The advent of university heralds a fresh start, new experiences, and the formation of lifelong friendships. For many students, beginning university is also synonymous with technological upgrades; students today need their own laptops in order to keep up with schoolwork. You would be hard pressed to find a lecture hall, tutorial group, or seminar room that did not feature students frantically typing away on their laptops at lightning speed, desperate to get down any and all notes possible. For many St Andrews students, the transition to university and to computer based notes rather than paper and pen also means getting their first Mac laptop. I know for me and many of my friends that this was the case.
As a technologically inept individual, my transition from a rundown 2007 PC to a modern-age Mac was met with wonder and more than a bit of confusion. It seems that even two years later I am constantly finding out some new function that my computer is capable of. After talking to other students around St Andrews, I have learned that I am not alone. Not only are Mac computers powerful pieces of technology, their applications can also be used in unexpected, yet highly beneficial ways for the average university student.
But what is a Mac, and what Mac is the most popular among St Andrews students? After some highly scientific (I made a FB group chat of eight St Andrews students) research, it has been concluded that the most popular Mac on campus is the 13-inch MacBook Air. But why is this? And what are the other options? It seems that most students either have a 13- or 15-inch laptop, although sizes do vary. Furthermore, while the MacBook Air outpaces other styles, the MacBook Pro is also well represented among St Andreans. The MacBook Air is lighter, less expensive, and has less capabilities than its slightly less popular counterpart. Meanwhile, the MacBook Pro can be clunkier, has higher resolution and storage, and is particularly good for students interested in graphic design or computer programming. Finally, the nought represented Mac is a midway point both in price and capabilities between the Macbook Air and the Macbook Pro and comes in a 12-inch model.
Some “common” Mac features that increase efficiency but may not seem obvious to those who have recently transitioned from a PC include: the ability to scroll using the keypad, having two windows open next to one another, and automatic updates.
More exciting and certainly more baffling, to me at least, was learning all the ways I could manipulate existing Mac functions to serve practical purposes. For example, Photo Booth is a great tool for practicing class presentations.
While in first and second year most tutorial presentations are ungraded, as you move into honours, they can contribute significantly to your overall grade. This makes having a worthwhile practice tool an unparalleled advantage. In order to access Photo Booth, just search in Spotlight, and it will automatically download to your control bar. From there you can practice your presentation and see exactly what you will look like to your classmates and lecturer on the big day. Pay special attention to your body language, eye contact, and talking speed if you really want to impress everyone with your public speaking skills.
Another great function that all Macs come equipped with is the Dictionary application. I cannot tell you how many times I have typed “define” into google search in order to find a synonym for a word that has already appeared five times in a paragraph. Or, how often I do a Wikipedia search to get a basic understanding of a concept. The Mac Dictionary application provides a one stop shop for definitions, synonyms, and Wikipedia entries. It is a great tool for essay writing and helps keep your laptop screen less chaotic. I know that whenever I am writing an essay, I somehow always end up with 30 open tabs. All those tabs clutter my screen and make it hard for me to find the pages that I actually need. Using the Dictionary application helps keep your Safari tabs less clutt ered and keeps you from bouncing back and forth between the Oxford Dictionary, Wikipedia, and Merriam Webster websites.
Rather than downloading Microsoft Office, many students actually use the Notes feature to do exactly that — take lecture notes. I have always been a Google Drive devotee; however, after investigating this common Mac tip that multiple St Andrews students have recommended, I might just become a convert.
Not only can your notes always be accessed offline, they automatically sync to the cloud, and you can get them on your phone or other devices. The Notes feature makes it easy to have a quick glance over the most important information before a class test, final, or meeting. It is also nice because you can keep your notes organised, even if you do not feel like dragging a laptop to every lecture or event.
If the Dictionary application is not enough to help you declutt er your screen once and for all, then the Scrivener feature is an absolute must. It basically allows you to work on a majority of your screen, so whether you are writing an essay, typing up lecture notes, or creating the next great screenplay, you are not stuck squinting at the screen. What sets it apart, however, is that it provides a small research box where you can copy in the URLs to all of the sites that you are pulling information from. All you do is copy the link and press “add” to the research tab. I am not going to lie — I was very skeptical when a friend told me how great this application was; I hardly thought it would make me any more productive. But, I was completely wrong. If you are a technophobe like me you might be hesitant to try new ways of doing basic computer based tasks, but if you give it a go you will be surprised how many of these “hacks” actually work wonders.
While many of these tips could have helped with keeping your screen clear, your work well-organised, and your prep work practical, this next tip will truly perform miracles. I strongly recommend trying out the Calendar function. I am probably the worst culprit of forgett ing things simply because I did not write them down. Every year, I spend hours in Barnes and Noble agonising over which shiny new agenda book to buy. After settling on the “perfect” one, I commit myself to writing everything down and never forgetting a deadline ever again.
However, like with all previous attempts, two weeks in and I would be hard pressed to locate my perfect planner. The great thing about the Calendar application is it comes pre downloaded on all Macs, so even if you have not used it before, it is probably sitting right there on your control bar. You can colour coordinate based on event type, customize layout options, and set reminders. Also, since St Andreans are rarely seen without their laptops in hand it will be a lot harder to forget to write things down.
You can easily add in assignments, meetings, or coff ee dates whilst sitt ing in a tutorial, at a committee meeting, or chatt ing with a friend. Even more useful, for those few instances when you are sans-laptop, the Calendar will sync to an iPhone via The Cloud, and you can add in dates that way. This keeps everything organized and lo- cated in one place.
But is it all too much? In our quest to find shortcuts, have we become too reliant on technology? What would happen if some mystery computer bug resulted in all Macs crashing — how would St Andrews students survive? Would we as a University be able to hand in our essays and dissertations on time, would we remember how to take notes the old fashioned way using a paper and pen? While the advancements that come with technology can truly make us more productive students, more effi cient note takers, and better writers, we cannot become too reliant on technology to do our jobs for us. There is nothing wrong with taking full advantage of our computers’ capabilities but we should also remember that five, 10, 50 years ago the idea of a computer, the internet, or a Macbook would have seemed alien.