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Gratitude for Technology: Tech Tips for Students

How to Leverage Tech to 10 Times Your Productivity During Exam Season

Technology has clearly transformed how we do work, how we learn, and how we communicate. In this blog, I’ll dive into a few easy-to-implement applications of these transformative technologies that help me multiply my ability to learn on a daily basis.

From long nights copying textbooks in the library, to hand-written final reports, to white-out and typewriters, to lugging slide rules around campus, to manually drafting engineering drawings, to solving complicated differential equations by hand, to primitive dial-up internet, "success" in the academic days of yesterday now seems like a Herculean task.

Now laptops effortlessly boot up and connect to the internet in mere seconds. Information is a mere microsecond search away. Laser printers are ubiquitous and inexpensive. Printed reports cost a fraction of a penny and are abundant in dorm rooms, apartments, and libraries.

Technology has clearly transformed how we do work, how we learn, and how we communicate.

I am humbled by those college students that came before me. They did incredible work with tools tens-of-millions of times less powerful than the technology that we have access to today—literally.

In 1982, for example, the Commodore-64 gave students 64 kilobytes (64,000 bytes) of memory, 20,000 FLOPS (Floating-point-operations-per-second) of computing power, and lived on an entire desk.

Now, a standard issue Apple iPhone X comes with 64 gigabytes (64,000,000,000 bytes) 500 BILLION FLOPS, and it fits in your pocket.

That’s a memory boost of 64,000,000 TIMES, and a computing power gain of 25,000,000 TIMES.

I am grateful for all transformative tools that save me time, free up bandwidth to work on more problems and higher quality solutions, and ingest and output information at previously unimaginable speeds.

I’m especially grateful for technology during final exams, when time is short, sleep and exercise are commodities, and the stakes are high. In this blog, I’ll dive into a few easy-to-implement applications of these transformative technologies that help me multiply my ability to learn on a daily basis.

Your New Transformative Learning Tools:

  • Text-to-Speech
  • Dictation
  • Online Lectures

Let’s get after it.

Text-to-Speech

With thousands of words to write and tens of thousands more to read and review throughout the semester, in-browser text-to-speech is a little known study and research hack.

Having a virtual (artificial intelligence) assistant read out your assigned readings saves time, enabling you to listen and learn while you cook, eat, walk, workout, or take notes.

Whether you are short on time or a highly audio/visual learner, text-to-speech is a truly game-changing study hack.

But how do you implement this game changing tool?

Do you have Google Chrome? Great. Google Chrome has a high-fidelity text-to-speech tool. Just highlight your desired text, right click, and select "TEXT-TO-SPEECH" then "START SPEAKING."

If you’re code-savvy, Google also offers a pristine, highly-configurable text-to-speech API that you can build into your own learning applications.

One tool that I want to build (or you can build!) is an application that takes an input PDF, a word document, or a web address and delivers a .MP4 file, reading out the document right to my iPhone.

This next-level-tech application is a primitive version of customizing audiobooks, podcast, YouTube videos, etc., which many of us already digest for hours every day.

That leads to the next hyper-productivity tech hack for multiplexing your academic performance… dictation.

Dictation

Text-to-speech apps are not the only hyper-productivity tech hack for multiplexing your academic performance. Dictation has also intensified by multitasking game.

With two realizations, dictation transformed my workflow:

  • My best ideas and most "fire" language for essays, papers, lab reports, social media posts, and blogs tend to come on walks/during workouts.
  • iPhones (and all other smartphones) have a built-in audio recording app.

Dictation can transform your workflow, too, and it’s easy.

Next time you are writing a paper, treat yourself to a walk or hit a hard workout to find some inspiration.

Remember to keep your phone and its audio memo app close.

As ideas for high-level content and nitty-gritty language come to you (and they will inevitably come to you), dictate and record your thoughts. Try to keep the dictation language tight, but not too tight, as if you were free writing on a blank page journal or in a word doc.

Once the audio file is recorded, there are two strategies (each with their own time and place) for transforming the audio file into a top-notch piece of writing:

Strategy 1: Transcribe the file yourself.

Transcribing the audio file yourself gives you an excellent, birds-eye view of your train of logic, ideas, and story arch. While you transcribe, your mind will race with new ideas, identify holes in your logic, and recognize novel approaches to better synthesizing information.

And that, folks, is how the first draft of this blog was born. Check! ✅

Strategy 2: Hire a transcription service.

For lower cognitive-intensity tasks, hiring a transcription service for a few dollars frees up 10, 20, 30, even 60 minutes—whatever length of audio file—for you to focus on higher-priority tasks.

There are some great and easy resources for finding reliable, low-cost transcription services. Some of my favorites have been Fiverr, Upwork, and Rev.

Beyond gained time, another MASSIVE perk of this strategy is that you will learn critical lessons about delegating, management, and prioritization.

Delegating lower-cognition tasks is a zero-risk way to dabble in delegating, a crucial skill for entrepreneurs, engineers, and any leader in today’s fast-paced economy and work environment.

What’s holding you back?

A lot of times, college students just can’t wrap their minds around paying someone to do their work for them.

However, if your self-value is greater than the cost of transcribing the document, it should be a simple, economically efficient call to outsource the task. We’ll dive deeper into this specific framework in a future blog post.

Remember though, as I mentioned in Strategy 1, there’s the added consideration of whether transcribing the document will help you better think through the problem that you are writing about. Make sure you choose the right strategy that will lead to the most successful outcome for your project—be sure to check and recheck yourself.

Next time that you have a short paper due, try to verbally synthesize and dictate your answer to your iPhone while you go for a walk. Witness this glorious example of how technology is augmenting mankind!

Online Lectures

Whether you need to catch up on a course, review the semester, or get on edge from another digitized university, online lectures are crucial to success.

Beyond making the information transfer process (i.e. lectures) time and location independent, online lectures give you the power to learn at your own rate.

Online lectures allow you to rewind a video when you’re unclear on a concept or to fast forward through redundant information. In turn, this tactic helps you to individualize and custom-tailor your education, further optimizing how you spend your time learning.

A video speed controller plug in is one of my favorite Google Chrome Plugins because it lets you speed up any HTML5-powered video (nearly all videos on the web right now). With the power of a quick-to install applet, that 12.5 hours of missed lectures just became seven or eight hours. High-speed lecture watching is a massive time-gainer.

Digitized and demonetized (free) courses from Coursera, EdX, KhanAcademy, and various YouTube channels are excellent compliments to standard class lectures and readings.

Sometimes it just takes an alternative teaching approach—maybe from world class faculty at MIT or a backyard scientist YouTuber—to help you understand a particularly challenging concept.

I’ll admit it. 72 hours before one of my final exams, I lagged about 12.5 hours of lectures behind in one particular class. Online lectures were the precise tool I needed to still get the job done.

Application: Outsourcing Your Note Taking

Online video lectures converge strongly with leveraging the transcription tactic we delved into earlier.

We’ve all been in a class where the lectures cover low-hanging, simple, and easy to digest information. In other words, while the lecture might take 60 to 75 minutes for a professor to deliver, there is no reason it should take that long for you to consume that information.

For these low-hanging information classes, online lecture recordings provide an unprecedented opportunity to outsource your note taking. You can turn 60 to 75 minutes of audio/video into 10 or 12 main bullet points.

Essentially, you’re outsourcing the job of assembling the easy-to-digest information that is scattered throughout the lecture information into a quick-to-digest format.

Pay attention to an important dichotomy here, there is a fine line that you, as the entrepreneurial student, need to walk. You must learn the concepts being taught in these lectures to fully leverage your education. At the same time, you need to actively cut out the frequent inefficiencies in the education system.

To help you navigate this dichotomy, double check the following:

Be honest with yourself about the difficulty level of the material. Is it in fact low-hanging, or is it denser subject matter that you need to put work into learning? This decision is highly subjective. For me, I need to spend the time massaging and incubating derivation-dense STEM lectures while I excel with densified lecture summaries for my humanities and social science requirements.

Do your due diligence. Provide the transcription service or freelancer with adequate standard note taking procedures and examples for how to best convey the important takeaways. Everyone learns differently and needs different nuggets of information to grasp concepts. It’s up to you to clearly define what your important takeaways are and how you want them presented.

These tech-fueled tactics make it clear that the digital revolution has transformed the playing field—delocalizing, demonetizing, and time-decoupling our ability to learn from the age-old lecture format. Online video lectures converge strongly with leveraging the transcription tactic we delved into earlier.

Conclusion

I am immensely grateful for these awesome tools made possible by the digital revolution of the past 60 years.

How much more can we learn if we begin to optimize our ability to intake information?

It is a bodacious time to be a student. Technology is empowering all types of learning styles, allowing all students to thrive in a truly choose-your-own-adventure academic world.

Do you have any tech-centric study tips? I’d love to hear about them.

Cheers to the New Year and the spring semester!

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