by Rebecca Kern

From note sharing to book rentals, online social media tools help students share information

Roughly 52 percent of the world's population is under 30 years old, and in the United States, 75 percent of this generation uses social media, based on a 2010 Pew Research Center study on the Millennial generation. College students make up a significant segment of that population.

Just as college students are using social media websites like Facebook and Twitter to share their social lives online, new social media tools are a way these students can share their academic work online as well. Here is a rundown of some social media tools college students can use to share everything from homework help to book rentals.

[Read Do's and Don'ts for College Students Using Social Media]

Prezi.com

This online tool allows collaborators around the world to create interactive presentations to share with others, both online and offline. Adam Somlai-Fischer and Peter Halacsy launched Prezi from their homes in Budapest in 2009 because they felt that PowerPoint slides limited their ability to develop and explain ideas. Instead of clicking through individual slides, Prezi viewers click around a large "mind-map," which can feature text, images, and videos, explains Patrick Johnson, a junior at the University of South Florida who has used the site for college presentations. Prezi's Chief Evangelist Angelie Agarwal, who spreads the word about the site, equates Prezi to an "infinite whiteboard" wherein the audience can see an overview of a topic, or zoom in to see the relations between topics. Prezi Founder and Head of Design Somlai-Fisher created an example of this kind of presentation, which they naturally call a "prezi": "Why You Should Move Beyond Slides."

Colby Gergen, a junior at the University of Missouri , says he likes Prezi because it is a new tool people are more likely to pay attention to, as opposed to PowerPoints, which he says cause people to "zone out." "Prezi makes my presentation better because it's really based around using images and graphics more than using text-heavy, bullet-point, paragraph style PowerPoints." Gergen says he's used Prezi for a variety of projects, including presentations for classes and organizations, as well as public speaking events. Students can also create a résumé on Prezi and then post it on their LinkedIn profile or on other job sites.

Prezi can be shared with others both online and offline, where students can collaborate with others, says Somlai-Fischer. Students can make their prezi public on the "Prezi Showcase," where anyone on the site can see it. They can also embed the prezi on a blog or website, or they can share it via an E-mail sent by Prezi. Finally, students can share the prezi link on Facebook or Twitter through the "Prezi Showcase."

GradeGuru.com

On this free note-sharing website, students rate their peers' class notes so that only the strongest survive--and those get rewarded. GradeGuru, an education start-up by McGraw Hill, was founded in 2008 by Emily Sawtell, the director of student innovation for the textbook publisher. Students can sign up either through their Facebook account via Facebook Connect or register directly on GradeGuru.com. Students can search for notes on specific classes within their school, or they can search for more general topics or classes in the network of more than 330 colleges and universities.

Students can earn "status" rankings of gold, silver, or bronze, as well as accrue points on GradeGuru based on their notes' quality, quantity, and user ratings. Also, there's a monetary incentive for taking good notes in class. For every 100 points a student acquires, he or she earns $1. These earnings can be traded in for PayPal credits, Starbucks or iTunes gift cards, or donations to environmental organizations, including American Forests and Trees for the Future. As soon as students attain silver or gold status, they rise to the Guru Privileges Program, a job and internship recruitment program. These students receive a monthly newsletter on job opportunities and can then send their résumés to employers.

Notehall.com

This website allows students to buy and sell their notes to other students. Students can sign up for the site for free but have to purchase or earn credits to download other students' personal lecture notes, study guides, and outlines from 56 colleges. Students can earn credits by referring friends to the site, rating documents they have bought, and by selling their own notes. Students can earn cash on the site by selling their notes. They get to keep 50 percent of the standard prices: Students pay $4 for study guides, $2 for reading notes and $1 for lecture notes, says founder and CEO Sean Conway. Students can receive their earnings by check or PayPal. Students have earned more than $120,000 since August 2009 from selling their notes, Conway says.

David Spinks, community manager for Scribnia.com, a reader review site of bloggers and columnists, calls the site a "marketplace for study guides" where students can share the work they have already done with others and earn money at the same time.

Dropbox.com

Students can store their electronic files on this digital storage website, which enables students to access them remotely from smart phones or computers. With more than 4 million users, Dropbox is popular with both students and faculty, according to Adam Gross, vice president of sales and marketing for Dropbox. The site offers a 2 GB account for free. If students invite a friend to join the site, they can each receive an additional 250 MB for free. Users have the option to pay $9.99 per month for 50 GB and $19.99 per month for 100 GB. Files in the Dropbox, such as student presentations, documents, or photos, can be shared through Twitter and Facebook.

Dana Lewis, a senior at the University of Alabama , swears by Dropbox. "I use it back up all the school files so I have another remote location. In case something happens, I can get it from another computer." She allows people she's working with on group projects to view her folders by sharing the link with them. "It's really great for project management and collaboration."

Chegg.com

This textbook rental site was the first of its kind to rent books online when it launched in 2007. On the site, students can search for the author, title, or ISBN number of the textbook. Then, they select the length of time they want to rent the book for, such as for a quarter or semester, and pay the rental fee. Students are allowed to highlight, but not write, in the book. Then, when the student wants to return the books, they can print off a free shipping label to mail them back. On average the site saves students $500 a year, says Tina Couch, the vice president of public relations for Chegg.com. The site claims to have saved students more than $194 million to date. Chegg.com also plants a tree with American Forests for every student that rents from the site. Couch says the company has planted almost 3 million trees all over the world.

Johnson, from the University of Florida, is a big fan of Chegg.com. He says he spent $80 to $100 on his textbooks this semester, which would've costs him $200 each if he paid full price. He encourages students to rent at Chegg.com as early as possible prior to the semester, when they are sold for "a ridiculously low amount." He also says the rental site has all of the newest editions of the textbooks with supplemental materials, which some campus bookstores may not have. "For kids who don't want to own books or are on tight on a budget, Chegg.com makes a lot of sense," Patrick says.

Couch says the name of the site is a combination of "chicken" and "egg," playing off the adage, "Which comes first, the chicken or the egg." The saying applies to the site, she says, because students need education to get a job, and in order to get a job, you need education.

 

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5 Social Media Tools for College Students