID card or parking pass, allowing entrance to what was until that moment the seemingly far-off land of post-secondary education.

Article Photos

Justin Trabert, right, of the Best Buy store in Triadelphia, helps a customer with a tablet. Emerging technologies have shifted the focus of incoming college students from TVs and mini-fridges to laptops, tablets, printers and personal wi-fi hot spots.

While these simple actions may seen unimportant on their face, in truth they are of vital importance signifying completion of a first official step toward every undergraduate's ultimate goal of becoming an alumni of their chosen college or university.

Three aspects of college life have not changed much in recent decades to the eye of the casual observer: dorm housing, the campus dining hall and a school's library resources. But reality is something altogether different.

Wireless resources and networking technologies have seen development of the sophisticated swipe card for everything from drawing down a student's everyday spending money deposited with the college and managed electronically as they make purchases throughout the campus, access academic related web sites from a dorm room, or in the coffee shop.

But numerous details of life in traditional college spaces such as dorms, dining halls, and libraries has actually changed dramatically in recent years because of wireless technologies and are almost certainly going to continue, many coming as direct results of emerging technologies tied to the always shifting sands of research and development on numerous levels.

A few years ago, the biggest issues incoming college freshmen had to address were a first interaction with a keycard; deciding what TV, video gaming system, MP3, iPod, and/ or which model of calculator will be required and discussing details such as a mini-fridge rental and how differences in sleeping and study habits will be resolved as incoming students step into the unique relationship of being roommates and co-existing in the confines of a fixed space affectionately known as a dorm room.

Today's soon to be college roommates will likely meet on a Facebook page, which schools now suggest students establish and learn to use responsibly; many chat via Skype - allowing each to see and hear the other; and many even decide to dial their respective cell and actually have a phone conversation before ever meeting up on campus - after arriving there with the help of a web map and direction application.

All of these are the types of social media interactions school student life and activities professionals increasingly encourage, and also more often than not, these days are charged with monitoring and participating as well.

It is important to remember not every computer or tech gadget is right for every consumer, says one local tech expert, Justin Trabert of the Best Buy store in Triadelphia.

He and other experts caution consumers against simply purchasing the first thing they see in the computer aisle, or upon seeing a product they know of simply through concentrated commercial ad campaigns.

A highlight of that first day on campus is a must-do trek to the school's bookstore and, if possible, the school tech office and the library.

Regardless the school, the main campus bookstore is almost always the accepted source of goods - and good guidance in the outward transition for student and loved ones from a high school graduate's family to one with an incoming college freshman as a part of that unique mix.

Today's college outfitting essentials are quite a bit different from a list that might have been generated even just a few years earlier.

Long gone are the massive sound systems being considered a top priority dorm room item of previous generations.

Sound systems can simply occupy a few inches of space on a desktop when using a docking station version or something similar in design to the popular iHome systems.

Today's supply list for college tech purchases will likely begin with determining what computer, desktop, laptop, notebook or surface tab will best suit your needs.

When considering a computer of any type, it is of paramount importance to determine what your primary needs will be.

"The three most important areas to look at when choosing what computer to purchase are the processor, the amount of RAM, and the capacity of its hard drive. A computer's processor is essentially its brain - the more developed the processor the more sophisticated challenges it can manage smoothly. The RAM is the muscle. The more RAM installed, the healthier your system will function. The hard drive is the storage area - where things are stored in an orderly and safe way," offered Trabert.

Is your student in a program that will require regular computer printing? Consider purchasing a wireless, portable printer.

"The cost of ink and of paper can be much more affordable than they were just a few years ago. If your student is going to have a lot of printing to do, it may be a time and cost saver for you to look into an all-in-one type of printer, scanner, and fax machine," Trabert suggested.

The cost of a basic printer can run between $100 and $200 according to information from several top large retailers, including Best Buy, Walmart and Target .

There is always value in asking questions about a tech product before making a purchase, even if it involves products you think you are familiar with, as today's tech products can change dramatically from those offered not so long ago by the same manufacturer.

Case in point: the everyday laptop and the standard support items which can expand its versatility.

Among the items a student needs to consider when getting ready to make a school driven tech selection should include software packages, external hard drives, external DVD burners, flash drives of several sizes, necessary power cables or wireless access personal charging and internet access or "hot spot" technology.

Regardless where your tech items are purchased, it is important to make sure you can work within a store's return policies, if the items you initially purchase need to be exchanged or completely returned. Not all computers are created equal, and it is a mistake to think that they are, offered Trabert. Tablet style computers are meant to be transported from place to place easily.

Some computers are meant to be carried in a backpack easily and will effortlessly connect with the campus wi-fi sites and will readily survive the jostling that goes with being transported from spot to spot via a college student's book bag.

When it comes to the idea of parents having a greater piece of mind that the items they have purchased for the college bound student will work well together once they are actually on campus can be enhanced several ways, but one of the best is making time to connect with the school's residence hall officials to verify what internet service is available, costs and how to secure an appointment.

The information you are able to use them to manage can generally be synced seamlessly at whatever point in the day you choose to do your review of the day's notes of projects with your more all purpose laptop or desktop.

Today's laptops are far lighter in overall weight than units were even a year or two ago and have substantially longer battery life, and generally much higher resolution screens and pixels for integrated cameras.

If your student is heading into a college situation where they will be living away from home, chances are they will have to secure some sort of internet service, and quickly.

Wheeling Jesuit University and other local schools have now established network connections in every residence hall room via providers such as Comcast, and make the necessary tech items needed to make this type of everyday resource available to students in the bookstore.

Trabert joins other industry experts in suggesting students take the time to ask questions of school officials concerning what resources exist or are easily available for solving tech problems, as well as for initial installation.

Most colleges do not have tech resources available for trouble shooting or computer maintenance.

For those services, purchasing an insurance or maintenance agreement with a larger retailer is often the most reliable means of getting your college student quality tech assistance quickly.

College and the technical tools you'll need to master it can be complicated - however, ask the right questions to find the right tools you'll need to succeed at both.



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