Online tools can enhance both your learning and your personal experience. Like anything else, you need to take some time to learn how to use them to their full advantage. We will look at just a few to get you started. Most of these tools have a counterpart in Blackboard.
Creating links to your favourite websites using "Favorites" in Explorer or "Bookmarks" in Firefox can be a big timesaver. You will spend much less time looking for previously viewed information if you get in the habit of bookmarking sites when you first use them. After bookmarking sites it is prudent to take some time to create a system of folders to organize your bookmarks.
If you haven't used bookmarks before, follow these simple steps. While viewing a webpage you'd like to save, just click the "Favorites" or "Bookmark" tool at the top of the screen. Once the drop-down menu will appears select "Add to Favorites" (for Explorer) or "Bookmark this Page" (for Firefox). Choose where you would like to locate the bookmark and title it, just as you did for file locations and names, and then click "OK." The site you've added is listed at the bottom of the list. When you want to view that website again, all you have to do is click the "Favorites" or "Bookmark" button and select the site.
You'll see that both browsers give you choices regarding how to manage your bookmarks. Spend some time organizing your bookmarks into folders and subfolders, otherwise you will waste time scrolling through lists of favourite sites to find the one you want. You might also find it useful to rename sites when you save them with a name that is easily recognizable. That way, when you look at your bookmarks, you don't have to open the site to remember the reason you saved it.
You've already seen how bookmarking can save you time. If you use more than one computer, you can use a web-based tool to organize your bookmarks and access them online, from any computer. Otherwise, the bookmarks you save on one computer won't be available on another, unless of course you take the time to bookmark all of your sites on all of the computers you use.
One popular choice is del.icio.us. You can also categorize your bookmarks, so you don't need to wade through an unordered list when you need to find subject-specific bookmarks. You can also use social bookmarking to send your favourite sites to other students, which is helpful when you're working on a group project.
In order to work efficiently it helps to have all the information you need in one convenient place. That is where RSS comes in. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Syndication and its most basic application is to inform you when sites you're following are updated.
Most websites, especially those that contain content that is constantly changing such as news sites, blogs, wikis and social networking sites, produce an RSS feed that you can subscribe to using software called a news reader or news aggregator. Use the small orange RSS icon that's on the toolbar at the top of your browser to see if a page you like has an RSS feed. Depending on the site, the RSS feed may contain just the headline, a small snippet or teaser or the whole article including media such as images and video.
To use RSS, you'll need a newsreader. You can download a newsreader application to your computer or use an online application, such as Google Reader or Bloglines. A little online research will help you find one you like.
Wikis (which are quick web pages) are easy to set up and edit on the fly, and come in handy for sharing links or brainstorming ideas.
If your class requires group work, online tools for collaborative writing such as Google docs are a great tool.
Some courses contain wikis or blogs. If you are using tools outside of Blackboard to complete assignments, a note of caution is necessary. You must ensure that any tool you use is compatible with those the instructor will use to open and mark your work. Files you upload must be in a format that can be opened by the instructor, and if applicable, your fellow students. Remember that not all students will have access to the same technology.
More information on file formats is included in the Technical Basics section.