Mastering your digital body language

Written by Souwoon Cho, Digital Education Developer

You might have already seen or read articles about the importance of body language when communicating with others. In some cultures, to show your engagement this can include maintaining eye contact, sitting up straight, and not crossing your arms.

As we find ourselves in a world where hybrid teaching and working is becoming the norm, how does the importance of body language translate to the digital world? In this blog, we delve into some of tips to help you to improve your digital body language.

Girl looking at her phone

Check and re-check before you send

In June 2021, Whatsapp tweeted:

Over 100 billion personal messages a day are end-to-end encrypted by default on WhatsApp.

This staggering statistic reflects the sheer volume and frequency we send messages on a daily basis. The ease and speed of sending and receiving instant messages can often create typos, misunderstandings and ultimately tension in your relationships. It’s worth taking the time to read and re-read your messages to check:

  • What details should you include for the receiver to respond to your message?
    For example, if you’re e-mailing your school office, have you included your full name, student number and the name of the unit you are querying? University staff are working with hundreds of students, so providing these details will give the receiver clarity to respond to your query more efficiently.
  • Have you read and understood the message you are responding to?
    While moving between lectures, you might find yourself checking and responding to e-mails quickly and on the move. Trying to multi-task and respond quickly can lead you to mis-read or miss out key details from the message causing more confusion in the long-run.
  • What is the call to action in your message?
    It can be confusing what is expected from us when we receive a message. Enhance the clarity of your message by specifying if the message is just for information or if you expect them to respond or action something by a certain date.

Coffee cup sat next to a tablet

Establish expectations from the start

Today, we have an incredible choice of digital tools and channels to help us communicate with others. But how to you choose the right channel and the right time to communicate?

When working in groups, put in that extra work at the start to establish from the beginning the group’s preferred communication channel (for example Microsoft Teams, Whatsapp, Facebook) and the group’s expectations for responding. This is sometimes referred to as digital netiquette.

Every lecturer will have their preferred time and way of communicating with you as a student. If this was not clear from your introductory lecture, ask your lecturer for clarity on how they prefer questions to be asked outside of the classroom and what you should expect in terms of response times. Whether that is asking questions via e-mail, Padlet, Blackboard forum or a Microsoft Team’s channel, it is best for you to know which channel you should use, and how you are expected to use it from the start for a better learning experience.

Lady holding colourful balloons

Don’t forget your human side

While in theory digital communication can strengthen your connections with others, it’s very easy to forget that there is a human behind every message you send and receive. Without physical body language, it is even more challenging to communicate your feelings or gauge the feelings of others.

If you are attending lectures or seminars online, a simple way to do this is turning on your camera to replicate the body language signals you would communicate in person. There are many reasons why you may choose not to turn on your webcam. If this is the case for you, make the effort to engage with the chat functions where available. Erika Dhawan a digital collaboration expert recommends using the power of punctuation and emojis to communicate your feelings, your engagement and to add context to your messages.

In situations where you are finding messages are being misunderstood, it is okay to try to revert to another channel. Particularly if the topic of conversation is complicated or sensitive, a phone call or face-to-face meeting may be best to move the conversation in a positive direction.

People seated around a laptop

Conclusion

Going forward, communicating digitally with your peers, lecturers and colleagues will continue to play a key part in your day-to-day lives at university and in the workplace. How do you rate your digital body language? Do you have any tips or resources for mastering digital communication? Let us know in the comments below.

Further resources

‘My Marks’ link on Blackboard homepage unavailable

If you are used to using the ‘My Marks’ tool on the Blackboard homepage, you’ll notice it’s currently unavailable. An issue has been identified with the ‘My Marks’ homepage tool, and Blackboard are currently working on fixing it.
The best way to access your marks is always to go to your courses, and look for ‘My Grades and Feedback’ in the ‘Assessment, submission and feedback’ area. This is still working as usual.
For help in accessing your marks and feedback, contact your School Admin Office.

No Blackboard downtime this year

Unlike in previous years, there will be no summer downtime (when a system is out of action or unavailable for use) for Blackboard this year. This is because, last summer, we moved our Blackboard system onto a ‘cloud’ infrastructure. This means our system can automatically scale to meet demand, and can also receive bug fixes and upgrades more quickly, without any downtime.

The Digital Education Office.

Appinions – Travel

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 Polly Davis, Leah Parker, and Kexin Li: Student Digital Champions.

Polly Davis  Leah Parker  Kexin Li

June 2022: Travel

The travel industry has taken a battering over the last few years. Staffing cuts in aviation have led to recent flight cancellations, whilst providing proof of negative covid tests have once again been dashing plans at the last minute. However we intend to spend our well deserved time off, somebody has inevitably found a way to enhance the experience using a mobile app. But are they any good?

Step: Your world

app icon Step is a new travel app based on a public, interactive map where everyone can pin their favourite places of culture, drink, health, shopping, stay, and food. With Step, you create your own profile with your own specific tags of places where you are from and where you mostly visit- this does not limit where you can pin, the map covers the world! By simply searching a place you have visited, you can create a recommendation by pinning this on the map. Scrolling around, you will be able to see so many recommendations around you which really helps to get a feel for the culture and life of the community of the place you are in. Even more so, following your favourite Culture Creators and accounts allows you to see their own personal recommendations. This has been extremely helpful whenever I have been in London visiting friends and we are lost as to where to go- each pin is attached with pictures, the website of the business, opening hours, address, and phone number, with additional comments from users. I have found so many places around me that I would not have taken a second look at if I was using Google or even my own eyes.

 

Pros

  • Interactive map with the ability to comment
  • Create your own profile
  • Follow other creators
  • Can add photos
  • Can build up a following

Cons

  • Relatively new app so pins are fairly limited to popular places
  • Cannot specify what type of establishment you are looking for, such as filtering by the nationality of the food
  • Pins are not reviewed by any critics, therefore recommendations are subjective
  • Not available to download via Google Play

Reviewer: Polly Davis

Download link:

app store link

My Travel Tracker

app icon

I love travelling, and I have always been tempted to make a travel blog- but I have also always been quite intimidated by that large and scary environment. My Travel Tracker is a way to document your travels into categorised trips that are displayed on your own personal map. Each trip can be pinned with photographs and geolocations and descriptions to give an in-depth feel to your itinerary. These trips can be viewed by others as it is also a social networking app where you can take inspiration from other travellers and interact by commenting, liking posts, and sharing. Like Instagram, there is a community page where you can view recent travel posts from other creators and view their own Bucket Lists. Even more, there is a section where you can post short films of different places around the world- this is especially helpful if you are stuck on what place to travel next to, get a grasp of the environment, or to simply reminisce on your own time there. Some travellers decide to categorise their posts by the best places to eat, drink, visit or stay in an area which can be searched for in the community section if you need guidance when you are visiting an area!
This app creates a safe and friendly community full of creators with the same passions of adventure and curiosity about the world!

 

Pros

  • Can create a profile area with a colour map that highlights the countries you have visited
  • You are free to post in whatever format you would like, whether it be a blog, tip list or just pictures
  • Can follow other travellers and interact with their posts which will appear on your timeline

Cons

  • Not every place in the world has been posted so popular tourist locations have more posts attached with them
  • The community page is ordered in terms of popularity of a post or profile
  • All communication with other creators is public

Reviewer: Polly Davis

Download link:

app store link

 

Bristol Guide

Bristol guide app icon

This app provides a distinctive guide to Bristol, pointing new visitors wanting to explore the city to an exciting array of attractions, or perhaps even helping residents discover new places they were not previously aware of. This app aims to encompass a full Bristolian experience to the user.

This app allows you to locate the nearest attractions and sites around you for you to go and  visit. Or, if you prefer, you are able to look at places to visit in a specific category you are interested in. These categories include events and festivals, parks and greenspaces, pubs and bars, and restaurants and sport, to name a few. By pressing on the event you are interested in, it provides a brief overview of the site, including contact and website details if you would like to learn more, and its exact location.

Pros

  • Free
  • Simple to use
  • Range of categories containing a wide variety of sites and events, including popular and lesser known ones.

Cons

  • Some categories lack essential information – e.g. the events and festivals tab has no information on the dates and times
  • Would be nice to see some reviews of the places shown
  • Includes some pictures but would say it definitely needs more!
  • Not available to download via Google Play

 

Overall, I really like the idea of the app! I think it includes a wide range of sites and attractions to visit, which would be useful for not only first-time visitors, but also residents wanting to explore more of the unknown parts of the city. Through using the app, I was able to discover lots of green spaces I did not know existed just right near me which was amazing. However, I would say it’s clear this app needs an update, as there is some information lacking which would be useful, such as dates of festivals and events. I also think more pictures would really benefit the app, as it only contains a single image for each listing, which does not always truly represent the beautiful appearance of these sites. Overall, I do like the app and would definitely recommend it to those living in Bristol over the summer so they can go and explore the city.

Reviewer: Leah Parker

Download link:

app store link

Voi

Voi app icon

Voi is a new, innovative way of travelling round the city. This app provides a new mode of transport, aiming to cut down our emissions while still getting to places quickly. Voi scooters are bright red, and operate simply through twisting the handle to accelerate, and pressing down bike-like brakes at the front to stop. They are now equipped with indicators as well, which you can use to signal when you are turning left or right.

The way it works is you first download the app, and set up your Voi account on the app by scanning your driver’s license. The app then allows you to find your nearest Voi parking spot, where you can also see the number of Vois available. You simply scan the QR code on the Voi and once you’re ready you can unlock it and begin voing! When you’ve reached your destination, you then park your Voi in the closest parking spot and are asked to take a picture upon completion.

Voi offers regular users the opportunity to buy Voi passes, whether this be just for the day, or a month. There are designated parking spots, discounted parking spots, and also marked slow zones and no Voi zones. Voi scooters also stop working past a certain time and have installed a software aimed to test your reaction skills to promote safe use.

 

Pros

  • Passes are relatively cheap.
  • Quite fun way of getting round.
  • Especially round Bristol, quite easy to find and locate Voi parking spots.
  • The app allows you to locate Voi parking spots and places you can find Vois
  • Voi prevents you riding on the pavements, ensuring the safety of pedestrians

Cons

  • Have to find a designated parking spot to put your Voi in – If travelling to a new destination it may be difficult to determine where exactly to find these.
  • Potentially scary particularly if you are not a licenced driver, or the weather conditions are harsh.
  • The Voi may run out of battery in particularly inconvenient locations.
  • Only accessible in certain cities.

 

Overall, I love the idea of Voi as a way of travelling, especially in a busy city such as Bristol, where bringing your cars may not be feasible due to the lack of car park spaces, or if you’re like me and you just can’t drive! I find it particularly useful when the buses may be unreliable or I need to get somewhere quite quickly if I am running late. Yet, I will admit, I have suffered a fair few scary instances with Voi, and so I personally do not use them often unless I am on quiet, residential roads. I would definitely recommend learning your road rules before attempting to ride a Voi, and definitely practice before heading to the main roads. I think with a careful and responsible user, Vois can be quite fun and provide a cost effective way of travelling to places, and not to mention they are much more environmentally friendly than other modes of transport. I would definitely recommend using Vois opposed to a car when you can, but just as with any mode of transport, make sure you do your research before riding them and learn your road rules!

Reviewer: Leah Parker

Download link:

app store link

 

Google Translate

Google translate icon

One of the biggest problems you may face while travelling is probably the language barrier. Google Translate will be your best aid for basic daily communication in most countries! Google Translate is a free translation service, which provides instant translation between 133 languages, and supports the translation of words, sentences, and web pages between any two languages. The interface of the app is very concise, with only three pages: Home, Saved, and Settings. In addition to inputting text for translation, you can also directly translate the text in the photo through the camera. For tourists, the instant translation of conversations and the transcription function provide great convenience. You can record your voice directly, and Google Translate will automatically translate it into the target language and read it aloud.

Pros

  • All features are free
  • The translation speed is fast, and the communication can be translated instantly
  • Very simple and convenient to use

Cons

  • There may be translation errors leading to misunderstandings, and grammar and structure errors occur frequently
  • The choice of languages is limited. “Conversation mode” is available in 71 languages; “Transcription mode” is only available in 10 languages
  • Accents may lead to inaccurate voice input

 

I personally think Google Translate is the most frequently used and helpful app for travellers, and it helped me immensely when I travelled to Turkey last week. When I was communicating with my Turkish host, we used Google Translate the entire time, making our conversation smooth and pleasant. Google Translate solves all the problems related to language barriers to the greatest extent possible with simple functions, which I think is amazing. Although there may be grammatical errors due to machine translation, I think it has no impact on the communication between tourists and local people, so it is a very excellent app for me in general.

Reviewer: Kexin Li

Download link:

app store link

 

App in the Air

App in the air icon

If you have frequent flight needs and are easily troubled by problems such as flight information changes, App in the Air can effectively help with air-related problems to ensure you travel smoothly! The main function of App in the Air is to help you manage your hotel and flight reservation and give timely notifications and relevant information so you can optimize your travel experience. Different from other OTA (online travel agency) apps, App in the Air is more like a personal travel assistant, because you can not only book air tickets and hotels from this app, but also manually import your flight number and hotel reservation, and it will give you all relevant information and suggestions. Beyond that, it acts as a memoir by collecting statistics on all the flights you’ve ever taken and competing on the global leader board. You can also invite your friends and compete on the friend list for flight stats.

Pros

  • Convenient and easy to use. The app design is very concise and straightforward
  • Helping you record flight statistics and keeping track of your accomplishments during your trips
  • You can add your loyalty programmes to track status and bonuses
  • Providing very detailed information and tips for travellers

Cons

  • There is a fee for membership, and regular users only have a 14-day free trial
    • £9.99/year for Basic.
    • £29.49/year for Pro.
    • £44.99/lifetime
  • The functions of this app are not unique, and most of them can be replaced by other free apps
  • Users have complained about bugs in the app and incorrect flight information being provided
  • Hotel and flight information booked on other platforms require manual input

 

I personally think this app is more useful for regular travellers, but it is not very attractive to me as a student. It can effectively help travellers to manage all reservations and plan your trip, and its notification function can greatly help you to avoid missed flights and other problems during the trip. However, as far as I am concerned, all this travel information can be found on free platforms, and I do not need to spend extra money to obtain such information. This app can only provide flight information, but not bus or train related information, so the frequency of use for me is very low. Also, all the hotel and flight information I booked from other platforms have to be entered manually rather than displayed automatically, which makes the function of recording travel statistics a little troublesome.

Reviewer: Kexin Li

Download link:

app 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.

Next month: Security

Kick start your summer with Bristol Futures Open Courses

Congratulations on coming to the end of your summer assessments for 2021/22!

A picture containing tree, grass, outdoor, person throwing papers in the air in celebration.
Photo credit: Ketut Subiyant

While some of you may be ready to not look at a book or a screen for the next 3 months, some of you may find the transition from the academic year to the summer quite unnerving. To help you ease into the summer months, Bristol Futures Open Courses is a great option for you to learn outside of your usual degree subject for free!

You can join the courses starting on the 13 June 2022 on one or more of the following themes:

  • Innovation and Enterprise
  • Sustainable Futures
  • Global Citizenship

The courses run over four-weeks and take approximately 3 hours a week.

Who can learn?

Exactly what it says on the tin, the Bristol Futures open courses are open to all! The courses are aimed primarily for University of Bristol students, but in fact students, staff, and alumni from all around the world can sign up and engage in the courses. This gives you, as the learner, a unique opportunity to gain a wider perspective on the theme.

Who are the mentors?

The Bristol Futures Open courses starting on the 13 June 2022 will be mentored run. This means that your learning and engagement will be further supported by trained student mentors from the University of Bristol.

How you can join

As a current University of Bristol student, you can join for free via the Open Courses tab on Blackboard.  You can sign up for a course up to 6 weeks after it has started. But you will benefit most from the mentor support if you sign up before the start of the next course run on the 13 June 2022.

A picture containing the word summer in scrabble letters on some sand.
Photo credit: Ylanite Koppens

We hope to see you on one or more the Bristol Futures Open courses over the summer. Otherwise, from all of us in the Digital Education Office, we wish you a very well-deserved summer break – whatever you decide to do!

Posters and Presentations

Written by Amy Preston, Student Digital Champion and MRes Student in Physiology and Pharmacology

Amy Preston

Introduction to Posters and Presentations 

Presenting your research, whether part of your undergraduate dissertation or postgraduate research degree, is a huge part of academia. However, it’s often difficult to know where to start when making posters or presentations. There are a few different ways that you can approach them, so hopefully this post will give you some ideas!

Posters

The main thing to keep in mind for a poster is that it needs to be clear and rely on visual representation of your research. There are multiple tools you can use to make a poster. PowerPoint is useful, especially for posters in landscape orientation. You can also use Microsoft Word or Publisher, but these can be a bit trickier to use. Sometimes research groups will pay to use Adobe Illustrator which allows for figure-making as well. But it is up to you, and you don’t need to pay for expensive software if you don’t have the means to do so. 

The majority of the poster should be focused on your methods and results, so make sure to keep the introduction concise and have a few short conclusions and future directions at the end to summarise. Depending on your course or the conference you are presenting at, you will likely have a specific format to follow – including orientation and size. Usually, posters are A0 size and portrait orientation, so make sure you adjust your font size to accommodate this – a good rule of thumb is 24pt font for main body text and at least twice this size for your heading if your poster is A0. If your poster format is portrait, it can be helpful to split the poster into two columns if you have quite dense figures, but this isn’t essential if your data doesn’t fit this way. 

Poster presentation example
An example of a portrait orientation poster with a two-column format. The science isn’t accurate, but the method of presenting research findings is clear and easy to follow.

Presentations

Many of the same principles from posters apply to presentations and talks. Aim to make them clear, easy to follow and visually appealing. One way to help the audience follow along is to introduce each aim separately followed by its related methods and results (this is shown below). Or, depending on your data and how it fits together, you can introduce the aims all at once, then go through methods and results that follow on from each other. For example, if you found an unexpected result, what methods did you try next to further understand it and what did you find? Try to tell a story through your presentation.

Clear presentation layout
An example of a clear presentation layout, where each aim is followed by its methods and results. Again, the science is questionable, but you get the idea!

Making good quality figures

An effective figure should be clear and not too busy. It can be really helpful to demonstrate your methods with figures, especially in posters to save words, or for presentations where the audience may not have the same specialist background as you. You can create simple methods figures using tools like Microsoft PowerPoint and Visio (which are available in the Microsoft Office package with the university) or use free tools with pre-made components and better freedom for drawing figures like BioRender and Inkscape. Think about how you can break down complex concepts in to easier-to-manage chunks, to help your reader see the big picture.

A simple methods figure
An example of a simple methods figure – this can save words by representing data collection and analysis without having to describe what is quite a complicated piece of technology! This was created in BioRender for free with some data added in.

BioRender website

General tips to remember

  • More visual cues, less words
  • The main bulk of a presentation should be your methods and results – don’t take up too much space with the introduction, focus on your project
  • Unless asked to, don’t put your abstract in your presentation – you will be wasting valuable words by repeating yourself
  • Make your aims stand out – it really helps the understanding of the reader if they can refer back to them
  • Keep the font big, and save words by using bullet points
  • For each slide or poster section, use descriptive titles to help the reader follow along
  • Don’t assume knowledge of your subject area – although there will be physicists at a physics conference, their area of research may be very different to yours!

Useful resources

Hopefully you feel more confident presenting your own work, but above are some useful resources that help me when starting a new poster or presentation – good luck!

A student reflection on communication and social media

Written by Bobby Joynes, Student Digital Champion studying Theatre and Film.

Bobby Joynes

During my time as a Student digital champion, I’ve been quite interested in the relationship between the student body and the university through the use of social media. Students use their phones on a regular basis. Combining both social interactions with workflow as they use popular apps such as Instagram, snapchat and Outlook. I began work with the DEO to utilise this and to merge the connection between the two parties closer together. In doing so, we would be able to relay information efficiently and effectively, while also allowing students to take the initiative to begin their own explorations into their digital activity and to boost their knowledge of how things worked in the world of work.

Yes, it sounds like a tall order. However, I felt that if we were able to bridge the gap, it would be one step closer to securing a stronger connection between the student body and the university itself. I spearheaded a project, that is currently ongoing, to create more online awareness from the DEO to the body, with things like Instagram takeovers with the SU and other societies being the first step, and the project finally concluding with the full integration of an Instagram page run solely by the DEO and supported by the uni. The page would be a direct way of sending out regular tips and updates about ongoing events in order to keep students in the loop and much more aware.

Person holding phone showing Instagram logo
Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

As I said, the project is currently ongoing, and the DEO is working hard to try and achieve the goals that I originally stated. On top of this, I wanted to also make a comment about my own perspective surrounding my digital usage every day. As a theatre and film joint honours student, my interactions with technology come in irregular amounts, with the majority being used to support physical performance or film creation. Online learning is something that has generally been kept to a bare minimum because of how little of the course can be completed online. However, the communication that the staff have with the students is something that I truly appreciate. Regular forms and email lines of communication are sent out as a way of checking up on what we think works well and what doesn’t work so well within the department. At the end of the day, communication is the fundamental element that keeps any healthy relationship alive, whether it be between students or students and staff. Without that line of contact, unhappiness and anger can be allowed to build up, resulting in students not wanting to interact and even attend classes.

People working together
Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

I’ve personally found that this communication has been great at allowing me and my peers to express our thoughts which have then actually been publicly addressed, opposed to other empty promises and dead-ended emails sent by other departments which don’t foster any kind of interaction between themselves and students.

Yellow telephone
Photo by Mike Meyers on Unsplash

I want to finish by just saying how important it is for students to communicate with their staffing bodies. It may be tough and challenging, but if they don’t know, then how can they help you? And your opinion matters. It may not feel like it but raising issues with staff via emails or digital forms etc. can make the world of difference to how this university is run.

Find out more about the Student Digital Champions.

Appinions – Productivity

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 Olivia Muggleton, Polly Davis, Amy Preston and Leah Parker, Student Digital Champions.
Olivia MuggletonPolly DavisAmy PrestonLeah Parker

May 2022: Productivity

As summer exams begin; mobile devices can both help and hinder your preparation. How do you avoid this distraction when you revise? Some students turn it off, others use airplane mode. However, there are a number of apps which have been designed to encourage you to embrace your phone or tablet. But are they any good?

Forest
Forest app icon

Forest primarily functions as a Pomodoro timer, where you set the number of minutes, from 10-120, and ‘plant a tree’ to start the timer. This earns coins in the app, which you can save up to spend on planting a real tree (the app is partnered with ‘Trees for the Future’). There is another option to use stopwatch mode, where you don’t set the time beforehand and just press end when you are finished with your session. There are also a few useful settings you can change, including whether to switch on ‘Deep Focus’ mode, which kills the tree if you leave the app (with a warning first). You can also choose whether to count the exceeded time, and choose whether to plant with a friend, if they also have the app. If you want to keep track of what tasks you are doing and for how long, you can change the colour and name of the task you are doing each time you plant a tree, and the app automatically tracks how much time ‘focused’ you spend each day and on what task.

Pros

  • Option to use stopwatch mode as well as classic set timer
  • Deep focus mode is useful if you find yourself going on your phone too much while studying
  • Aesthetic and easy to use
  • Pomodoro technique is effective, especially when you can choose the length of the timer
  • Tracks and saves your focus time so you can see how much you have worked
  • Plants real trees!

Cons

  • Cost – £1.99 to buy on IOS (although free on Android and chrome extension) with more features that can only be unlocked by buying them
  • Deep focus mode doesn’t stop notifications from coming in, so you can accidently click on them and kill your tree

I really like Forest! I use it a lot when I am in the lab reading papers or analysing data. Using it as a Pomodoro timer gives me a strict working period with an end goal (a break after the timer is up). I find the stopwatch is a good way to get into a task I am reluctant to do, because I can start the timer with the aim of working for as long as I can. Even if I only make it to 10 minutes, that is still progress. However, I often find it easier to carry on once I’ve started like this. The basic features of the app are great, and you don’t really need any of the extras unlocked with money, although that’s up to the user. The best thing about it in my opinion is that you can plant real trees – it’s really motivating to know you are working towards a tiny bit less CO2 in the world!

Reviewer: Amy Preston

Download links:

App store download link to Forest app Google play download link to forest app

Rainy Mood

Rainy mood app icon If you’re anything like me, you cannot study or revise without some form of white noise or relaxing sounds playing in the background- silence becomes too loud! To overcome this, I have had to resort to YouTube where I have searched endlessly to find the perfect rainy playlist that, a) is long enough that I will not have to rewind the recording ; b) does not include advertisements every 15 minutes; c) does not include some random loud clash of thunder. The app Rainy Mood Lite satisfies all of these! Free from the App Store and Google Play, Rainy Mood Lite allows you to continuously listen to your own customisable sound of all rain, thunder, and birds at different degrees using an interactive scale. This application can also be played in the background if you wish to use your device for other purposes. I enjoy how this is a separate app to YouTube as I can sometimes get quite tempted by the promotion of other videos and tabs whilst Rainy Mood remains isolated from any distractions.

Pros

  • Free from the App Store
  • Can be played in the background whilst using other applications
  • Can be used to create sound mixes with your own music
  • Does not include advertisements or any disturbances
  • Sounds can be played for how long the app is open
  • Can set a sleep timer if you do not wish for the sounds to be played for the full night

Cons

  • It is limited to only rain sounds with thunder and birds
  • This is the Lite version, the paid version for £2.49 offers sounds of the ocean, the countryside and a café called Rainy Mood

The only downside to this app is that it is limited to rain, thunder, and bird sounds- it requires the paid version ‘Rainy Mood’, for £2.49, to unlock other calming sounds. For the sounds of the ocean, you can customise the volume of rain, the surf and shoreline, and the realistic nature of seagulls. For the countryside, the only difference from the Rainy Mood Lite is the replacement of birds for cricket sounds, whereas the café setting offers customisable degrees of rain, chatter, patio talk and barista sounds. There is quite a wide range of control in this application which saves time finding the perfect video on YouTube.

Even better, Rainy Mood Lite and Rainy Mood offers you to create your own sound mix with your music by just keeping the app open whilst launching your music app! I would personally use this feature as there are some songs of mine that would pair well with a rainy aesthetic that have not been uploaded to YouTube yet (personal revision recommendation is rain + anything by Tom Odell!).

Reviewer: Polly Davis

Download links:

App store download link for rainy mood Google play download link Rainy Mood

Habitica

Habitica app icon Habitica is a unique productivity app that gamifies your tasks using retro RPG elements. By creating an avatar, customising its look and name, you can receive coins and credits for completing more of your tasks which you can separate into ‘Dailies’, ‘To-Do’, and ‘Habits’, that become colour coded once you develop a streak from repeatedly completing your goals. This completion becomes rewarded using a levelling system to see your progress, with coins that can be used in the ‘Shop’ to ‘purchase’ items and gear to use in the game. The customisation of the avatar is relatively inclusive with a range of different skin-tones, hair styles and wheelchairs, adding a more personal connection with the avatar. The app offers you to socialise with other people’s avatars in challenges and quests in a ‘Party’. However, the longer you leave your avatar with uncompleted tasks, the more your avatar’s health will decline- this encourages you to keep track of your goals and return to the app. If you feel like you need a break, you can pop in to the ‘Tavern’ where the game can be paused and there will be no effect upon the health of your avatar.

Pros

  • Organisation and productivity disguised as an arcade game
  • Create your own avatar
  • Achieve points and gain levels by completing more tasks
  • Purchase bonus features using coins gained by completing tasks
  • Socialise with other avatars
  • Free to download

Cons

  • The idea of an arcade game can become quite distracting, though encouraging
  • Avatar customisation is low quality, more ‘retro’
  • Offers in-app purchases to gain more coins via monthly subscriptions

I personally enjoy this mode of productivity compared to other apps which make your lists of ‘to-dos’ seem less appealing- by disguising it in a game-format, I feel encouraged to return to the app and complete my goals to level-up in the app. Nevertheless, I can see myself becoming more occupied with the features of the app and the chat rooms rather than focusing on my actual work-at-hand, so maybe this app is not suited for those who are easily distracted or those who are trying to avoid other gaming apps on their devices!

Reviewer: Polly Davis

Download links:

App store download link Habitica Google play download link Habitica

Alarmy

Alarmy app icon

Morning Mission tasks you with a certain challenge to complete when the alarm goes off and the alarm will not stop until it is completed. This feature is really what sets the app apart from any other alarm you may find on your phone or a different app. The tasks vary from mathematical problems to memory tests or physical missions such as squats and step goals, all of which are very customisable in terms of difficulty and time limit. ‘Sleep music’ provides a range of relaxing sounds to help you get to sleep. ‘Today’s panel’ contains today’s news, horoscope and the weather forecast. There are fully customisable themes and wallpaper. ‘Max snoozes’ can put an end to one’s prolific snoozing habits. Gradually increase volume/vibrate features to make your awakening gentle and a bed time reminder which can be set at any time. A great feature for those who are looking to establish an overall improved sleeping routine.

Pros

  • Most of the features are completely free to use (these include the most important alarm functions and even the sleep music
  • You can set as many alarms as you like and the format is basically the same as you would find on your phone’s clock app so it’s really easy to navigate
  • The variety of morning mission tasks are quite impressive and really offer something for everyone whether you want to be more active or work on your mental arithmetic and memory.
  • There are quite a few alarm sounds to choose from and there is even the option to use a specific song from your iTunes library
  • The app conveniently offers all the functions which you may use in aiding your sleep routine, all in one place (although its arguable that finding a sleeping playlist, setting an alarm and checking the news are not too demanding for today’s smartphone users)

Cons

  • Some of the most interesting features are available only with a subscription, these include;
    • The ability to record your own alarm sound (not sure that this is vital but could perhaps be handy if you need a reminder announced to you on a certain morning)
    • The alarm ‘power ups’ which allow you to choose whether the alarm reads out the current time (very helpful for those who snooze carelessly)
    • ‘wake up check’ which consists of a pop up prompt asking whether you’re still awake – if you don’t respond within a chosen timeframe the alarm will go off again and your will have to repeat your morning mission
    • The Squat and step morning missions – these are arguably one of the best features of the app and what makes it really stand out so its unfortunate that they come at a premium
  • The subscription price is not extortionate but at £59.99 a year it is not cheap for an app which is essentially no more than a demanding alarm clock – But, depending on how much motivation you need in the morning it may be the best thing to establish a solid and consistent morning routine.
  • There are only 11 different sleep sounds and they are pretty stereotypical of what you would expect. A quick Spotify search would bring up a massive array of sounds which may suit you better but for the purposes of convenience, what the Alarmy app has to offer is enough for me personally.
  • Other than the morning missions, most of the features of Alarmy can be found either in your phone’s alarm or with iPhone’s ‘sleep’ feature which allows you to set up a sleep schedule and actually alters your notification and display settings so as to better enable you to wind down and switch off

This is a really slick and user friendly app and personally I find the morning missions quite helpful in establishing a morning routine and I really liked that you can choose a mission that best suits you. The only reason I may be wary of using it is that it makes my phone the first thing I use in the morning and can lead to a rabbit hole which can be problematic for people who struggle with staying off their phone. Also, if you choose the morning routine function, be careful to choose a task which is realistically achievable – It’s incredibly frustrating when the maths questions are too difficult and there is an alarm going off until you get them right, even if you are a morning person! 😴

Reviewer: Olivia Muggleton

Download links:

app store download link for alarmy google play link to alarmy

Habit-Bull

Habit-Bull icon

Habit-Bull is a habit tracking app which aims to motivate you to stay on track and maintain good habitats which last. You are able to add up to 5 habits on the premium version within a range of categories such as: Health & Fitness or Self Improvement. You are able to select one of their pre-made habits, or create an entirely new one personalise to your own goals. You are able to customise the habit colour, how often you want to do the habit and the target date. 

 Over time, you can track the progress of your habit over the week or over the month, including what days you were successful and the days you missed out. The app also supplies you with a range of statistics to better track your progress, and allows you to share your results with others on the app. You can also add notes daily to your habits, if you wanted to record something in particular about that day’s progress. 

Pros

  • The free version is still very useful and sufficient for habit tracking,
  • Very easy to use and can visually track your progress
  • The design and layout of the app is visually appealing

Cons

  • Only 5 habitats allowed on the free version.  
  • Cost – $20/year for the premium version. 

Overall, I loved Habit-Bull and thought it was extremely easy to use and navigate, which was refreshing to see. I did not purchase the premium version, but found the free version was enough for me as I wanted to focus on starting only a few habits at a time. If you wanted more, you could always get creative with how you create goals/habits if they overlap slightly and make the most of the 5 allowed in the free version. I loved that I could edit and update my goals, and the app also allowed a lot of flexibility for me in case I wanted to take the weekends off for some of my goals, which was easiest set up and mange. I have tried a lot of habit tracking apps, also using pen and paper, planners etc. but I found using this app was the easiest and most efficient at helping me achieve some of the habits I wanted to implement. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to break out of bad habits and set in new ones, especially with exam season coming up. 

Reviewer: Leah Parker

Download links:

app store download link for habit-bull google play link to habit-bull

Clockwork Tomato (iOS version: Flat Tomato)

Flat tomato iconThe app is based off the Pomodoro technique which is designed to help you focus on a specific task for a given amount of time.  

 The app opens with a tomato and you can begin the timer by holding it down. You are able to set the duration of how long you want to dedicate to the task, and organise when you want to set break time and their duration. The app notifies you when it’s time for your break and at what point you need to resume your work. You are able to add and record your distractions, for example if you exited the app or had a phone call, through double tapping the clock.  

Through clicking the icon in the bottom right corner you can view your task list and plan list. It has several pre-made options, but you have the ability to add your own personalised tasks or plans. There is also an option to put repeats on daily tasks. The layout of the app, including colour, sounds, and theme can also be tailored to depending on the person. 

Pros

  • It’s free!
  • Can be very tailored to the person and which tasks they want to complete.
  • Fully configurable: timers, behaviour, colours, sounds, style, and more than 50 options.
  • Useful for people who like using the Pomodoro technique for focus.
  • Once I was able to navigate the app, it was relatively straightforward to use.
  • Points system, makes you feel more incentivized to work and stay focused.

Cons

  • There’s no tutorial upon downloading it, so you have to work out how to navigate it yourself. 
  • Different features had similar short-cuts. E.g. Double tap, hold, single tap each encoded a different action. May make it confusing and hard to get used to. 

Overall I do like Clockwork Tomato and think it is a nice, simple app which was effective for helping you focus, particularly as I like using the Pomodoro technique for studying. Once I personalised it to the tasks I wanted to complete, it was effective in improving my productivity and making sure I got them done. The fact is also free was a big bonus to me as well, especially as a student. However, it took me some time to understand the difference between stop, finish and distraction features which made it hard to get used. I do find apps such as Forest and Flora more motivating and simple to use as they allow me to almost visualise my time easily through planting trees. That being said, I thought the points system is also really cool, as the prizes are nice and welldesigned which did help me stay on track and I feel like I accomplished something each time because it gives you a reward system which really helped me stay motivated. Overall, I would recommend this app especially if you’re a Pomodoro technique person like me! 

Reviewer: Leah Parker

Download links:

app store download link for clockwork tomato google play link to clockwork tomato

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.

Next month: Travel

Ways I make online learning work for me

Written by Helena Thornton, Student Digital Champion

Helena Thornton

When I started university, we were in the murky depths of the pandemic. It wasn’t the transition anyone had envisaged! Alongside the expected changes: moving away from home, living in halls in a new city etc, came the less anticipated move to (almost) complete online learning. I was used to an all-in-person sixth-form approach, so this was a lot to get used to.

For better or for worse, much of my teaching has remained online this year, and so alongside the significant focus on independent learning at Uni (also online!), I have had plenty of time to get used to online learning since I began University in 2020. My learning styles and strategies are still far from perfect, but I have spent time and effort finding ways to make online learning work for me. I thought it would be helpful to share some of these; they might be things you could try, or might give you an idea of how to customise your own learning to suit your individual needs and preferences.

Planning!

University is full of juggling commitments, different assignments, lectures, social plans, general life activities, etc. I find it impossible to keep it all stored in my head: if I’m going to do it, it needs to be written down.

As a result, I find making to-do lists really helpful. I choose to do these on my computer, so that they are right there when I log on for the day. I have an Apple laptop, and use an app called ‘Stickies’, which lets me make coloured sticky notes to display on my desktop. They look great, and – even better – are completely unavoidable when I’m on my computer!

For PCs, there is a similar application called Sticky Notes.

To do lists on my desktop

Mind Maps

I have tried a number of different ways to organise my thoughts and notes when preparing an essay or other assignment, and I have found mind maps the ideal tool to help me capture different trains of thought, or different elements of a project. They are also a great way to visualise information – much more user-friendly than a block of text!

Like to-do lists, mind maps can be made by hand, but I have found websites and software that make them so much easier to create and share. When done digitally, they are also a lot more visually appealing, and you can move things around and add/delete as much as you would like.

Mindmap made on Miro Mindmap made on MindView

I currently use paid-for software called Mindview* to create mind maps, however, there are a lot of free alternatives online. One that I particularly like is Miro, a free website with mind mapping and brainstorm templates you can use individually, or collaboratively with a team.

Keeping it varied

They say that a change is as good as a break. Why not use both?! When I started my degree online, I quickly found that I was spending endless hours stuck in my room hunched over my computer, and it began to feel very monotonous and unengaging. Don’t let yourself get stuck in that trap post-pandemic! If online and independent learning still make up a large part of your timetable, take it upon yourself to find ways to keep your learning varied, and keep yourself engaged.

One way I do this is by moving around between chunks of time spent studying. Sometimes I take my work from one study space to another, or between a café and the library. This way, I am less likely to zone out and lose productivity, having sat at the same desk for hours on end. If I don’t feel like moving my workspace, I take the time to go on a short walk in a break from studying, so that I can get a smaller change of scene. This doesn’t work for everyone, but for me, the shift in environment keeps me on my toes.

I miss my library image
Taken from imissmylibrary.com

If you aren’t able to move around during the working day, but still want to capture that change-in-environment effect, you could try using different online study-environment websites. These can offer soundtracks/pictures that simulate the different study spaces I mentioned. Some of my favourites are ‘I Miss my Café’ and ‘I Miss my Library’, which create adjustable background noises to study to. The library option also includes a built-in to-do-list tool to help you keep productive.

It’s important to remember that just because these work for me, doesn’t mean they are right for everybody. Everyone has their own preferred ways of working, and so will have a different experience with any tool or type of study. However, finding a few study techniques you can go back to time and time again can be a really helpful way of making your study habits more personalised, productive and enjoyable. I have also listed below a few other resources I have found useful – I hope you find some that work well for you, too!

Other helpful digital tools for university work:

Connected Papers: for researching papers and assignments

Canva: for creating posters & graphics

Liner: for highlighting online webpages

Cold Turkey: for blocking other online distractions when working

Purdue OWL: contains so much referencing information!!

 

*Mindview: this is a paid-for software, however is available to all students on University computers. If you make use of these to study, I would recommend giving Mindview a try! Otherwise, Miro is a great – free – alternative.

Digital tools for a greener you!

Written by Souwoon Cho, Digital Education Developer.

The 22nd of April is Earth Day  DigiTalk are expanding our focus from the learning environment to the wider environment that we live. While concern for the environment, also known as Eco-anxiety continues to grow, it can be hard to know what positive action we can realistically take.

Climate change

Here are some digital tools to help you make your day-to-day life more sustainable.

Looking upwards at trees

Be aware of your carbon footprint

The first step to making positive change is to have an awareness of your current situation. Take WWF’s carbon footprint calculator for a quick and user-friendly assessment of your current impact on the environment. It also gives you a breakdown of your results and tips to reduce your impact.

A laptop next to a glass with a leaf in it

Plant trees while you search the web

You are likely to have heard or said the phrase “Just Google it”, which reflects the dominance of one search engine in everyday use. But have you tried Ecosia?

Visually, Ecosia looks just like what you would expect from a search engine. But in the background, every time you search, at least 80% of the profits generated from advertisements are donated to non-profit tree planting organisations around the world. The University of Glasgow made Ecosia their default search engine on campus in 2020, and the University of Bristol switched theirs to Ecosia in 2021. So, with an estimated 45 searches need to plant one tree, are you prepared to make the switch?

Man sitting on money

Engage in the circular economy

Food waste and fast fashion impact the wider environment but also make a dent in your pocket! Apps such as OLIO, Good to Go and Freegle help you connect with businesses and others in your community to minimise the amount of food, clothes and furniture going into landfill. It’s also a great way to grab your next meal or some furniture for your student accommodation at a reduced price or even for free!

So, what do you think you will try?  Do you have any other digital tools to suggest?
Let us know in the comments below.

Further resources: