Meet Jack – Bristol Futures student mentor

Have you already taken one or more of the Bristol Futures Open courses? Ever thought about what it’s like to be a Bristol Futures mentor? Applications are open until the 7 September via MyCareer.

In this Digitalk blog, we hear from Jack about his experience as a student mentor on the Bristol Futures Sustainable Futures course in academic year 2021/22.

Profile photo of Jack, student mentor smiling.

The Sustainable Futures course first came to my attention when I was completing it as part of the Bristol PLUS Award. During the 4 weeks, I was impressed with the various aspects of sustainability that were exposed in such a short period. Throughout every step of the course, I was intellectually stimulated, giving me the opportunity to level up my skillset. The opportunity to explore sustainability with an online community of users and mentors made the whole experience more interesting and enjoyable.

With the wish to relive the experience, I further completed the other two courses that the Bristol Futures Team had to offer – I was hooked!  With a lingering sense of euphoria after the courses, I eagerly watched (stalked) the careers website praying that an opportunity to join the team would appear… and it did!

The beginnings

Trained and prepped, I was ready for my first run on The Sustainable Futures course. Working alongside me was a friendly close-knit team from all diverse backgrounds, some experienced some new. As the floodgates opened, users rushed in, brimming with new and fresh ideas. You could feel the positive energy through the screen, people from all walks of life joining together to discuss one of the most important issues of our time – it was incredible!

The week progressed smoothly, with topics of happiness and purpose being discussed throughout the week. Towards the end of the week, we began to highlight any key themes which were present for the lead educators to produce end of week feedback. When the week finished, I was taken aback a bit. I could not believe how enjoyable this was – I felt like I was learning not working.

The peak

The next two weeks flew by, with the topics of food waste and microplastics being a hit with many users. As we journeyed through these weeks, we monitored the chat, stimulated meaningful discussion, and promoted social learning. This was achieved through researching and sharing information which we had found relevant and interesting to the discussion in hand.

Watching the progression of users throughout the course is exciting, as they become more comfortable in expressing their thoughts on each topic. On occasions I got a bit carried away reading about other’s experiences and lessons they had learnt, from nurses to retired miners, they were all willing to share their wealth of knowledge that made it difficult to stop reading.

Halfway through our journey we were given the opportunity to share Bristol-specific events, societies, and local organisations that deserved promotion. This was an amazing chance to do some extra research (and try them out in person) to find out what is being done within Bristol, stumbling upon new start-ups, apps, and initiatives all looking to become more sustainable.

The goodbyes

From the personal, to the local to the global and finally back to the personal, we come to the final week of the course. Often neglected topics were covered throughout the week including mental health where many users shared the difficulties they had faced, how they overcame them and the lessons they learnt. Being part of an online community where people are comfortable enough to share their issues is truly amazing.

One of my favourite aspects about being a mentor on the course is seeing the impact we have had as a team through reflections from users at the end of the course. Here are some examples of user reflections.

From Changing views on sustainability:

‘I always thought people who made content sustainability where toothless in their approaches.  However, after completing this course, it changed my mind.’

To helping people, seek comfort:

‘It was enough for me to ease my climate change anxiety and helped me to have new and different perspectives to do things about it.’

To inspiring:

‘What I got from the course was learning about FoodCycle – I had my first volunteering session with them on Saturday and I enjoyed it so much, as it encapsulated what I enjoy doing most.’

The course had unfortunately come to an end, however for a Bristol Future Mentor the journey has just began. I have just finished mentoring on my third course, and it gets better each time. Each course stretches over 4 weeks, with 3 course runs (with mentors) each year, starting at the beginning of each term and after the summer exams. With the ability work flexible hours, you can ensure that can prioritise your studies when necessary. This makes it a perfect part-time job. If you get the opportunity to take part, grab it with both hands you will not regret it.

Interested in becoming a Bristol Futures mentor?

To apply, see the full role description and link to the application form due by the 15 September 2022 via MyCareer.

Further information on the Bristol Futures Open courses can be found on the Bristol Futures website.

If you have any further questions, you can e-mail the Bristol Futures team on uob-bristolfutures@bristol.ac.uk

Meet Freya – Bristol Futures student mentor

Academic year 2022/23 is soon upon us – which means we are recruiting again for enthusiastic student mentors for our Bristol Futures Open courses. Applications are open until the 7 September via MyCareer.

In this Digitalk blog, we hear from Freya about her experience as a student mentor on the Bristol Futures Innovation and Enterprise course in academic year 2021/22.

Freya, Bristol Futures student mentor profile photo.

 Why did you apply to be Bristol Futures Mentor?

As an Innovation student I was extremely excited to when I saw there was an opportunity to become a Mentor on the Innovation & Enterprise Bristol Futures Open course. It seemed like the perfect part-time role – it would enhance my knowledge of innovation, fit in around my University studies and help me to develop some really valuable and useful skills. Furthermore I’d really enjoyed taking part in the Sustainable Futures course the previous year, and during the course had enjoyed the way that many comments that I posted would get responses, either from academics or mentors or other course participants.

What do you enjoy the most about being a Bristol Futures Mentor? 

After a successful application I began working as a Bristol Futures mentor and have just finished my third course run. One of the main things I enjoy about being a Bristol Future Mentors is the interaction that you get to have. All of the people undertaking the course have chosen to do so because they are interested to learn about the subject area, this means they often very keen to discuss and learn more. As a mentor, I enjoy looking at the comments that people have posted and seeing where there are opportunities for them to learn more and stimulate this through a reply with questions. Another enjoyable thing about being a mentor is that you get to have direct input into how the courses are run and make suggestions regarding future improvements and development.

What is the most important skill to have as a Bristol Futures mentor?

Whilst being an Innovation student is helpful to being a mentor on the course, it is definitely not essential. All of the mentors I have worked with are all from different subject backgrounds, which can create an interesting variation in our responses to learners comments. I feel that the most important thing for being a Bristol Futures Mentor is having a passion for the subject area. It doesn’t matter how deeply knowledgeable about the subject area you are, as long as you are willing to have interesting conversations you will do brilliantly. It is due to this that I would highly recommend becoming a Bristol Futures mentor, the opportunity to engage with others who are passionate about the subject area is brilliant.

What advice would you give to new Bristol Futures mentors?

My tips to any future Bristol Future Mentors would be, take your time when interacting with course participants. Taking the time to send a detailed reply to one person with further information about something they’ve discussed is far more likely to stimulate interesting conversation, than simply replying “Great job”. The great thing about the Innovation & Enterprise course, is that a lot of the content is subjective, and learners can express and justify their own opinions. Even if you read a response and personally disagree, rather than directly expressing that you have the opportunity to craft a response full of questions that allow you to engage in a friendly debate with the learner. Some of the best conversations I’ve had on the course have been when I’ve taken the time to really understand what the learner has said and respond to the individual points they have made. Sometimes when you challenge learners, they come back with some really impressive responses.

What have you gained from being a Bristol Futures mentor?

Personally, I have gained a lot of skills from being a Bristol Futures mentor. I think the most important one is written communication and clarity. When I first started the role, I found it quite difficult to craft tailored and specific responses to students and would spend quite a long time replying to comments. However, over working on several course runs I have developed this skill and can now write concise and relevant responses to students with relative ease. This skill is not only important when discussing with learners but also when feeding back information regarding the course run to the academics.

Outside of the course, I now find that I can write more concisely in emails and other communications. Communication is such an important skill and one of the most important ones in an age where interactions are becoming less and less face to face. Therefore it is one of the key skills that employers look for. Being a Bristol Futures mentor is an extremely good example of using communication skills, but alongside it gain knowledge of interesting subject matter and have some brilliant conversations with learners from all around the world.

Interested in becoming a Bristol Futures mentor?

Sign into MyCareer to see the full role description and link to the application form due by the 15 September 2022.

Further information on the Bristol Futures Open courses can be found on the Bristol Futures website.

If you have any further questions, you can e-mail the Bristol Futures team on uob-bristolfutures@bristol.ac.uk

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.

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!

Find your digital balance on University Mental Health day

Written by Souwoon Cho, Digital Education Developer and new team member of the Digital Education Office.

If you haven’t heard this phrase recently, here it is: ‘Unprecedented times’. Of course, this was the go-to phrase to try and describe the impact of the pandemic on a global and personal level. A lot has changed since 2020 including more teaching and social events taking place in-person. However, the dilemma we face trying to manage the digital world and our wellbeing remains.  

You may hear of some approaches to this such as getting rid of your smartphone, deleting all social media, and not looking at e-mails for an extended period. But these approaches to eliminate screen time are not realistic for a student navigating day-to-day university life.  

So, what digital tools can help you achieve digital balance on University Mental Health Day and beyond? 

Man looking at his phone
Man looking at his phone

Digital tools for focus and motivation.

Do you ever feel distracted and constantly switching between different screens and digital tools? You are not alone! Rather than making you feel less productive, there are digital tools and apps available to help you focus on the task at hand. The list of great apps to help student’s focus and motivation by AbilityNet is a great summary of some of the tools for you to try.  

Dark mode for a better nights sleep.

Student Minds recommends avoiding your use of screen devices at least an hour before you intend to sleep as one of their tips to improve your sleep. This can be easier said than done. Another approach to ease your transition from screen to pillow is to reduce the blue light being emitted from your screens.   

You can set your screens to night or dark mode a few hours before you intend to go to sleep. Steps on how to set your display for night time mode are available for Windows and Mac. Most smartphone will also have this mode available, so check your phone’s user manual for further information.  

Image of lit up laptop in a dark room
Image of lit up laptop in a dark room

Free Yoga, HIIT, and Meditation.

Cat stretching
Cat stretching

Being physically active is one of the NHS’s 5 steps to wellbeing, but going for a run or attending an online dance class can seem like a lot of effort despite the obvious benefits. Fitness apps such as Downdog offer guided Yoga, HIIT, Meditation and even Ballet Barre sessions at your convenience. You can set the time, level and intensity of the session which gives you control to fit it around your schedule. Even a 5-minute session of chair yoga is better than nothing right? Since the pandemic, Downdog has been and is currently still available free for students. Of course, there are other similar apps available, so if this isn’t for you, explore different apps or digital tools until you find one that works for you.  

Looking after the mental health of university students and staff is not a conversation just for University Mental health day. We hope these tips will help you create ongoing positive change to the future of your mental health.  

If you have any comments or further tips to share. Post them in the comments below! We would love to hear from you.  

Further support and resources
Whether you are a staff member or student, if you feel like you are struggling, it is always good to tell someone about how you are feeling. If you don’t feel able to do this, the University has wellbeing support for staff and students. We’ve also listed some further resources below.

Student minds mental health day poster

Access to Re/Play recordings – Update

This post is a further update to the issue first identified on 07 February, where students were seeing an error message when trying to use the Re/Play link in the Blackboard left-hand menu.

As reported yesterday, all students should now be able to access Re/Play materials shared via left-hand menu links in Blackboard. Automated recordings have not been affected, and no recordings have been lost. Recordings will be available after 48 hours or when published by the academic staff member, as usual.

However, we are still applying fixes to some pre-existing problems with Re/Play which might affect whether you can view some videos in Blackboard. Yesterday, there were some sporadic reports of videos being unavailable if added into Blackboard so that they appear as a thumbnail image and a link within a course page.

If this is affecting you, first try to access any unavailable videos via the Re/Play link in the left-hand menu of your course, if that is available to you. If the problem persists and you need urgent access, please contact your school, or the IT Self Service site Home / IT Services Self Service (ivanticloud.com).

We hope to have this issue resolved as soon as possible and are still actively working on solutions.

Access to Re/Play recordings now restored in Blackboard

From the afternoon of the 7th February 2022 to 11.30 am today, the 8th February 2022, there was an error in the connection between Re/Play and Blackboard, meaning that you may have been unable to access your videos from the Re/Play link in Blackboard courses.

We believe this issue has been resolved, and you should now be able to view your videos as normal. We are now in the process of thoroughly testing this fix, so there is a possibility some access is yet to be restored in all instances.

We sincerely apologise for any disruption this issue has caused you. Please be assured we have been doing all we can to resolve it as soon as possible.

Captions on your Re/Play videos will now be automatically added

Suzanne Collins: Digital Education Office

From the 31st of January, we’re making a change to the way captions get added to video content in Re/Play. Instead of lecturers having to add captions manually, Re/Play will now add them automatically. This is good news for all of you who have said that having captions on video helps you to learn, and it also means that we will be working towards making your learning material as accessible as it can be.


“I use captions whenever I am watching a video. I find it really helps me to process what someone is saying. The Powerpoint slides help me to clarify any inaccurate captions.” UoB Student, Autumn 2021


The software that will add the captions does so using a computer, not a human, so there will inevitably be mistakes in the captions. Therefore, it’s really important to see captions as a way to support your learning, not as a replacement for the video content. They will not be accurate enough if you rely on captions to learn for accessibility reasons. If this is your situation, there is a separate support route in place where human written captions can be provided for you – get in touch with Disability Services who will be able to help further. For recordings of in-person lectures (lecture capture), captions will be added once the recording is published. If you don’t immediately see captions available, check back in an hour or so.


“When there are no captions, I am much more likely to need to keep rewinding to listen again.” UoB Student, Autumn 2021


If you use captions as a support to your learning, you’re adding to your set of study skills, as well as your digital skills! If anything doesn’t look right, especially terminology or names, double check against what’s on the slide, in handouts or reading materialsor listen to that section if you can. Captions should never be used as the sole source of information, especially for assessments and revision. Always check with your lecturer if you don’t understand something important. 

To turn the captions on or off on a video, look for the small ‘CC’ icon at the bottom of the video. Captions will appear at the bottom of the video.

Screenshot showing the CC icon on the Re/Play player

If you play the video full screen, you’ll also see a small magnifying glass icon. Here, you can search the captions and go straight to where a key word is mentioned by selecting the caption you want to see.

Screenshot showing the Re/Play player with captions search open

We’d love to hear feedback on how the captions help you learn. Why not get in touch with your course rep and ask them to pass your thoughts to our team of Student Digital Champions!