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 and Amy Preston, Student Digital Champions.
Olivia Muggleton Polly Davis Amy Preston

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

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

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!

 

Preparing yourself for taking exams.

Preparing yourself for taking your exams.

Exams are coming up for some students and although some of you may be on campus taking them, we know that the majority will be taking them online.  

Revising is one thing but making sure you are prepared for taking your exams is also important. The Digital Education Office (DEO) have noted down some useful information and links to help you get ready. Keep these details handy so if you run into any problems, or you need some advice, you know exactly where to go. 

'and breath' written in neon
Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash
'treat yourself' in neon
Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

Don’t forget to take time away from your devices and revision to take a break. Wishing you loads of luck! 

The DEO team. 

A round up for Christmas.

As we are finishing for Christmas, Georgie, one of our Student Digital Champions (SDCs) has written a round-up of what herself and the other Student Digi Champs have been focusing on since October. It’s been a really busy few months for the team and the SDCs have been brilliant in working with the DEO to help improve the digital experience for students. We are looking forward to having them back in January to continue their great work and will also be recruiting for new Student Digital Champions, so look out for updates!

If you are a UoB student and are interested in sharing your views on your digital experiences, please think about taking our Digital Experience Insights survey which takes about 10 minutes and helps us to look at what we need to focus on in the development of student’s digital experiences at the University.

Merry Christmas from us all at the DEO, and thanks for subscribing to DigiTalk!

See you in the new year, Naomi 😊

A round up for Christmas.

Georgie Pitts, Student Digital Champion

Georigie Pitts, Student Digital Champion

For the second half of TB 1, the Student Digital Champions have been working hard to research student’s experiences of digital learning at the University. 

Assessment

We have begun to research Authentic Assessment, a form of assessment that assesses students using realistic / job-type situations that they are likely to encounter post-study in their careers.  

We have also started compiling an exam FAQs document, which will provide students with guidance preparing them for exams. We hope this document can be a useful summary for students who need a quick answer to an exam-related question.  

Notepad with a checklist on
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Accessibility

Members of the DEO have also been redesigning the Accessibility web pages on the University website. The site includes any information for staff or students on anything accessibility related, including where to look for support, and information on how staff can make their learning materials more accessible. It’s full of recourses, and well worth a look. See the link here: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/digital-education/inclusion/ 

You may be aware the DEO have hired Caption Editors to edit and improve captioning on video learning resources. The SDCs have also conducted our own research on our specific courses to begin to analyse where improvements need to be made.  

We have also published a Digital Accessibility in Learning student survey, aimed at gathering responses from students about their personal experiences with online learning, and looking at whether they have struggled with accessibility challenges. If you are also interested in providing your experience and suggestions, you can complete the survey using the following link: https://forms.office.com/r/rbhjCQcyLc. The survey takes 5 minutes and will be a great help!  

Video work

The DEO are working towards a new video series focusing on digital skills. Olivia, one of the SDCs has been helping with this by contributing the audio for the first video, which will hopefully be out in the new year, and will be focussed on Online Identity.

Olivia also created an MS Teams for Learning video (5mins) which you can find on the DEO’s Learning Online – Student Support page.

Working with our Course Reps

The Champions have also been engaging with their course reps to see if they have received any  digital experience or accessibility-related feedback. If you are a course rep, and want to get in touch, please email digital-education@bristol.ac.uk, citing you’d like to talk to the Student Digital Champions.

Team standing together
Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

We have had a great TB1 as Digital Champions, and have enjoyed working towards improving the digital experience and awareness of accessibility at the University!  

Tell us what you think of the digital learning environment!

Written by Suzanne Collins, Digital Education Office

Take 10 minutes to help us improve the digital learning experience at Bristol!

Follow this link to go straight to the Digital Experience Insights Form

Group of students chatting. Jisc, Digital experience student insights survey. Complete the survey.

As the year draws to a close, it’s a good opportunity to take some time and reflect on how things have gone so far this academic year. For the past few years – even before the pandemic changed the way we teach and learn – we’ve asked students to tell us what they think about our digital learning environment. The questions range from asking about you and your technology, to asking about how much support you feel you’ve had, where you go for help, and what we could be doing better. The survey is coordinated by JISC, which is a national organisation, so we are also able to see where we are in the sector, and work out what we’re doing well and what we can improve on.

The 10 minutes it takes for you to complete the survey are so valuable, as without hearing your experiences, we can’t work to change things for the better!

What we’ve done based on previous results

In previous years, we’ve used the results from this survey to make direct changes to the experience of students.

We have:

 

My time spent so far as a Student Digital Champion

Written by Olivia Muggleton: Student Digital Champion

Olivia writes about why she started working as a Student Digital Champion, and her creation of our new MS Teams walkthrough video.

The predominant reason behind me seeking a role as Student Digital Champion was my interest in facilitating student involvement and collaboration. I felt that this was particularly important within an institution which can often be seen as rather detached from its students in terms of day to day practice, which is partly due to the far more independent nature of learning in comparison to secondary education.

With coronavirus spurring a rapid change in all universities’ traditional modes of teaching to include online learning methods, I thought it would be helpful to reduce some of this aforementioned detachment in the provisions made by the university by introducing a student’s voice in the form of a walkthrough guide. This walkthrough illustrates, from a student’s perspective, the uses and functions of Microsoft Teams, a platform which has seen significant uptake of late due to the demands of online learning, as well as its convenience in terms of student collaboration within and outside of the curriculum.

Image of three students working together
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

I have really come to value my time with the Digital Education Office, who have enabled me to engage with the student learning experience and make valuable contributions in the form of questionnaires and various feedback on a broad range of areas. I am looking forward to continuing my part in enhancing the student experience through my role as SDC, by continuing to provide a student’s voice through feedback and engage with course representatives to better understand, and delve deeper into the needs of students, and assist the university to adapt to those developing needs.

You can find Olivia’s video on our Student Support page on our website, or by going to the MS Teams for Learning video.