About Us

Student health 101

Getting Good Grades with Gadgets

Getting Good Grades with Gadgets is a resource for anyone who wants to learn how to use mainstream and/or assistive technologies to succeed in school. John Lee, Assistive Technology Specialist at the DRC, has compiled the following list of gadgets that can assist students with note-taking, reading, writing, studying, research, time management, organization, and math. Many of these gadgets include software, apps, and built-in utilities that students may already have on their computers and mobile devices or can download for free. If you have questions, feedback, or gadget suggestions, please email John at jlee245@calpoly.edu.

Quick Links

Gadgets for Notetaking

Livescribe smartpen

  • Costs: $180 (new 2 GB pen); $25 for a 4-pack of single-subject notebooks; eligible DRC students can check out a Livescribe Echo smartpen as a notetaking accommodation
  • Livescribe Desktop companion software (free) allows you to backup, view, organize, share, and search your smartpen notes on your PC or Mac.
  • Ideas for notetaking/studying:
    • Print prof's PowerPoint slides on Livescribe dot paper before class
    • Create flashcards using Livescribe dot paper or Livescribe Sound Stickers

Windows options:

Mac options:

  • Audio Note ($4.99) type notes with synchronized recorded audio; can also synchronize your notes with the AudioNote app listed below.
  • OneNote (free) powerful, organizing, planning, and notetaking tool now available to Mac users. 
  • Evernote (similar to OneNote, but free; * download the Evernote Web Clipper plug-in for your preferred browser)

iPad options:

  • Notability app ($1.99) and AudioNote app ($4.99) - synchronize audio recording with what you type; similar to how the Livescribe pen works. With Notability, you can also import PDFs (e.g., from PolyLearn) and annotate them as desired.

  • NoteTaker HD app ($4.99) - Excellent handwriting notetaker app that also supports typing and drawing. Loaded with features, including wrist guard, support for left-handers, zoom, and PDF markup. The Penultimate app (free) is a similar handwriting app, but with a simpler layout. 

  • OneNote app (free; iPhone/iPad/Android) - create notebooks/sections and synchronize them with OneNote on your Windows PC or Mac.

  • Evernote app (free) - allows you to access your notes on your iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone and sync them across all of your devices. Also available for Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone.

Back to top

Gadgets for Reading

Windows options:

  • Speak tool (available in Word, Excel, PowerPoint 2010/2013/2016; this is a built-in feature that you must activate in order to use; great for proofreading)
  • Word Talk plug-in (free; highlights and reads aloud selected text in Word 2003/2007/2010)
  • NaturalReader Free version (simple text-to-speech software that reads aloud any selected text using built-in Microsoft voices)
  • Balabolka (free) - advanced text-to-speech software that reads aloud any selected text using built-in Microsoft voices; allows you to open PDF and Word documents directly within Balabolka and have the text read aloud with synchronized highlighting; allows you to convert text to mp3; allows you to save text as an LRC file (lyrics file) that is paired with the mp3 and can be played karaoke style on Windows computer via free MiniLyrics software, or via MP3 player app ($1.99) for iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad.
  • Kindle for PC (free; Windows 7/Vista/XP) - search for and read e-textbooks or PDFs for a better reading experience than in Adobe Reader. To import PDFs: copy desired PDF, then paste it in My Documents > My Kindle Content folder. Your PDFs will appear in the Kindle Library the next time you open the software. Lots of ways to customize the display settings for e-books. To have your PDF or e-textbook read aloud: first turn on Windows Narrator (click Start > type "Narrator" in Search box), then use the Kindle for PC Keyboard Shortcuts to control playback and navigation. Kindle for PC will then use the high-quality Nuance Vocalizer voices (Samantha and Tom) to read your text aloud. Once you start reading with those voices, you can turn off Windows Narrator at any time.
  • Read & Write – Reading Features (highlights and reads aloud text in Word, Internet Explorer, Adobe PDF, email, etc); need headphones on library PCs (Available on all library PCs)
  • Learning Tools add-on for OneNote -  free Add-in for OneNote that helps everyone improve reading and writing skills, including gifted learners, students with learning differences or a combination of any of a broad range of unique learning abilities. Immersive Reader highlights text as it's read aloud. Also available in Word Online.
  • Open Dyslexic font (free) - open sourced font created to improve readability of text for readers with dyslexia. Once downloaded, use it in Microsoft Word and other applications.

Mac options:

  • Built-in OS X features (can be used in TextEdit, Preview, Mail, Safari, and Word for Mac): Text-to-speech (System Preferences > Speech); iTunes mp3 track creation (Word/Safari menu > Services); Summarize feature (Safari/Preview menu > Services); Reader (located in Safari's address bar)
  • NaturalReader Free version (simple text-to-speech software that reads aloud any selected text using built-in Mac voices)
  • Open Dyslexic font (free) - open sourced font created to improve readability of text for readers with dyslexia. Once downloaded, use it in Microsoft Word and other applications.

Web browser options:

  • Google Chrome extensions - Read&Write for Google (read Google Docs with text-to-speech output and dual synchronized highlighting; includes translator feature; can also hover over or select text on most webpages and have it read aloud with synchronized highlighting)
  • Firefox plug-in - Text to Voice (reads selected text aloud)
  • Open Dyslexic font (free browser extension for Chrome and Safari) - open sourced font created to improve readability of text for readers with dyslexia. Enable/disable the font in the browser's Extensions settings.
  • BeeLine Reader (free browser extension for Chrome) - makes reading faster and easier by using a color gradient that guides your eyes from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. This gradient makes you less likely to skip or repeat lines, so you read faster. 
  • Website-based summarizers - Summarize tool from Tools4Noobs; Smmry
  • SensusAccess (free web-based service) - upload PDF or Word documents to be converted to mp3 audio that you can listen to on the go. * Use your Cal Poly email address.

iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch options:

  • "Speak Selection" feature (built in to iOS Accessibility) - select text then tap the "Speak" button to hear it read aloud. "Speak Screen" feature - swipe down from top of screen to hear text read aloud in email, webpage articles, and OneDrive docs.
  • Voice Dream Reader app ($14.99) - Text-to-speech app with built-in high-quality female voice that reads text aloud with synchronized highlighting; support for Word, PDF, and ePub documents; Reading Mode to aid with focus; built-in Web Browser and text editor; OpenDyslexia font option. Annotation features include ability to highlight text and add notes, which can all then be exported into a separate document or email. Also available for Android.
  • ClaroSpeak app ($9.99)  - Text-to-speech app with high-quality voices that read text aloud with synchronized highlighting; import Word and PDF documents into ClaroSpeak to be read aloud; convert text to mp3 audio; great for proofreading & reading comprehension; OpenDyslexia font option.
  • openWeb app (free) - Dyslexia-friendly web browser that uses OpenDyslexic font, reformatted webpages with reduced clutter/distraction, and glare-reduced reading; requires iOS 6. 
  • ER Browser app ($0.99) - Dyslexia-friendly web browser designed to help those with vision and reading difficulty navigate the web. Select from numerous color themes, font, text size, and letter spacing options based on your reading needs and preferences.
  • GoodReader app ($4.99; ideal for iPad) - Read and annotate PDF/Word documents on your iPad; Extract highlighted and annotated notes into a separate file that you can email to yourself; Sync documents with computer via DropBox.

Back to top

Gadgets for Writing

Windows options:

Mac options:

  • Dictation (built into Mac OS X; System Preferences > Dictation & Speech > turn it On. Press Fn twice to bring up mic and start dictating; Press Fn once when done). Speak clearly and enunciate your words for best results.  * Requires Internet connection
  • Dragon Dictate for Mac ($199) - uses the same speech recognition engine as Dragon NaturallySpeaking for Windows.
  • AutoComplete (built into Mac OS X; tries to complete the word you are typing; press Command+period to activate in TextEdit)
  • FreeMind (free mind-mapping/brainstorming software)

Web browser options:

  • Google Chrome extensions:Voice Note (you can use your webcam's microphone to dictate into the Voice Note window, then copy and paste the dictated text into any application. Speak clearly and enunciate your words for best results). Ginger for Chrome and Grammarly for Chrome (free advanced spelling/grammar checkers)

iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch options:

  • Siri Assistant (available on iPhone 6/7/8/X and iPad 3/4/Air/Pro) - Try using Siri to send text directly into Google Docs on your laptop by dictating into a Google Doc on your iPhone/iPad; Ask Siri to spell/define a word.
  • iPad 3, 4, Air, Pro's built-in dictation - press mic in the lower left corner of the iPad's onscreen keyboard.
  • iA Writer app ($4.99; ideal for iPad) - Basic, easy-to-use word processor with a distraction-free layout that helps you focus on writing; unique Focus Mode allows you to concentrate on only 3 lines of writing at a time. 
  • Idea Sketch app (free; iPhone/iPad) - mind-mapping/brainstorming app

Back to top

Gadgets for Studying/Research

Windows options:

  • Read & Write - Study Skills Highlighters feature (highlight text in Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Google Docs, or Word, then click the Collect Highlights toolbar button to have all highlighted text extracted and exported to a Word document with appropriate Bibliography). TIP: Use Read & Write GOLD's Scan feature to convert your PDFs (e.g., from PolyLearn) into Word documents that you can then highlight and annotate with Read & Write GOLD's digital highlighters.(Available on all library PC's) 
  • Kindle for PC (free; Windows 7/Vista/XP) - search for and read e-textbooks or PDFs for a better reading/annotating experience than in Adobe Reader. To import PDFs: copy desired PDF, then paste it in My Documents > My Kindle Content folder. Your PDFs will appear in the Kindle Library the next time you open the software. To annotate text: select text, then click "Highlight" or "Add Note". To use the dictionary: simply select the word and the definition will appear. Click "Full Definition" to see other alternatives and to use the built-in Nuance Vocalizer voices to read the definitions aloud.
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader DC (free) - basic PDF viewer now includes numerous annotation tools, including voice notes, highlighting, underlining, and text comments.
  • FoxIt Reader (free) - faster, lighter alternative to Adobe Reader for PDFs. Includes numerous annotation tools and a text-only mode.

Mac options:

  • Adobe Acrobat Reader DC (free) -  basic PDF reader now includes numerous annotation tools, including voice notes, highlighting, underlining, and text comments.
  • Preview (built into Mac OS X) - Mac's alternative to Adobe Reader is faster when it comes to loading and scrolling through PDFs. Includes numerous annotation tools.

Web-based options:

  • Quizlet (free online flashcards) - find, create, or share flashcards. Search millions of flashcard sets already created. Works with apps such as Quizlet and Flashcardlet (listed below).
  • Study Blue (free online flashcards) -  search and create your own flashcards. Works with Study Blue app (listed below).
  • Flashcard Flash - search engine that searches over 25 flashcard services for flashcard sets that match what you're looking for.
  • All browsers plug-in - Diigolet (provides digital highlighters and sticky notes that let you annotate webpages, then generate a report with all highlights & annotations collected in your free Diigo account; great tool for active and critical e-reading, individual research, and collaborative projects)

iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch options

  • Quizlet app (free "flashcard" app) - Works in conjunction with Quizlet website. Search or create your own flashcard sets. Audio in multiple languages helps reinforce pronunciation and retention.  Also available for Android. 
  • Study Blue app (free "flashcard" app) - Works in conjunction with Study Blue website. Also available for Android.
  • Adobe Reader app (free) - good, basic PDF reading app that includes annotation and commenting tools.
  • Notability app ($1.99; iPad) - import PDFs into Notability where you can highlight, add text notes, and make other annotations.
  • iAnnotate PDF app ($9.99; iPad) - powerful, feature-rich PDF app with lots of annotation tools for marking up PDFs.

Back to top

Gadgets for Time Management/Organization

Windows options:

  • Microsoft Sticky Notes (free) - sticky-note software that helps you jot down, manage, and organize information, as well as create reminders with alarms and repeat options.
  • Cold Turkey (free) - software blocks access to social media, websites, and programs (e.g., games) for a specified period of time to keep you focused on your work so you'll be more productive.
  • Wunderlist (free) - simple, well-designed To-Do list manager that allows you to create custom lists of tasks to do (e.g., school, work, personal); add due dates, reminders, and/or recurring tasks; syncs across all of your devices.

Mac options:

  • Stickies - built into Mac OS X; located in the Applications folder.
  • Self Control (free) - software blocks access to email and selected websites (e.g., Facebook) for a specified period of time to keep you focused on your work so you'll be more productive. 
  • Wunderlist (free) - simple, well-designed To-Do list manager that allows you to create custom lists of tasks to do (e.g., school, work, personal); add due dates, reminders, and/or recurring tasks; syncs across all of your devices.

Web-based options:

  • Google Calendar (free web-based calendar; can be synced with your smartphone and Zimbra calendar)
  • Lino (free web-based sticky notes) - works on nearly every browser, PC or Mac; set due date for sticky note and receive an email reminder on the due date;  sync sticky note due dates with Google Calendar; access your sticky notes on any computer or mobile device (Lino app is free for iPhone/iPad, as well as Android)
  • Stay Focusd (free Chrome extension blocks access to selected websites for a specified period of time to keep you focused on your work so you'll be more productive)
  • LeechBlock (free Firefox add-on designed to block those time-wasting sites that can suck the life out of studytime) 
  • Wunderlist for Web (free Chrome extension) - simple, well-designed To-Do list manager that allows you to create custom lists of tasks to do (e.g., school, work, personal); add due dates, reminders, and/or recurring tasks; syncs across all of your devices. Web-based version includes built-in dictation capabilities.

iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch options

  • MyHomework app (free; iPhone/iPad) - great daily planner/note-taking app with audio recording capabilities; get reminders for tests, homework due dates, classes, etc.
  • iStudiez Pro app ($2.99; iPhone/iPad) - comprehensive school planner app that syncs well with all of your smartphone calendars; easily keep track of your tests/assignments, courses, instructors, and grades.Free Lite version available for trial use.
  • Timetable app (free; Android) - popular, well-designed app for managing your school or university life, including class schedule and tasks from homework to exams. Syncs across all of your devices.
  • Wunderlist app (free; iPhone/iPad/Android) - simple, well-designed To-Do list manager that allows you to create custom lists of tasks to do (e.g., school, work, personal); add due dates, reminders, and/or recurring tasks; syncs across all of your devices.
  • Finish app ($0.99; iPhone/iPad) - simple, fully automated, timeframes-based task management with due dates. Your tasks automatically slide up as time passes through your customizable Short-, Mid-, and Long-Term Timeframes. Earn free rewards for completed tasks!
  • 30/30 app (free, iPhone/iPad) - simple, gesture-controlled app for organizing your immediate tasks into timed intervals to help keep you  focused and on track.
  • Reminders (built into iOS 5/6/7) - get notified of your to-do items by time/date and/or location. If you have an iPhone 4S or newer, you can use Siri to set reminders (e.g., say "Remind me to finish my report by 6"). On your iPhone, go into the Settings app > choose "Reminders" > make sure that the Default list is set at "Reminders" (not "Tasks"). Location-based reminders can be set to remind you to perform a task when you arrive at or leave a location (e.g., say "Remind me to get gas when I leave home"). To specify the location, you can type in an address, select an existing Contact, or select a Contact you create via the Maps app.

Back to top

Gadgets for Math

  • Wolfram Alpha (web-based  & apps) - web-based answer engine that performs computations related to mathematics, sciences, etc. Apps are available for $2-$4 for iPhone/iPad/Android.
  • Geogebra (free educational software; PC/Mac/Linux) - interactive software for geometry, algebra, calculus.
  • MyScript Calculator app (free; iOS/Android) – write your mathematical expressions on the screen, and the app will convert your handwriting to digital text and solve it for you; faster than a regular calculator app.
  • Math Ref app ($1.99; iOS/Android) - browse over 1,400 formulas, figures, and examples to help you with math, physics, chemistry and more. Use an expanding list of helpful tools such as unit converter, quadratic solver, and triangle solver to perform common calculations.

Back to top

Miscellaneous Gadgets

  • DropBox - 2 GB of free cloud-based storage; allows sharing of documents between devices and users; free software (PC/Mac/Linux) and app (iPhone/iPad/Android).
  • Google Drive - 5 GB of free cloud-based storage for Google Docs.
  • LibreOffice (free; Windows/Mac/Linux) - free office suite software (alternative to MS Office) that allows you to import MS Office documents or save to MS Office file formats.
  • Khan Academy videos (web-based & app) - free online instructional videos about a variety of subjects (e.g., math, science, computer science, economics, etc)
  • Office Lens app (free), Genius Scan app (free), and TurboScan app ($1.99) - turns your iPhone/Android into a pocket scanner that lets you quickly take scans of a whiteboard or document and email/export them as PDFs to OneNote, Evernote, DropBox, etc.
  • Qrafter app (free QR code reader app) - iPhone/iPad app can be used to scan QR codes like the one on this handout and take you to a webpage or automatically add an event to your calendar.
  • Mendeley (free software and app; Windows/Mac/Linux/iOS) - research-based software that lets you import, organize, and highlight/annotate PDFs as well as generate automatic citations for them.Search engine allows you to search and read millions of research papers.
  • avast! Free Anti-virus (free; Windows/Mac) - keep your computer protected from viruses and spyware by installing this highly rated, free anti-virus software on your PC or Mac.

Back to top

Follow on Twitter @GGGwGadgets:


 

twitter

Related Content

Contact

Location: Bldg 124 (Student Services, across from Spanos Stadium)
Phone: 805-756-1395
Fax: 805-756-5451
Email: drc@calpoly.edu

Give Today

A group of young people looking very excited

Give Today

Strategic Plan

Get the Student Affairs Strategic Plan

Get the plan here