Entering the world of digital learning as a mature student

Written by Laura Kennedy, Student Digital Champion.

Laura Kennedy

Returning to education after any length of time can feel quite daunting. As a mature student, not only are you adjusting to a new routine, a new city and a major new life goal– you may well find that technology and the tools available for learning have developed quite a bit since you last used them.

Not to show my age too much, but when I started school the extent of the digital tools on offer was a room with Windows 98 PCs, equipped with MS Paint and Word-Art – big favourites when it came to decorating a piece of creative writing.  

Word art
Image from pcbooks.ik

For GCSEs and A-Levels, all my note taking was by hand, and although online resources for revision were becoming more popular (anyone remember the BBC bitesize fish? No? Just me?) the bulk of my learning still came directly from the classroom and textbooks.

Returning to Education

Fast-forward to 2021 when, after a considerable amount of time spent working, I began my degree at Bristol. A lot had changed, including a pandemic which catapulted us all into new ways of working online, and I quickly realised my old technique of writing everything by hand would need updating if I was going to keep up with the workload. There seemed to be so many options out there, it was difficult to know where to begin! 

In this post, I’d like to share with you some advice for making the change from traditional study methods to involving digital tools in your study toolkit, getting involved in online sessions, and some of the useful resources available from the university. 

Photo of laptop by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Combining ‘analogue’ and digital note-taking

Making the leap from one style of notetaking to another can feel a bit daunting – if like me you enjoy putting pen to paper but also enjoy the convenience and organisation of digital notetaking tools such as OneNote. Why not try combining the two?

Generally, I type my notes up with MS Word, but for some topics with a lot of interconnected themes, I’ll take my notebook and sketch out diagrams, bullet points and mind maps by hand.

Then, using the ‘document scan’ feature of the notes app on my phone, I can scan my pages and insert them into OneNote alongside my word documents– this makes the text in the hand-written document searchable, meaning I can easily refer back to the notes just by searching for that topic. You can also use Office Lens.

Image of how OneNote looks online

This was a real game-changer for me as it meant I could still enjoy sketching and writing out my ideas, but still have everything in one place on my laptop for revision – plus all the required apps are free, or already installed on most devices which is a bonus!

Goodnotes has similar handwriting-search capabilities, so you could give them a try and see which one works best for you, or have a think about other ways you might be able to integrate your current study approach with new digital resources.

Digital Flashcards

I’ve never been able to stick with making hand-written flashcards. I always started with the best of intentions but found that writing out card after card was just too time-consuming.  This changed when I discovered the digital flashcard apps and programmes – Anki is my personal favourite, but other students I’ve spoken to on my course enjoy using Quizlet too.  

A big advantage of these tools is that you can use your pre-made notes to create the flashcards, which is a huge time-saver.  

Photo of woman reading her tablet on her bed. Photo by Tetiana SHYSHKINA on Unsplash

These apps and programmes are cleverly designed, with algorithms ensuring that the cards you’re shown first are the ones you’re due a memory-refresh of, meaning you don’t waste study time looking over topics you’re already familiar with – an easy trap to fall into with traditional flashcards.  

ANKI has a bit more of a learning curve than Quizlet, but there are plenty of easy-to-follow tutorials online, and I found that once I was up and running, I could quickly turn my lecture notes into flashcards that I actually wanted to use. A benefit of Quizlet is that it allows you collaborate with other students on your course, which leads me on to my next tip… 

Don’t be afraid to get involved in online sessions!

Initially, it can feel strange sitting at home and being asked to type your thoughts into Mentimeter, PointSolutions, or Padlet in order to contribute to the conversation – especially when you’re used to being in the same room as classmates or colleagues and just speaking to your neighbour!

But these tools are so useful, taking Padlet as an example; I find it invaluable to have access to questions and answers from my fellow students and our lecturers – very often I’ll check a Padlet and find someone has asked a question I hadn’t thought to ask at the time but I’m keen to know the answer to, so it’s great to have the information there to refer back to – something that just wasn’t possible before tools like this existed. 

Image showing a padlet example

Every course will be slightly different in terms of the platforms they use, but they all offer the chance to work collaboratively online, a skill which is useful for university and beyond. I recommend spending some time getting to know which ones your lecturers use, and familiarising yourself so you’re ready to contribute and get the most out of online sessions. When working remotely, it really helps to actively take part online – you definitely get out what you put in. 

Final thoughts

Overall, my top tip as a mature student is to stay open-minded about the vast array of digital tools available – it can be tempting to stick with what you know, especially if you’re returning to education after a long break, but there are lots of ways to adapt and update your approach to find what works best for you.  

I hope my suggestions have been useful and given you a starting point for developing your own study style – remember, everyone is different and what works for others might not work for you, but if you give new tools a try, I think there’s a good chance you’ll discover at least one that makes you wonder how you studied without it!  

For more information, the Digital Education Office’s Digitally Ready course is a great place to start – I completed the course in my first year and I found it so useful to help me transition into the world of online learning. 

Other resources:

ICT proficiency

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) proficiency, refers to the ability to use digital technologies effectively and efficiently to access, manage, integrate, evaluate, create, and communicate information. It encompasses a range of skills, including the ability to use computers, software applications, the internet, and other digital tools.

Student Digital Champions Nia and Emma reflect on the contrast between structured school learning and the self-paced, independent nature of a university. The foundational skills acquired in school lay the groundwork for a more confident and adaptable approach to digital challenges at university.

They discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the acquisition of ICT skills. While some students faced challenges with online learning, others, like Emma, found themselves well-equipped to navigate the digital transition. The discussion highlights the benefits of adapting to technology-driven education and the accelerated development of skills social-distancing created.

Blackboard Ally has been useful for Emma to convert documents into more accessible formats. Emma and Nia talk about the benefits of video captions, both for students with English as a second language and for neurodiversity.

They touch upon the integration of AI tools like Chat GPT and Claude into their learning experiences, which unveils practical applications of AI in streamlining tasks. The nuances between models, such as the accuracy of Claude in handling uploaded notes, are becoming part of a progressive ICT toolkit for the modern student.

The conversation concludes with a reflection on the growing importance of data protection and safeguarding online identities. As they acknowledge the tendency to skim through lengthy terms and conditions, the need to prioritise understanding and protecting personal data emerges as a crucial skill in the digital age.

As a Veterinary student, Emma highlights the ability to touch type, navigate various programs swiftly, and adeptly handle online presentations as valuable competencies in the workplace. The discussion extends to the evolving expectations of employers, emphasising the importance of not just clinical skills but also business management skills, including creating effective presentations. Take a look at the following question and head to the Menti polling page to add in your answers. You will be able to view the results below.

Which ICT skill do you believe is most coveted by your future employer?

  • Programming and coding
  • Data analysis and visualisation
  • Project management
  • Cloud computing
  • Social media
  • Artificial intelligence

Meet our new Student Digital Champions for 2024

We are excited to announce that the DEO have recruited a new group of Student Digital Champions to work with the team for the next year to help us improve students’ digital experience whilst at University. You can find out more about them here. If you’re a student and want to get in touch with them, get in contact with your Course Rep who will be able to put you in touch.

Vaibhav Kumar Singh

Final Year, MSc Management

Vaibhav Kumar Singh

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

Hey there! I’m Vaibhav Kumar Singh, currently navigating the vibrant streets of Bristol as a Management student at the University of Bristol. Hailing from a background in Mechanical Engineering, I’ve clocked in some serious hours as a Senior Engineer in the automotive industry, dabbling in design, project management, and everything in between.
Before my UK adventures, I was a Senior Engineer at Bestec Systems in India, I was the maestro of automobile lighting components and interior trims, wielding CAD software like a wizard. I’ve led teams, managed budgets, and even jetted off to Hungary for some international engineering escapades.
When I’m not immersed in the world of management and engineering, you’ll find me on the cricket pitch and Table tennis room. I’m not just about business though; I’ve got a soft spot for Marvel movies, love exploring new places, and can whip up a mean dinner for my friends. Life’s all about the right mix of strategy, fun, and a good cup of coffee! ☕🏏✨

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Alt+Tab (Switches between open application)

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

Smile Smile

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

Honestly, there are times I feel like universities have their own secret language! One term that’s been a perpetual head-scratcher for me is “PLUS” in Bristol PLUS 2020. I’ve figured out it’s related to some extra-curricular award scheme, but the mystery of what PLUS exactly stands for remains unsolved in my university acronym dictionary. Bristol Plus Award.

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

One thing I’m really looking forward to is being part of the process that enhances the student experience.
Also I am looking for involvement in Digital Assessment.

Mahanum Rafiq Panjwani

2nd Year, studying Education Studies.

Mahanum Rafiq Panjwa

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

I am currently enrolled in 5 roles including Student Digital Champions.

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Ctrl + S (Save as)

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

😊 (smiling face with smiling eyes)

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

GRE: Graduate Record Examination

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

I am excited about the opportunities that the Digital Education Office presents, particularly in leveraging the power of AI to enhance teaching and learning experiences. Embracing artificial intelligence can revolutionize educational methodologies, providing personalized learning experiences tailored to individual needs.  Through the integration of cutting-edge technologies, we have the potential to elevate the overall quality of education and empower both educators and learners on their educational journeys.

Upendra Shahi

First Year, MSc (Public Policy)

Upendra Shahi

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

I am interested in politics, government and societal well-being; kind of explains quite a lot why I am pursuing public policy. Another thing is I didn’t know was that almost all British people (at least the ones I have had conversation with) adore Nepal, the country I am from.

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

The most important one CTRL+C (copy!)

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

😊. The happy face. I guess I use it to express my agreement with a smile most of the time.

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

Not yet!

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

I hope to grow professionally and learn more about technology.

Conor Macdonald

3rd Year, studying Philosophy and Economics. Conor has been a Student Digital Champion since January 2023.

Conor.

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

I can speak Welsh.

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Command + Tab (switches between open apps)

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

Probably the humble thumbs up 👍

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

MOOC (although I’ve now found out it means Massive Open Online Course)

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

I’m looking forward to encouraging students to use tools which can help them in a personal and academic capacity.

Emma Yi Kwan Lau

4th Year, studying Veterinary Science. Emma has been a Student Digital Champion since January 2023.

Emma Yi Kwan Lau

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

Hello! I often get asked by people that what is my favourite animal and I used to can’t pinpoint the exact animal I like the most. But after the last year volunteering in an aquarium, I can confidently tell you that my favourite animal is a porcupine pufferfish, especially the one called Piper in Bristol Aquarium!

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Ctrl+Z. Sometimes I accidentally delete what I have written. However, with this shortcut, I can easily recover the sentence or paragraph I was writing!

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

👍 A thumbs up!

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

Not at the moment but I don’t think I know DEO stands for Digital Education Office until I started working with the team last year!

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

It is my second year working with the DEO and I am very excited to start again. I really enjoy writing blog posts or guides for students to help improve their digital experiences. This year I particularly want to focus on students as content creators. As my course progresses, I realise how important this skill is and this aspect does not seem to be covered as part of the syllabus so I am hoping to create more blog posts for all of you to help with from your society promotion posts to your presentation for classes/ conferences!

Gen Kawaguchi

3rd Year. Studying Aerospace Engineering. Gen has been a Student Digital Champion since January 2023.

Gen Kawaguchi

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

I’m a big fan of aeroplanes!

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Shift+Ctrl+N (create new folder), I often use it to organise files in OneDrive.

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

Thumb up 👍

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

CADE (School of Civil, Aerospace and Design Engineering)  There is a new structure in the Faculty of Engineering which means new acronyms!

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

Looking forward to working with the teams to implement the students’ feedback on the online learning tools, especially Blackboard!

Laura Kennedy

3rd Year Veterinary Science

Laura Kennedy

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

My favourite type of dog is the Greyhound (as you can probably tell from my photo)!
Despite their speedy reputations they’re actually quite lazy, and make wonderful companions – I’m always talking about retired racing Greyhounds to anyone who will listen.

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

CTRL+F, especially when searching through my (long) lecture notes – I’ve used it so much over the past couple of years that now I find I miss it when I’m reading a physical textbook.

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

I’m a big fan of the happy cat emoji 😸

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

It took me a while to get used to ‘DSE’ – (Directed Self Education) – but now it’s had a name change back to ‘coursework’! (Unhelpfully, DSE also stands for display screen equipment!)

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

I started my degree in 2021 as a mature student, and having spent a lot of time in work and out of education, I found I needed to adapt to a new style of learning quite quickly, with a lot of the resources being digital/online.

I’m looking forward to using this experience to help other students make the most of all the digital resources on offer, and I love writing and all things creative, so my aim is to incorporate all of these things into my role as a Student Digital Champion!

Nia Burkinshaw,

3rd Year, studying Law. Nia has been a Student Digital Champion since January 2023.

Nia

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

When I’m older, I really want pet goats. Don’t ask me why, I just really like the idea of it 😂

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Ctrl+ Shift + Windows allows you to snip copies of part of your screen, super helpful for quotes on a PowerPoint

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

❤️A heart for when I finally understand what is going on.

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

It took me quite a while to learn what LLB (my course title is LLB law) actually means. Turns out it’s just a bachelors of law, in my defence the actual acronym is short for the Latin ‘Legum Baccalaureus’.

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

As part of the team last year, I was able to discover the breadth of the work that the digital education office does. This year I would love to continue expanding my skills, getting involved and contributing my ideas in a really broad range of projects.

Olly Dodd

1st Year, History

Olly Dodd

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

Petrified of heights – shouldn’t be a problem in the DEO I hope!

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Control + Z. I am indebted to whoever bought this out and I refuse to believe there is a limit on how many times you can use it!

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

Has to be the crying face emoji – underrated, basic but effective. Usable in all online calls I’ve been in as well!

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

Erasmus+ – sounds cool but quite wide as well.

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

I’m most looking forward to making a noticeable difference to technology through the DEO at the University. It’s basic but it is not only a great experience for me but will hopefully make a positive difference to how students and staff alike interact with technology.

Hannah Webb

2nd year, Geography

Hannah Webb

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

I love to travel, and explore new cultures, cuisines and countries!

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

My favourite keyboard shortcut is print screen,to quickly copy across a diagram, or slide, during lectures.

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

I love to use the clapping emoji, or the love heart, as it’s simple and shows your support and that you are engaged with the speaker on the call, as it can feel very isolated and like talking in to the abyss when you’re online. The clapping hands is a simple but wholesome way to engage.

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

Not as of yet!

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

As someone who is dyslexic, and struggles to quickly process and read through large amounts of text and information, I’m looking forward to being actively involved in communicating and exploring ways to best help the whole student population best use the technology and digital support available to help with the workload. Also, with the increasing prevalence of AI in our everyday lives, it is interesting to see and explore how best to academically use the software to ethically benefit university study.

Samantha Travers-Spencer

3rd Year, studying Veterinary Science. Samantha has been a Student Digital Champion since January 2023.

Samantha

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

My favourite animals are donkeys!

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Ctrl/Cmd+F is definitely my new favourite shortcut. (Searching for text within a document).

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

Still the classic thumbs up! 👍

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

You could probably fill an entire blog post with all the University acronyms that I still haven’t worked out!

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

Like before, I am looking forward to working with a diverse team and continuing to learn new digital skills. This year, I really hope that I can help to develop digital accessibility and inclusivity within the UoB community!

Jodie Tang

2nd Year studying Biochemistry.

Jodie Tang

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

I love to send my friends cat memes.

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Ctrl + C 🙂

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

A heart ❤️

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

INF

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

I’m excited about recording podcasts on digital learning to offer dynamic discussions with students. I am also excited about creating animations to simplify complex concepts to create an inclusive and effective resources.

Useful links

You can find out more about the Student Digital Champions, and see some of the work they have created on the following pages.

Take part in our Digital Insights Survey!

Our Digital Insights survey is now open! Responses are anonymous but play a huge part in the development of our digital development. This year it’s more important than ever to have your say, as the University is looking at the Digital Learning Environment in order to make tangible improvements to your learning. The Jisc Digital Experience Insights Survey aids us in our work to continuously enhance the student experience. As well as looking at our own data, we will be able to compare our results with other education providers and benchmarking data across institutions. Find a link to complete the survey here, it takes ten minutes to complete: Digital Insights Survey.

Person sat working on a laptop
Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

The Digital Education Office are hiring!

Following on from the great work of our Student Digital Champions, we are keen to hire some more students to work with us again starting in January 2024.

Student Digital Champion 

The UoB Digital Education Office (DEO) are looking for passionate students to work with us to ensure that all students can get the most out of their digital and blended learning experiences at Bristol. As a Student Digital Champion, you will be talking to students, course reps and staff members to hear what is or isn’t working in our online learning environments, and identify good practice in teaching and assessment. You will be working as a team, with the DEO and other Student Digital Champions, to identify and address key challenges the student body are facing when learning in an online, blended or hybrid environment, and then propose, pilot and implement practical solutions. In addition, you’ll be adding your own personal experiences and feedback to the work of the DEO, and helping us shape the work we do in real time. To apply for this role, you need to be a current student at the University of Bristol. You’ll be working an average of 3 hours per week spanning from January to December. 

You can read more about how our previous students have found the role in our past blog posts.

Getting back into studying after the summer break. A message from a returning international student

Written by Emma Yi Kwan Lau, Student Digital Champion.

Emma

The start of November means we are fully on our way into term! As the dust settles on freshers, it’s time for all of us to start preparing ourselves for our studies and continue with our learning. Academic work at the university requires us to be competent and confident at our digital skills. These skills may be a bit rusty to us as returners after a long summer break. They may also be entirely new to all our freshers. The comprehensive list of digital skills is long, however, I would like to take this opportunity to share my experiences studying at the Bristol and the top skills that I find useful for my learning.

Chalkboard reading Back to School. Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash

Experiences as an international  student

Some of you may be in the same boat as me – coming abroad to the UK for higher education. It may be your first time leaving home and living on your own. It may be your first time to use English as the only teaching language. Everything may seem a bit daunting and overwhelming. If you are a new student, everything is probably new and unfamiliar to you. There are some tips that I would like to share with you and hopefully that may help to relieve your nerves. Even if you are a returning student, you may still experience a shock after a long summer break so the following tips can also be helpful to you.

A lot of us would have heard of cultural shock. However, what exactly is cultural shock? It refers to feelings of uncertainty, confusion, or anxiety that people may experience when moving to new country or surroundings.  

Image showing the cultural show graph.
Image from Verto Education

Everything in the UK can be very different from home if it is your first time moving away from your home country. To minimise cultural shock, it is crucial to keep yourself busy. Joining societies is a great way to mingle with people and keep yourself away from experiencing cultural shock. There are many cultural societies which offer platforms to meet students from your home country or those with similar cultural backgrounds.

Other than extracurricular activities, it is also worth considering engaging in different job opportunities offered by the university. Not only will you make friends, but it’s also is a fantastic opportunity to boost your CV and gain skills to be ready for your future career.

Regardless of our cultural backgrounds, all students face the same difficulties in transitioning from college or high school to university. Firstly, higher education requires more independent learning. Therefore, self-discipline and time management become more important. Also, there are more online components in the university’s teaching syllabus. This is why the university offers a range of support to freshers to help with the transition.

This shock is also applicable to our returners. After a long summer break, it may take a while for us to resettle in. In addition, the content becomes more difficult as we progress to senior years (year 2/3/4/5). Therefore, I would like to introduce the five skills to our returners too. 

Digital Notetaking

As the new academic year starts, a lot of us may start trialling new note taking methods by using a different apps. Three popular note taking platforms are called Notion, OneNote and Evernote. They all have their pros and cons. However, the key consideration in digital note taking is not exactly about the application we use, it’s more about considering how we use it, and does it fit into the way we work. I highly recommend my peers to do research on the application they decide to use to ensure it suits them.

Selecting Digital tools

Speaking of us picking new note taking applications, we should also think about selecting other digital tools. An example of  a digital tool is  a digital note taking platform that we mentioned above. Other aspects that digital tools help with include networking, blogging, and timetabling. As we may be aware, independent learning is an important part of studying whilst at the university. Learning how to select the right apps will be vital for us. I would also recommend having a look at the Appinion series on DigiTalk where me and other students share experiences of using various digital tools.

Office 365

Speaking of digital tools, we must not forget about Microsoft 365. It is a service that provides access to a suite of Microsoft Office applications and other productivity services. It includes popular applications such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, as well as other services such as OneDrive, SharePoint, and Microsoft Teams.  

As a student at the University of Bristol, we have free access to all features of Microsoft 365. To explore all functions of Microsoft 365 and how to install, have a read of the resource below offered by the DEO – Microsoft 365 Support – Office 365 help (sharepoint.com) 

Blackboard

Blackboard is the main platform where all teaching materials are uploaded and delivered if the session is asynchronous or live online. It may all be familiar to our returners. It would be worth both our freshers and returners having a look at Digitally Ready course to familiarise the layout and functions of Blackboard.

Making the most of the services offered at the University

We have mentioned various applications we can use to maximise our digital learning experiences whilst at the university. It is also worth noting that the importance of utilising other university services online. These include the Study skill services, Library services, Disability services and IT services. Many resources are available online and you can navigate to relevant webpages through Blackboard. There is also a section in Digitally Ready course where you can explore the roles of study skill and library services, as well as how to reach out for help.

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Working as a Student Digital Champion

One of the job opportunities offered by the university is  a Student Digital Champion. This year I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to be part of the student worker team at the Digital Education Office (DEO).

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, my first year of teaching was altered into a blended learning method with majority of the teaching online and pre-recorded. There were occasions in which our cohort faced difficulties in accessing the teaching resources. This experience made me realised the importance of digital experiences at University. Therefore, when the opportunity to work with the DEO came up earlier this year, I applied to the job instantly I saw it on the career portal.

My job is to help improve students’ digital experiences by raising awareness through blogs and interacting with staff members at DEO. Very often, my job only requires me to work online and have regular online meetings with the staff. However, there were also in-person opportunities for me to interact with teaching staff to give students’ perspectives at staff meetings. My communication skills, both written and verbal, have improved significantly throughout this year with all the opportunities I was offered. I also learnt to be more proactive and take the initiative to create new projects to enhance students’ experiences whilst at university. These are all important skills employers are looking for when we apply for jobs. Therefore, I will definitely recommend my peers to join the team. It is a meaningful job and which you will be able to sharpen your skills.

Useful resources 

Netiquette

Netiquette describes the written and unwritten rules of conduct for respectful and appropriate communication online. The word is a fusion of “net” (short for internet) and “etiquette,” and it is the code of behaviour that governs online interactions. Just as we abide by social norms and conventions in our physical world, it’s equally essential to understand and practice proper etiquette in the digital world.

Moving through school, college and university provides students with a variety of experiences and exposures to different communication styles and expectations. This helps you to adapt and develop a versatile set of netiquette skills. Resources such as the Digitally Ready course and Staying Safe Online Guidelines exist to support this transition and establish appropriate standards.

Understanding appropriate netiquette is an invaluable skill that goes beyond your academic pursuits – it’s a set of principles that will serve you well in job interviews, future workplaces, and networking opportunities.

In this discussion, Student Digital Champions, Conor and Nia delve into what netiquette entails, why it is crucial during your studies, and how it will continue to shape your professional careers. By the end, we hope you will have a broader understanding of how observing proper online etiquette can enhance your learning experience and establish a positive online presence that will benefit you for years to come.

 

Conor and Nia discussed a whole host of interesting subjects in this chat, ranging from online lectures they have experienced, to how to write an email. Some really good thoughts to reflect on when we start thinking about what is best for our own online practice. Our understanding of netiquette will change and develop as we change and develop as learners and as workers. It’s important to remember that we won’t always get things right first time, but as you can tell from Conor and Nia’s discussion these are all learning curves that every one of us will experience, and it’s good to engage and share our thoughts about the subject.

Composing an email always depends on context, but it’s good to know the types of things we could include in it. Take a look at the following question and head to the Menti polling page to add in your answers. You will be able to view the results below.

Which of the below have you considered including in an email?

  • Signature
  • Scheduling
  • Emoji
  • Preference for accessible content
  • Response time expectations
  • Pronouns

Updates and Information on your Digital Learning Environments.

Welcome (back) to all students from the Digital Education Office. Over the summer, we have been working to improve your digital learning environment and continue to ensure you are ready and able to work with the various online tools we support. 

  • Are you Digitally Ready?: If you are new to the university or need a helping hand with the wide array of digital tools and environments we use, take a look at our Digitally Ready course. It is designed to equip you with the tools and competencies you need to engage with digital learning at the university. 
  • Blackboard’s new look: Over the summer, Blackboard was upgraded to a newer version called, “Ultra Base Navigation”, or UBN for short. It is intuitive to navigate, but you can look here for a guide on how to use it. The most important thing to know is that the submission systems haven’t changed, so you can confidently approach your assessment knowing it should be familiar to you. 
  • Recorded Lectures available within 24hrs: We’ve greatly improved the speed at which lecture recordings become available in Re/Play, with most now being ready for you to view within 24 hours of their being recorded.  

Good luck with starting or resuming your studies and we all hope you enjoy the winter term! 

Appinions – Artificial intelligence

Appinions banner

A great app will keep you glued to your device. Whether it’s lifestyle, social media, utility, gaming, productivity or news; apps are an essential part of student life.
Each month we challenge our Student Digital Champions to delve into a new category, delivering fresh perspectives and making proclamations for essential applications. Which features are dumb? What should be at the tip of your thumb?

Written by Bibiana Lebersorger, Hannah Harrison, Emma Yi Kwan Lau, Samantha Travers-Spencer and Katie Stoker.

HannahEmmaSamanthaKatie

August – Artificial intelligence

This marks our final Appinions blog post. Thank you to our regular readers and to all our marvellous Student Digital Champion contributors.

AI is no longer a sci-fi buzzword. For many, it is already integral to our daily lives. Although, in terms of potential, we are still in the early phases of an era that promises revolutionary benefits, with stark warnings of dire consequences if this technology is misused. Every week there are more claims of new, game-changing AI tools set to transform the way we live and work. Knowing which ones are worth investing our time, effort and money in is difficult.

Using AI effectively will be a valuable skill to develop for a wide range of careers. Unless you have been told otherwise by your school or lecturer, using AI to create any content that you submit as your own work is a form of contract cheating. It’s important to make sure you understand what constitutes good academic practice. You can find out more from the University’s pages on Academic Integrity. However, AI can be used in a variety of positive ways to help you in your Uni life. The Library have some great information about using AI in research, and there will soon be Study Skills resources to help you navigate effective and ethical use of AI in your studies. For now, let’s see what our Student Digital Champions thought of these AI tools!

Elsa Speak

ELSA Speak app icon

ELSA, or English Language Speech Assistant, uses AI technology to create a personalised English language learning experience, no matter your native language. Powered by AI, ELSA listens and speaks back to you, helping to fine-tune your English pronunciation and get you practising English with ELSA: the app aims to become ‘your very own personal tutor’. During the set-up process, the app prompts you to input your native language, your proficiency level and whether you’d like app reminders to practice. Once on the app, you can access bite-sized English lessons under the ‘Study by Topic’ section (or ‘Practice Daily Lessons’ if you have Premium), practice your pronunciation and keywords under the ‘Improve Pronunciation’ section, or even access, at varying costs, courses that help you prepare for internationally accredited language certificates such as IELTS or TOEFL.

Pros

  • Completely free to access the ‘Improve Pronunciation’ AI-powered feature, which is the real unique selling point of the app.
  • 7-day free trial for the Premium subscription (which includes a daily training plan and feedback on all words practiced).
  • A good option if you want to practice your English-speaking skills without fear of judgement.
  • Caters for all English levels, from complete beginner to advanced/near fluent.
  • The ‘Study by Topic’ section has a wide range of nearly 200 useful topics to explore from Health to Travel, and even using informal English.

Cons

  • Certain features can only be accessed with a paid subscription, for example, the daily training plan and ad-free experience will set you back £9.07/month, or the Premium options offer IELTS practice and grade predictions for a cost £12.08/month, both of which are pretty pricey.
  • The app uses American English as standard, and there aren’t currently any options to switch to British English, so this will throw up some difficulties in word pronunciation.
  • Although there are 44 foreign languages currently supported (e.g., Hindi to English, Spanish to English), this selection might not include your native language, so the pronunciation suggestions’ accuracy may be off.

This app is not targeted towards native English speakers like me. Nevertheless, I can appreciate the utility and importance of the tools that ELSA offers. During my time at UoB, I volunteered with Bristol Student Action for Refugees, where I helped run an informal conversation club for those from an asylum-seeking or refugee background. As a language learning tool, I would have recommended ELSA If I had known about it, as I often got questions from learners asking to practice their pronunciation of tricky words or phonetics. I think that the AI technology that powers the ‘Improve Pronunciation’ feature is the most unique and impressive feature on ELSA, but I’m not sure I would recommend the Premium feature as it’s quite expensive and doesn’t even give you access to the IELTS prep courses (you pay for these separately).

Reviewer: Bibiana Lebersorger

Download links:

Google Play linkapp store link

Alexa

alexa app icon

I’d be surprised if anyone reading this blog post hasn’t heard of Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant technology, which can check the weather, play your favourite music and answer all your burning questions. The technology relies on natural language processing and machine learning, and it works by listening for a ‘wake word’, after which it begins a recording. The subsequent audio is then sent to Amazon servers for interpretation, and the command is executed. Alexa is also capable of controlling smart devices such as lights, thermostats and plug sockets, taking away a lot of reasons for getting up from the sofa!

Pros

  • Easy to use.
  • Ability to set personalised commands and routines.
  • Timers, alarms, reminders and music without needing to pick up your phone.
  • Can control compatible smart devices.
  • Variety of Alexa smart speakers, with budget options available.

Cons

  • While the Alexa app can technically be used on its own, for it to be useful you need an Alexa device which can be pricey.
  • Sometimes it mishears. Commands need to be very specific for Alexa to understand.
  • Requires a good Wi-Fi connection.
  • Privacy concerns: amazon analyses ‘a small sample’ of anonymised clips to improve Alexa’s performance, so if this is a concern, then you’ll need to opt out of saving voice history.

I personally own an Alexa smart speaker and a smart light bulb, which is set to wake me up in the morning by turning the lights on and playing an overview of the news and weather. I find this helps me wake up more quickly than a regular alarm, and it’s difficult to hit snooze if the lights are already on! The other main benefit I find, as a student, is that it enables me to play music and look up the answers to questions without grabbing my phone, resulting in fewer distractions. Alexa is a very flexible technology, and it is easy to set up routines and unique voice commands to suit your needs, so I’d definitely recommend giving it a try if you get the opportunity!

Reviewer: Hannah Harrison

Download links:

Google Play linkapp store link

Grammarly

Grammarly app icon

Grammarly is a daily writing assistant app. In the current digital era, we must do many things online. Writing and replying to emails has become part of our daily routine. We always want to make sure our email can deliver the correct message clearly and appear professional. Grammarly is particularly useful in these situations for quick spell and grammar checks. Not only does it check for basic grammar and spelling, but it also checks for clarity and delivery of the writing. Since we must write quite a lot of emails every day, it is not difficult to make some accidental writing mistakes. Therefore, a writing assistant such as Grammarly is ideal.

Pros

  • Free version is often sufficient for daily use.
  • Can apply as an extension in the web browser.
  • Make checking grammar and pronunciation quicker and easier.

Cons

  • Some suggestions sometimes do not fit with the context of the piece of writing.
  • Spellchecker cannot detect certain medical and other technical terms.

I would recommend to everyone reading this blog, to download Grammarly for day-to-day use. Although I have always been careful with my writing, there often were times that I made silly mistakes. It would have been a lot easier to spot those flaws using the Grammarly detector.

In the past couple of years, artificial intelligence has started blending into our everyday life. One of the examples will be the newly introduced function called Grammarly Go. It uses artificial intelligence to offer an on-demand communication aid to help users develop high-quality writing by understanding our personal voice, setting, and writing purpose. This use of artificial intelligence in the Grammarly service has made proofreading and writing even easier. In combination with the existing functions, it is making clear and concise writing more accessible. While tools for improving writing skills and enhancing communication, such as Grammarly Go, can be valuable, it is important to use them ethically and thoughtfully, maintain originality, avoid overreliance, adhere to academic integrity guidelines and be mindful to keep sensitive, personal, and confidential information private.  

The ability to present our message appropriately in written language is undoubtedly important. People may have different preferences on the tools they need. Therefore, I would suggest having a look at other similar tools too, but Grammarly is my choice. 

Reviewer: Emma Yi Kwan Lau

Download links:

Google Play linkapp store link

SeeingAI

SeeingAI app icon

SeeingAI is a free app developed by Microsoft which narrates the scene shown through your camera. It is designed as an aid for visually impaired users, and has capabilities ranging from reading text, giving product information from barcodes, and even identifying how many people are in a room, and how far away they are. It also has functions for identifying colours, narrating the room in front of you, and has recently been updated to allow users to explore photos stored on their phone.

Pros

  • Entirely free.
  • Scans barcodes and identifies the product.
  • Can read packets to give nutritional information.
  • Identifies colours, and objects such as doors and furniture.
  • Helpful for reading expiry dates and important documents.
  • Able to recognise currency.
  • Development led by community feedback.

Cons

  • Only available on the App Store.
  • Can only identify people by faces – not useful if someone has their back to you.
  • Not always accurate, sometimes mistakes colours and letters.
  • Sometimes reads out numbers like barcodes and copyright information which can take a long time.
  • Starts reading text from the beginning again when it gets a clearer picture.
  • Not very clear when pointed at an area with a lot of text, such as a bookshelf.

I tested this app out with my partner who has a visual impairment, and we found the most useful feature was the ability to read the text on labels, and in particular expiry dates, as these are often printed very small and are essential for making sure food is safe to eat. Furthermore, being able to distinguish between packets that are very similar helps with things like putting a food delivery away. The app can also read out labels at museums which don’t offer audio tours, making more places accessible without a guide. The narration isn’t always accurate – we were particularly amused when it consistently read ‘unique’ as ‘uniglue’, and the narration of the scene in front of you is very basic – only identifying things such as doors, sofas, and the fact that you’re inside. However, despite these issues, this technology has the potential to aid independence and make more places and activities accessible for those with visual impairments. We are excited to see what new features future updates will bring as AI develops!

Reviewer: Hannah Harrison

Download links:

app store link

Chat GPT

Chat GPT app icon

Developed by OpenAI, ChatGPT (GPT-3.5) is a free app and online chatbot tool based on an AI generative language model, capable of producing human-like written responses.

Some of its main features include answering questions or providing explanations, engaging in conversation, content creation, brainstorming ideas, and completing a range of language-related tasks including language translation and summarising texts. ChatGPT can be used as an assistive tool for academic research, for example for developing and refining research questions or for generating alternative search terms and synonyms required for database searching. 

As part of my exam revision and preparation, I used ChatGPT to generate short answer practice exam questions for different topics that were suitable for undergraduate degree level. The questions the chatbot generated were very useful for revision and included many questions I had not previously considered. ChatGPT could also produce the answers and a marking scheme to the questions it had generated, however not all the information aligned with teaching materials, making it essential to check the answers for accuracy and for context. Although checking the answers proved quite time-consuming, it enabled me to reflect upon and develop my research skills and knowledge of the topic. 

Pros

  • Versatile functionality.
  • Rapid access to information at your fingertips.
  • Straightforward to use.
  • ChatGPT-3.5 is currently free to use both online and via the app, although requires signing in via an OpenAI account or through a Google, Apple or Microsoft account.
  • Dictation can be enabled to verbally ask questions.
  • Can be used to mitigate language barriers.
  • Chat history is synced between devices, allowing you to pick up from where you left off.
  • Useful option to search through previous chat history to locate information.
  • Simple to share chats with others for collaboration.
  • Time-saving custom instructions feature enables you to set preferences for subsequent conversations, reducing the repetition of inputting information.

Cons

  • The model has reduced knowledge of information and events after September 2021, compromising information outputs.
  • Access to enhanced features, including access to the next iteration of ChatGPT-4, requires a subscription to ChatGPT Plus, currently priced at £19.99/month.
  • It is sometimes not possible to use ChatGPT-3.5 during peak times.
  • Can produce harmful, incorrect, inaccurate, biased or misleading responses. You need to critically evaluate everything it gives you and make your own decisions.
  • Privacy issues: Conversations are stored and may be viewed by AI trainers. Personal and sensitive information should not be disclosed. You can minimise the extend to which this is visible by turning off ‘Chat history & training’ in app settings.
  • Chatbot responses depend on the specificity of the user’s inputs and prompts—takes time and practice to develop and refine the skills required for this.
  • Requires an internet connection to use the app.
  • No text-to-speech option for responses.
  • Cannot provide references or sources for the information provided.

ChatGPT is a powerful assistive tool with diverse functionality and exciting capabilities that are still being continuously refined. These capabilities can be applied to aid learning, develop understanding and assist with problem-solving. Although it is time-consuming, checking and verifying the outputs provided by ChatGPT is crucial to ensure the information is correct, accurate, up-to-date and unbiased.  Using ChatGPT for academic purposes that are in line with the University’s academic integrity values requires the application of both critical thinking and analytical skills to ensure it is not being inadvertently used as a form of contract cheating. Further information on contract cheating can be found here. 

Looking forward, it will be exciting to see what future developments and refinements are made in later iterations of the GPT models! 

Reviewer: Samantha Travers-Spencer

Download links:

Google Play linkapp store link

Plaito – Your Personal AI Tutor

Plaito app icon

Plaito is a tool which provides one-on-one tutoring and coaching, allowing AI-guided student learning on a step-by-step basis. The tool offers academic assistance in several ways, including short-answer questions, essay writing, summarising and textbook chat.

To get started with Plaito, you must first sign-up and make a Plaito profile. Here, you can personalise the tool by selecting your education level and age. You will then have access to your dashboard which contains the Plaito tools, session board to track what you have been previously working on and a practice streak to track how many days you studied.

The Plaito tools are super simple to use. For example, the summariser tool can be a great way to learn difficult to understand concepts. Simply copy or type in text to the summariser tool, then select whether you want the summary in paragraph or bullet point format. This tool can be a great way to get a personalised description or explanation of a concept that you might be struggling with.

The essay writing tool can similarly be used to generate a more comprehensive piece of work. The tool requires an essay prompt or topic to get started, alongside a desired word count. Plaito then generates an essay based on this, alongside references and the option to make edits. It is to be noted that Plaito is simply a drafting tool, and cannot be solely relied on for accurate content. This is clearly stated on the screen and must be agreed to before an essay is generated. The essay writing tool should not be used to write university essays, however it does offer a good starting point or essay plan!

The homework tool allows users to input specific questions. In return, Plaito offer three help tabs. The first is the hints tab, where Plaito suggests ways that you should approach the question. Next, the explain tab offers some advice on how to best structure your answer. Finally, the solution tab offers an answer to the question. Overall, the homework feature is a great tool for exam practice.

Pros

  • Can add friends or ‘study partners’ using a unique sharing link.
  • Simple interface which is easy to navigate.
  • Track previous work.

Cons

  • Plaito is in American English, with no clear way of changing to British English.
  • Misuse of the tools is a danger to academic integrity. For example, the university states that submitting AI-generated content as your own work counts as contract cheating. Click the link to learn more about contract cheating and how to avoid it!

Overall, Plaito is a simple to use tool which offers several helpful features. It offers great prompts which can be used to help answer exam style questions, introduce complex topics and generate essay plans. While all information presented on Plaito must be fact checked, following the appropriate references is simple and provides a great starting point to carry out your own research. The university offers a range of advice about AI in research, including guidance on the best ways to appropriately use AI, and its limitations.

Reviewer: Katie Stoker

Download links:

Google Play linkapp store link

These apps aren’t supported or managed by the University of Bristol. Don’t forget to think about what data you are adding to these apps if you decide to download and use them. Our Online Identity video highlights some of the factors you may want to think about when you are online.

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