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

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!  

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.

Using OneNote in your studies

Written by Sophia Leaper, previous Student Digital Champion.

Since I started my degree I have gone through a selection of note taking methods, from loose papers filed in binders (that rarely actually ended up in binders) to paper notebooks and presentation printouts, I always ended up with a clutter of sheets that rarely got used for exam prep. Then I found OneNote, it didn’t immediately revolutionise my productivity, in fact at the start I ended up with an annoying combination of paper and digital notes that I didn’t know what to do with. However, as exams approached, I realised how convenient it was that I already had half of my essay points written down digitally. OneNote allows a format where I could just copy and paste specific points to form an argument, I could make tables with agree and disagree columns and I could add text wherever I chose to. Slowly I came to rely on it not only for all my note taking but also as an organisation tool, I can create monthly, weekly and daily calendars that can be updated instantly and tasks lists that are easy to tick off and prioritise.

Image of a checklist

Its features are endlessly customisable and you can divide your document pages into notebooks, section and pages for a clean and organised look. For those with tablets or touchscreens it is also easily allows you to download and annotate presentation slides and add your own handwritten notes. There are many useful features that OneNote contains, here I will mention my top six favourites.

My top OneNote features:

 

Create a shared set of notes.

You can share your notebooks with friends and peers, each of you can have a different section or topic or you can choose to all collaborate on the same thing. This also works well if you link your OneNote to your Outlook account as it is all part of Microsoft 365 which comes with your University account.

Timetabling

You can use the table feature to create your own customisable calendar or download a template online. You can choose the amount or rows and columns to adjust to your working hours and can change fonts and colours in order to make your timetable more aesthetic and colour-coded.

Image showing a timetable in OneNote

 

Export your notes as a PDF

You can convert annotated slides, notes with diagrams, or essay plans into PDFs and print them out to study from.

Draw

If you have a tablet or a smart pen you can draw your own diagrams and then place text boxes around the image for labels. OneNote can also convert handwritten text into typed format, so if you don’t feel that comfortable typing you can still get organised typed text through OneNotes’ ‘ink to text’ tool

Multiple windows

You can open multiple windows and use split screen to look at them both. That way you can have your notes on one side and your essay plan on the other!

Insert Excel spreadsheets

Using the insert button at the top of OneNote you can insert and view excel spreadsheet sections as well as file printouts, attachments and screen clippings.

Further information

For more information on using the O354 suite on your computer please see the IT Services webpages. You can also view their Introduction to OneNote page there too.

The future of online learning

Written by Kesta Kemp.

Kesta was one of our first Student Digital Champions and is now a graduate of Bristol University. This post was written in July 2020.

Covid-19 has proven to be an extraordinary challenge for both university staff, lecturers and students alike. The demands have been unparalleled, having to shift to a new and unfamiliar way of teaching and learning, in the midst of unrelenting uncertainty. However, both students and staff have met this challenge with creativity and determination, and shown the opportunity that such a shift can have in the future.  

In a recent World Economic Forum article, it stressed that Covid-19 has caused universities to challenge deep-rooted notions of when, where, and how they deliver education, the distinction drawn between traditional and non-traditional learners and the importance of life-long learning. It is clear that the lessons learned from this transition can, if purposed effectively, lead to the evolution of a new, more effective, educational model.  

The perks of Online Learning:

Before the pandemic, online learning environments existed as a backup, It was a store of course materials; it wasn’t where the learning took place. However, Covid-19 has highlighted the opportunity of the digital learning environment: it can be engaging, enriching, and accessible. While this transition has definitely not been plain sailing, there are some definite perks of online learning that students have pointed out.  

Flexibility:

Online learning offers a more flexible education system. This relates not only to the place of study, but also the timing.  

Students have been able to study from across the globe, no longer having to be in the University’s radius. This has led to some students making the decision to not return to Bristol, and live at home or in other cities of their choosing.  

Online learning has also meant that students have been able to fit their other commitments, such as work or their personal life, around their studies rather than what has previously had to be the other way around. They also have had more time in their days – with the commute to campus gone. In this way, university has become more inclusive and accessible to a greater number of people.  

Multimedia Learning:

University of Bristol in the past year has been working hard to ensure that online learning is more than just a recorded lecture. New and more inventive forms of learning have been introduced and tested, with student feedback being pivotal in these transformations.  

Videos, quizzes and other interactive media are now part of how students learn, and discussion boards allow for conversations to continue and ideas to be recorded outside of lectures. Shorter lectures have also been encouraged, splitting the traditional 2-hour lecture into smaller, separate parts. Indeed, The University of Leeds’ vice-chancellor, Simone Buitendijk, has said 45-minute lectures are “outdated” and “pedagogically not sound”. She is in favour of shorter online chunks, which can be debated in class, and completed in the student’s own time.

Digital Skills:  

The move to online has also mirrored the increasing focus on, and opportunities for students to become more digitally comfortable and confident. Experience in online meetings and online platforms such as Mural and Teams, are crucial skills that make students more attractive to employers. Students’ ability to adapt to this shift in learning hones them with the skills they will need in the future workforce.  

The future needs to be human-centred:

While it is important to focus on the positive, it is important to note that online learning can equally be disengaging, isolating and lack the spontaneity of in-person experiences if it consists of merely uploading a recorded lecture online. Like in other aspects of society, the future is likely to be a hybrid model of online and in person-teaching, but to be successful it needs to be human-centred, creative and dynamic. Indeed, giving students the options to pick predominantly online or in-person modules allows both flexibility and the personalisation of the degree experience, which is long overdue. It has to be said that while many are excited to be back on campus, many modules have been more successful online.  

The focus, therefore, needs to be on enabling interactions between students and staff.

This means re-using recording asynchronous material to free up staff to be able to engage with students in more 1:1 time. 

The focus on experimentation needs to continue.

Including students in the conversation even as this transition starts to feel more normal. This period if anything, has shown the value and importance of co-creation in the learning experience.  

Assessment needs to be more creative.

While the pandemic has shown that timed, silent exams are outdated, the week-long exams are equally not productive for student wellbeing. Assessments need to be chosen based on their ability to represent real world settings, creativity and learning, rather than memory. The inclusion of podcasts, blogs and research-dissertations is a good example of this.  

Student Digital Champions: Summer 2021 Update

Suzanne Collins

Digital Education Office


Since November 2020, we’ve been lucky enough to have worked with a team of Student Digital Champions from across all six faculties in the Uni. They’ve been out and about, talking to students and course reps to tell us what’s important to students in their digital learning experiences.

This summer, we have had a new team with us, who are helping us with key work we’re now doing to prepare for the new academic year ahead. They’ve been looking at assessment guidance, hybrid learning, support for students using MS Teams for learning, improving our digital skills courses Digitally Ready and Digitally Ready: Reflect and Reboot (which you can find from our Student Support page), and more. We also have a dedicated team of Student Digital Accessibility Champions, as accessibility and inclusion is going to be a real focus for all our work over the next year.

This summer, we’ve been working with:

Arts:

Annie Walsh (UG) and Hollie Smith (UG)

Engineering:

Deepthi Nanduri (UG) and Gloria Bosi (UG)

Health Sciences:

Jessica Mounty (UG) and Emma Ford (UG)

Life Sciences:

Leah Parker (UG) and Helena Thornton (UG)

Science:

Hamzah Teladia (PGT) and Estefania (Nia) Deniz Fuentes (UG)

Social Sciences and Law

Olivia Muggleton (UG) and Alex Maskell (PGT)

Our Student Digital Accessibility Champions are:

Freya Selman – Social Sciences and Law UG
Elizabeth Hodge – Life Sciences UG
Georgie Pitts – Social Sciences and Law UG
Isabella Coombs – Engineering UG

Reflecting on the Student Digital Champions in 2021

At the end of our first group of students, we made with them a short video reflecting on our experiences, which you can watch here.

Why the student voice is so important, and how I am using mine to shape the digital learning experience for others

Written by Helena Thornton

Student Digital Champion and Undergraduate student of Psychology


When I began at the University of Bristol in September 2020, I had no idea what to expect. If university at all is a big step to take, moving across the country to start my degree in the middle of a pandemic felt like a giant leap. There were so many unknowns: of course, I had the more usual university concerns of whether I would like my flatmates, learning to cook for myself, and working out how to write a university-style essay. However, alongside these I faced Covid-specific questions: How I would receive my teaching? What would online teaching look like? Would it be accessible and engaging, or isolating and frustrating? Could I still build a social life with impending lockdowns and restrictions? 

A year on, many of these questions have been answered in some way or another. And, I am pleased to say that, while my first year of university was certainly a strange one, there were definitely positive elements of the experience. A lot of this has been down to how the university has managed to facilitate learning and even social opportunities online over the past year. 

Online learning took a while to get used to. One of my favourite things about it has been the flexibility it provides: I have enjoyed being able to watch pre-recorded lectures wherever and whenever during the week! This has been particularly helpful for me as someone with a disability: being able to break a lecture up across a longer period of time when needed, or spend a bit of time re-playing a part I didn’t understand, has definitely made the content more accessible.  

As expected, there have also been difficulties associated with learning almost completely online: from the more general problems, such as feeling more isolated from others on the course, to the more specific confusions around how to get Blackboard and other pieces of software to work!  

As the year progressed, I began to realise that, despite having almost exclusively online learning, there were still a lot of ways I could get involved with the University, and with other students. I started off by joining societies, and as I had an interest in Accessibility and Inclusivity, I sat on various committees as a Disability & Equalities Representative. This was a great way to meet people, and to help to build student communities online, by organising virtual events and participating in campaigns.  

It also made me realise the huge variation in student experiences of online learning, and of university as a whole. The switch to remote learning and online assessments has been much easier for some than others. It’s so important that anyone disadvantaged by the new systems, or struggling to adapt to them, is given a voice, and access to the support and resources that can improve their experience.  

With this in mind, this year I have started as Chair of the University’s Disability and Accessibility Network, leading the student platform for students with a disability, mental health condition or neurodivergence. This is an exciting opportunity to work with other students, finding ways to amplify their voices and improve their experience. 

As well as this, this role – alongside the others I have had in the past year – have (and continue to) offers fantastic opportunities to work with University members of staff, particularly those focussed on improving the student experience. As someone both with a disability and in a representation role for other disabled students, it has been really great to get involved in this type of work, being able to feed back about the different experiences students have had, and looking at ways to resolve the difficulties that come up.  

When students are placed in a position where they can speak and be listened to about the problems – and successes – of university learning, powerful changes can be made. For example, last year the Disability & Accessibility Network worked with the University to highlight the gaps in disability accommodations being provided in online assessment formats. As a result, new solutions were found, which have had an important impact across the University to the student assessment process. 

Going into second year, I have also started working with the Digital Education Office as a Student Digital Champion, a student role where I can give feedback, work on projects, and create resources alongside the DEO staff members. Although I haven’t been in the role very long, working with the DEO has been a really positive experience: it not only gives students a voice, but also provides a channel through which to collaborate with staff at the University to improve the resources available to students ourselves.  

The Student Digital Champions, alongside the DEO, are able to work together to improve the online learning experience for students. As we all have unique experiences of online learning and assessment, we can use these to ensure that the DEO’s priorities are as relevant as possible, and are approached in ways that can make a lasting impact for students.  

As a result, I am now not only able to answer the questions I had as a new student facing online learning, but am able to help create these answers myself! At a time when there has been so much change to the university learning experience, this is a great way to ensure that the new systems and ways of learning are positive changes, and I am very pleased – and proud – to play a part in that. 

If you would like to find out more about the Disability and Accessibility Network, feel free to visit our SU Network Page: https://www.bristolsu.org.uk/groups/bristol-su-disability-and-accessibility-networkor our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BristolDSN,or join our Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/bristolsudisabilityandaccessibilitynetwork/. 

Digital Skills: What are they and what’s the point?

Written by Hamzah Teladia, Student Digital Champion.

We live in a digital age, and more of our lives will become digitised – therefore we must embrace technology. But where does University fit in? We all come to university for one primary goal – to get some kind of employment afterwards. For the vast majority of us, we will join an organisation that operates on digital platforms, and if you are in an ‘office job’ your whole job will likely be done via a laptop or computer.

Laptops on a table
Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

University develops you as a person, giving you increased confidence and allowing you to develop your basic skills. These include organisation and communication skills, as well as increasing your knowledge in your chosen subject area or in whatever else you chose to be involved in. Underpinning all of this are your digital skills and competencies. For those of us who are getting through the Covid era, this has been more so the case than ever before. Before, as a basic, most of the material we accessed was via virtual learning platforms such as Blackboard, and we communicated with the University via email when we needed to. Now, we do this much more and have to rely on videoconferencing to interact with the absence of in person contact.

This means that these skills are more valuable than ever before. The workplace is changing, with employers who were not so receptive to remote working beforehand now embracing it. Those who already were have taken it further, therefore the culture of the workplace is changing, and we as the generation growing up with this change are equipped for it.

So, what are digital skills?

Simply, even checking emails and responding in a professional manner where necessary constitutes the basic of digital and professional skills. Employers look for and expect this as a precursor, and this impacts on the way you portray yourself during application processes.

Picture of a laptop keyboard
Photo by Chris J. Davis on Unsplash

Or, digital skills can be as complex as being versed in coding, data processing and visualisation technologies, if you have the opportunity to be exposed to these – likely those in computer science related fields or just a keenness to digitally upskill. If so, you are equipped for the data explosion the world is currently undergoing, and which underpins most of our institutions already – it is also experiencing more demand than supply.

Digital skills are therefore everything in between, but we can start with the small, basic steps. Check your emails regularly, as emails are part of professional life. Manage and use a digital calendar to schedule your time and meetings as a minimum. Think about netiquette and your wellbeing online. Exploit the access to various platforms on offer, such as the Microsoft Office suite. Cloud based platforms, such as Office 365 are all the rage and another additional to your digital toolkit, allowing you to collaborate effectively.

Digital skills matter more than you think, even the simple ones, and even realising this unnoticeable skillset will enable you to actualise the foundation for your future career.

Digital Research Database – Promoting collaborative research in an online setting.

Written by Tadeas Dvorak, Student Digital Champion

Group of young students
Group of young students in cooperation By Jacob Lund from Noun Project”, under CC BY 2.0.

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post on the various pedagogies that support students to become better researchers. There I was making an argument for higher education to act as a platform for communities of practice (CoP), a learning partnership between learners themselves. CoP is a participatory approach to embedding research into curricula, where students practice research together. The University and Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching have delivered a set of activities that take a form of CoP, be it the Festival of Undergraduate Research or the Undergraduate Research Journal.

In the past few weeks, I explored the idea of a digital research database, that would run on CoP principles. This would be a database where students could register the topic, timeline and contact details for their research project. When starting on a new research project, students would be encouraged to check if someone else has explored a similar research question. If interested, they could contact the original research team to discuss the topic, share findings and tips on how to take that research question forward. Likewise, when carrying out a research project and in need of advice or skillset, they could add a note to their project page, asking other students for help.
There is a ton of student research projects being carried out at the University. The database could foster collaboration across disciplines and years, ensuring that research progresses, and we build on the findings of previous projects.
The database would work in line with pre-registration and open science. Researchers register their study in an online database (such as OSF or PROSPERO), this includes basic information about the research question and the study design. When developing a new hypothesis, researchers screen the database to ensure they do not duplicate an existing research project.

Digital Research Database – Is it worth it?

I began exploring the desirability and feasibility of this idea. Feedback received was positive and suggested the database could be benefit students, bringing them together and sparking new research interests.

‘I would love this, I’d find it so interesting to find out what others are doing, and to see who has had similar ideas to me before me, or wants to collaborate with me! And also, it might inspire people seeing the work of others, and get them thinking about what they could do. I would also be really happy to be contacted after graduating if I’d done some research that a student is interested in, as I think this boosts conversation between alumni and current students!’ [undergraduate student]

‘Great idea to rise. Primarily as when it comes to dissertations, this is always a very important place for this kind of resource to be available. Our course kindly made all past years dissertations available, and I personally am building upon the conclusions of a past dissertation so have found it invaluable.’ [postgraduate student]

It would however require a good deal of UX design to make the database efficient and easy to use for students.

‘I could definitely see myself checking it around my workload, although it depends how easy it would be to filter, as I wouldn’t want to waste ages just scrolling through tons of research that I’m not interested it, I’d much rather only see research I’d want to read / collaborate on.’ [undergraduate student]

Digital Research Database – Can we build it?

I was in discussions with BILT and an Engaged Learning Coordinator at the University to explore the feasibility of the idea. The University has previously run SkillBridge, a platform aimed at connecting external stakeholders and organisations with student researchers at Bristol. There is currently the myOpportunities portal run by Bristol Futures and Careers Services, aimed at advertising volunteering and skills exchange. There is however no platform that would exclusively act as a research repository, promoting research collaboration.

The Research and Enterprise Development (RED) team at the University manages database of ethical approvals. Most research projects at the University must be pre-registered on this database to obtain an ethical approval. RED stores basic information about the projects but there is no public or student-facing solution. This leaves space for discussions with RED, exploring whether the database could have a front-end solution, where every researcher at the University could go and see if someone has explored a similar research question.

Implementation of this database is beyond the scope of my Student Digital Champion role but I will be very pleased if this blog post inspires someone to explore the idea of a Digital Research Database further. Future Student Digital Champions and BILT Student Fellows, the floor is yours!