Student experiences of online assessment

Written by Olivia Muggleton, Student Digital Champion.

Olivia Muggleton

Olivia recently presented at one of BILT’s Show and Tell events on Student Experiences of Online Assessment. It was a great event and we thought we should share it with the student community too.

Student Experiences of Online Assessment

Last week I was tasked with presenting a few of my thoughts to university staff as part of the Bristol Institute for Learning (BILT) Show, Tell and Talk webinar event. This webinar focused on the topic of online assessments and included talks from university staff and BILT Student Fellows on the behind the scenes of online assessment and their feedback on its success so far – including the wellbeing and accessibility aspects of this new mode of learning. I was fortunate enough to be able to use my role as Student Digital Champion to represent the student experience and offer some feedback from the people who are impacted most by the move to online assessments – Us!

In my presentation I focused on the experience of preparing for online assessments and how this has changed quite significantly over the past couple of years. So firstly, how can you prepare? Beyond revision of the unit’s course content, online assessments carry with them a whole load of technical challenges, whether they’re timed open-book over a number of hours or days, or whether they require hand written text or diagrams to be scanned and submitted: and if you get that far, the next challenge is saving with the correct file names and formats and submitting into the right submission port – and as with any other online activity, accessibility is also an incredibly important factor. So in acknowledging these additional requirements, lets discuss some of the online assessment preparation resources that are available to us as students.

Digitally Ready ‘Digitally Ready for Assessment’

Digitally Ready on Blackboard

Digitally Ready provides students with resources and advice with respect to online learning. Under this specific subheading of the ‘digital induction’ links can be found to all relevant pages such as student services, wellbeing support, the university assessment and exam arrangement pages, as well as the Study Skills resources on Exams and Wellbeing.

As well as signposting, Digitally Ready provides a virtual walkthrough of the Assessment, Submission and Feedback (ASF) areas in Blackboard and a step by step checklist to go through as soon as we know about a timed online exam, including what to do in the event that something goes wrong – overall, a really extensive and helpful resource. The SDCs are also currently working with the Strategic programmes and projects team to provide feedback to improve the ASF area for students.

I’m particularly fond of the Padlet that sits in this section which allows students to view and input their own preparation advice. This provides helpful, practical advice, tried and tested by people in the same situation, but it also builds a sense of community among peers, which has perhaps felt a bit lacking owing to the transition to online learning.

Study Skills ‘Exams and Wellbeing’ and ‘Online open-book exams’ resources.

The Study Skills service create a wealth of resources for students which cover just about anything you could need advice or guidance with. Especially relevant for our purposes are the ‘Exams and Wellbeing’ page and the ‘Online open-book exams’ page. The first of these is a well organised and structured resource which particularly focuses on the stresses that students might feel in the run up to exams. Rather than focusing on the technicalities and revision as such, it provides students with a refreshing insight into recognising unhealthy stress and advice on how to avoid it by better organising yourself and maintaining perspective. The ‘Online open-book exams’ resource delves deeper into the specific requirements of this mode of online assessment and provides some insightful advice regarding certain myths which surround online open-book assessments and some tips on preparing and revising for different assessment formats – for instance unseen, short-term seen and long term seen questions. This resource does tend to be most helpful in terms of aiding an approach to revision, but it nicely caters this to the relatively new format of online assessments. What I like most about this resource is its interactivity and varying format which really encourages engagement – and combined with the possibility of catering it to your own assessment format I think it’s a really appealing and useful page.

Study skills

DEO ‘preparing your submission’

This is a resource that we as SDCs have been quite involved with, we worked with the DEO to give some detailed student informed feedback on the layout and content of this resource and its practical ease for us to follow. This resource really delves into the technicalities and thoroughly explains each and every step involved in preparing to submit an online assessment in multiple formats, on Blackboard or Turnitin.

While it is predominantly focused on the technical side of preparation, I feel that this, alongside the ‘Submitting assignments in Blackboard or Turnitin’ guidance, are really invaluable resources, especially to students in first year who are likely to be entirely unfamiliar with this form of assessment via these platforms. More generally, I feel the DEO’s resources are really helpful as they provide an interactive (and thoroughly detailed) resource for students to click through and follow.

Preparing your submission

What are your thoughts?

Do you have any thoughts on these resources or on online assessments in general? We SDCs are here to champion the student perspective and experience so if you feel that there’s something we should know, please reach out so that we can be even more representative of your voice! We are also always working on giving feedback on university resources and areas of the online learning environment including but not limited to assessments, so subscribe to DigiTalk to keep up to date on our latest developments.

Further resources


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


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

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.

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!


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.


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.

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.


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

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:

Digital Skills and Employability: Where to Start

Written by Amy Preston, Student Digital Champion

Amy Preston

Why are digital skills important in the workplace? 

Now that we are emerging from a 2-year pandemic, many companies are moving back towards hybrid or in-person working. However, you’d still be hard pushed to find a job description that doesn’t have digital skills on their list of requirements. Even non-technical and non-office-based jobs require some degree of digital literacy. Recent surveys exhibited on the government website have shown that essential digital skills (things like communicating, handling information and online safety) are required across low, medium and high-skilled occupations. And competency in Microsoft Office is generally required for entry into medium and high-skilled jobs (which graduates typically join). However, it’s not just basic digital skills students need to be thinking about – different jobs require different specialist technological skills, which future employees need to think about when trying to boost their CV. For example, specific requirements for a job as a patent attorney will be notably different to one in marketing – one may require knowledge of online safety and privacy, whereas the other will emphasize creativity.  

What are the JISC digital capabilities and JISC discovery? 

Because digital skills and employability go hand-in-hand, you may want to look at JISC’s six elements of digital capabilities below. These are the key digital skills looked for by employers, and very important for students (future employees!) to be aware of. Or, take a look at the reimagined JISC framework in the form of the Digital Capabilities Tree by the Student Digital Champions and DEO (Digital Education Office). A good way to find areas that you need to focus on is the JISC discovery tool, which provides a questionnaire on your digital capabilities. This will generate a report and give you ways to improve, with links to useful resources. It’s great for assessing how you can improve your digital capabilities as a student, and as it applies to jobs too, implementing these techniques now is how you will stand out as a digitally skilled candidate to employers! 

Jisc digital capabilties
Image showing JISC digital skills: information, data and media literacies, digital creation, problem solving and innovation, digital identity and wellbeing, digital communication, collaboration and participation, ICT proficiency, and digital learning and development.

How can I make my digital skills stand out when applying for jobs? 

If you know you are interested in certain jobs after you graduate, scope out adverts for them on LinkedIn, Indeed or other job listing websites to see whether they list any specific digital skill requirements for their jobs. As mentioned above, you will often see they ask for proficiency in Microsoft Office. Find how you can showcase your proficiency – for example, you may have taken the ICDL (or ECDL) exam in school, which is highly regarded by employers looking for Microsoft Office proficiency. But more importantly, consider what specific digital skills you have that match the job requirements and how you can gain skills that you don’t already have. For example, if a job wants some coding experience, there are plenty of resources available to help you. ‘Learn Python the Hard Way’ is a great free resource to use as an introduction to Python coding. Use your digital skills to do some digging and find online resources to help you gain specific expertise that will make you stand out! 

Finally, be aware of your online identity when applying to jobs. The first ‘Digitally Skilled’ video talks about what online identity is and how you can shape it. Have a look and see if there are ways that you can adjust it to improve your employability – this is an important skill in itself! 

Jisc discovery tool
Image showing an example of a JISC Discovery (circular bar plot) digital capability report.

Further resources

If you need further help with job applications, head to the Careers Service website for information on employability and bookable workshops such as CV writing and interview skills. Also look at the DEO’s resources and other DigiTalk blog posts for all things digital! Finally, best of luck in securing a job with your new and improved digital skills! 

Disability Services – Technology for Learning online workshop

Technology is being built into our day to day IT programmes to enhance our working and studying practices. Technology can help to ease and overcome challenges, it can also enable us to complete tasks quicker and with more precision.

Technology for learning – is a workshop designed to guide you through technology freely available to support you with time management and organization, reading text and note taking.

Image of an online meeting
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

This workshop is on Tuesday April 5th 2pm – 3pm, and will be held online.

If you would like to attend you can sign up here: Technology for Learning workshop

If you would like to attend but cannot make this date then please send an email expressing your interest to:
You can find out about more of the Disability Service’s workshops on their website.

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