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Upgrade Complete: Technology and Studying

by on January 21, 2013

PC, iPad, AndroidOver the break I received my first Apple product ever, an iPad. I also left behind my trusty “dumbphone,” whose fanciest feature was a slide-out keyboard for texting, circa 2009. In its place I joined nearly two-thirds of college-age Americans by upgrading to a smartphone, an Android device.

My dorm-room desk is now inhabited by more computer chips than, I imagine, the average campus might have contained during my parents’ schooling. The printer in my bedroom might whir to life while I sit across campus in class, as I print out a study guide wirelessly as soon as a quiz is assigned. The whole class can comment on a post on Facebook following a notable quote from a professor.

With all this interconnectivity you might expect that I now spend more time sitting using a screen. But surprisingly, I have found instead that I avoid a lot of distraction. Sure, in class sometimes I

struggle to get a document open and miss the first slide or two, but that is just because I am new to the device and apps, and still figuring things out. Saving my time, I never check my email or social networks needlessly, because if any new message has come in, there’s a little number on the app icon. Furthermore, spending time browsing my Facebook news feed on a small screen is not nearly as appealing as on a computer screen, meaning less distraction.

With that preface, allow me to outline some of the more helpful apps I have learned to use in the couple of weeks I have been back in class.

Native apps: Calendars and Email

I have long used a host of Google apps like their Calendar, and my email is through Hotmail. However, both the Android and iPad have native apps which synced nicely with my existing services, with a little time invested in setup. The calendar has been my most effective app, as I created a class schedule that shows what is next on the homescreen of my phone, and a SmartAction that automatically sets the phone to silent during class. No accidental ringing for me!

iAnnotate or Goodreader

These comparable apps are the ultimate in-class tool. Since most of my professors post Powerpoint presentations online for us, I can download them into these apps and then fully annotate them during lecture. Users can add drawings, typed text or highlighting on top of the slides, similar to printing and annotating the presentation. However, there are a few advantages over pen and paper. If the professor draws a diagram on the board, I can pay attention to her speaking rather than furiously scribbling a copy into my notes, then simply take a photo and add it to the presentation. When preparing for exams, the apps also allow searching in the slides and annotations, eliminating the need to flip through months of notes. Goodreader even allows you to import entire textbooks. ($9.99 and $4.99 respectively, iPad.)


Allows users to create and organize digital flashcards. My favorite feature is the card suggestions that the app supplies as you type. Put the word ‘neutrophil’ on one side, and you will have the option to complete the card with definitions or images that previous users have created. Cards are also organized by your school’s classes, so I have shared card sets with a handful of classmates. With my tablet now, I can sketch diagrams and shoot a picture of it to add to the cards, too. Also, a recent pegs flashcards as one of the most effective studying techniques. (Free, Android and iPad.)


Allows a quick drawing from scratch, or allows me to annotate a photo. I often use this in conjunction with iAnnotate. One use: physiology homework is assigned from mulitple-choice textbook questions, so rather than reducing the book re-sell value by circling answers in it, or writing answers on a separate paper and losing context, I take a photo and annotate that instead. (Free, Android and iPad)

Dropbox, Google Drive

The key to functioning on three different devices, all using different operating systems. My phone photos are automatically added to a Dropbox folder for immediate access. Classmates give each other access to online folders to share notes and study materials. It makes studying a much more collaborative and effective process. (Free, Android, iPad and computer.)


There are advantages to having some consistency between devices, and Google’s browser offers a solid choice wherever you are. Most useful to me is the ‘Other Devices’ feature, which shows which tabs are open elsewhere. I’ll often use this to save a page for viewing later or to get easy access from another device when the screen on my phone is less than ideal. My one issue: class notes are stored on a site online, and Chrome would prefer to open the presentations itself, requiring me to use the iPad’s native Safari to open presentations to other apps like iAnnotate. (Free, Android, iPad, and computer.)


This game presents case studies, challenging you to make the right diagnosis. Ideal for fellow medical geeks. (Free, Android and iPad.)

So far I have been a big fan of all of the focus-aiding, time saving features of my new devices. However, don’t be surprised to see an update on app recommendations six months or a year from now as I gain more experience. With mobile devices gaining ever more uses in the medical world, I have no doubt that my experience has just begun.

If you would like more information on any of the apps and setups mentioned here, I would be glad to provide answers to your questions in the comments. Additionally, if anyone has recommendations for other helpful apps, please post them. Particularly- and ironically- I am still hunting for the best blog reader. 


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