Top 10 Back-to-School Tricks For 2013

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As the summer months end and students return to campuses across the U.S., they enter into an ever-growing digital lifestyle where assignments and projects depend on, and even live in, the Web.

The process of getting books, finding your classes, and even studying for those classes can be pretty hectic, especially when first returning to school and relearning some of the social ropes.

We’ve put together an academic survival guide for you and your wallet that we’ve taken to calling the “Top10 Google Tricks for Back-to-School in 2013.”

1. The Secret Google Dictionary

Searching for a term by itself, such as “embolus,” will display a wide range of results, some of which define the term but most of which use it in a very specific context. Google has a syntax rule that will allow you to specifically search for a Web definition of a term – and this search works best for new terms, especially technology related, that may be in common use.

Simply type “define:” (without the quotes, and make sure there is no space between define and the colon) and then the term you want to look up. Building on our example above, typing “define: embolus” will give the Web definition of an embolus and even provide a pronunciation key.

2. Limit Your Searches to Certain Websites

Google allows you to add in certain tags to your search to limit where you get information from. This can be limited to specific websites, like the White House’s whitehouse.gov, or domains, such as the .gov domain for all government websites, thanks to the “site:” command. Again, no quotes and no space.

Let’s say you want to see what President Obama has said about student loan forgiveness. You can Google “student loan forgiveness site:whitehouse.gov” (without the quotes) to see what has been posted on the White House’s website. If you want to search all government sites, the search term becomes “student loan forgiveness site:.gov” – make sure not to put a space between the colon and the period.

3. Search Categories

If you’re trying to refine your Web search but aren’t sure what websites or domains to use, you can turn to Google’s category searches to help narrow down your options.

  • Head to Google.com and look at the black bar at the top of the screen. The terms like Images, Maps, News, etc… are mostly categories that can be searched – a few like Gmail are specific functions.
  • Under the “More” section, Google also has a variety of other search categories listed, from Books and Shopping to Financial and Blogger content.

4. Advanced Searching

Google’s advanced search tab offers a lot of nice features to help you with your next project. Not only can you turn on safe searches and look for specific languages, but it also allows you to search for specific types of content, such as images, graphics, or songs that are in the public domain and able to be used in your work without violating any laws – teachers love it when you don’t break laws.

5. Finding Your Way with Google Maps

For those of you returning to major universities, Google has likely added its Street View imagery for your daily commute. Google has taken its cameras through school grounds to provide you with the tools to quickly find your route and get to class on time.

Google Maps can also be used to estimate traffic at the time of your departure and help you get to class on time by knowing your commute or suggesting an alternate route. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people with 8 a.m. classes so you’ll need time to get through traffic and still look for that parking lot.
Or, if you walk to school, Google Maps can help you plan on getting the absolute most amount of sleep each day.

6. Find Books Online

Google’s Book search, http://books.google.com/, can help you find books online or elsewhere. If your local library has partnered with Google or other Web book services, Google can see if the book you’re searching for is available nearby, or suggest stores that carry it on a regular basis.

7. You Don’t Have to Buy the Classics!

Google has made many of the major classics available through its Google Books and Play offerings for free! Yes, that is really, actually free.
Classic books in the public domain have been entered by various users or scanned directly by Google. This means many secondary texts for literature classes won’t eat your wallet.

Searching on the Play store or on Google Books will provide you with a chance to download these books for free.
Some people have made collections of these books and sell them for a few dollars, but there are typically options sponsored by Google or Project Gutenberg that are available for free.

8. Study Ahead of Time with YouTube EDU

You can turn all those hours you spent watching YouTube this summer into a healthy study habit thanks to YouTube EDU. The service, available at http://www.youtube.com/education, includes content from national education sources, experts in respective fields, organizations that focus on education, and even professors from major universities giving lectures.

The service made a name for itself when it curated astrophysics explanations, but it has videos covering most major industries and historic events. YouTube EDU breaks its knowledge base down by either subject or grade-level.

9. Cooperation on Assignments with Google Docs

Google Docs allow you to share work files, like Word or Excel documents, online with others. Using these for group projects means you can collaborate even if everyone can’t meet, something that’s likely to happen as people balance different classes and work schedules.

10. Make Class Materials Available Online

This last one is for you teachers out there. Students lose handouts; it is a fact of nature. Avoid those headaches over missed assignments and lost syllabi by putting everything up on the Web – we suggest using Google Docs. That way, you can ensure all students have access to what they need, each and every day.
Google docs is also a great way to post groups for projects since, especially as the year drags on, students are notorious for missing important days.