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Andrew Pierce of Staten Island, N.Y., with his smart phone (Michael Falco)
Andrew Pierce of Staten Island, N.Y., with his smart phone (Michael Falco)

Home Cents

Treat your child's gadgets as productivity boosters Add to ...

As parents, we are often willing to spend more to help our kids get ahead in school. Many of us will lay out thousands of dollars on additional tutoring or buy extra books and tools to help our children learn more, better and faster. That's why it pays to check out the world of free web-based applications designed especially for students.

The student market is a sweet spot for software developers, as the younger demographic likes testing new products, adapts quickly to them and requires little support. Over the past few years, thousands of applications have popped up to help students navigate deadlines and course syllabuses. By the age of 12, most kids are comfortable enough with online applications and downloading to benefit from these tools. Now, instead of seeing your offspring's mobile device as a time waster, you can think of it as a productivity booster. To prepare your child for the coming school year, Tomer Shalit, CEO of software firm Nordic River, shares his favourite free apps.

1. HipCal.com This free personal scheduling program lets your student plan their classes, study time, and social calendar with ease. "The big benefit of this online application is you can synchronize to it from your mobile device," says Mr. Shalit. Students can stay on track with important events via alerts sent directly to their cell phone or email. They can create a group calendar for a club, project team, or group of friends.

A Canadian penny pinched by a blue and silver clamp/vice against a white background. iStockphoto
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2. EasyBib.com This automatic bibliography and citation maker lets students simply plug in their term paper sources and have a Works Cited page generated in a Microsoft Word document. Type in the first few words of a source - such as a book, journal or website article - and the app will search and find it. The basic version is free, but there is a premium package if you have a picky teacher that requires the bibliography to be formatted based on the Chicago Manual of Style.

3. CompareMyDocs.com This app was developed by Nordic River with more than just students in mind, but the tool serves the school-going set very well. It service helps students collaborate on documents by giving them the freedom to send out the same document to everyone in the group at one time, upload each version they send back, and then compare everyone's contribution simultaneously in one view. "It lets you see all the variations and comments and choose the best ones," Mr. Shalit says. If, for example, a student group has drafted three different introductions for a group paper, they can use this app to compare the versions side by side.

4. Sliderocket.com This is essentially a web-based free version of PowerPoint. The app has added tricks that make it ideal for student use. It allows you to share the presentation and then will tell how other people have viewed it and how much time they have spent on each slide.

5. GoogleDocs The essence of free shareware, Google has created a portfolio of collaboration tools that are indispensible to any student. With GoogleDocs, you can create and share a variety of online documents, from word processing and spreadsheets to forms and presentations, all with mobile access.

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