Entering the world of digital learning as a mature student

Written by Laura Kennedy, Student Digital Champion.

Laura Kennedy

Returning to education after any length of time can feel quite daunting. As a mature student, not only are you adjusting to a new routine, a new city and a major new life goal– you may well find that technology and the tools available for learning have developed quite a bit since you last used them.

Not to show my age too much, but when I started school the extent of the digital tools on offer was a room with Windows 98 PCs, equipped with MS Paint and Word-Art – big favourites when it came to decorating a piece of creative writing.  

Word art
Image from pcbooks.ik

For GCSEs and A-Levels, all my note taking was by hand, and although online resources for revision were becoming more popular (anyone remember the BBC bitesize fish? No? Just me?) the bulk of my learning still came directly from the classroom and textbooks.

Returning to Education

Fast-forward to 2021 when, after a considerable amount of time spent working, I began my degree at Bristol. A lot had changed, including a pandemic which catapulted us all into new ways of working online, and I quickly realised my old technique of writing everything by hand would need updating if I was going to keep up with the workload. There seemed to be so many options out there, it was difficult to know where to begin! 

In this post, I’d like to share with you some advice for making the change from traditional study methods to involving digital tools in your study toolkit, getting involved in online sessions, and some of the useful resources available from the university. 

Photo of laptop by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Combining ‘analogue’ and digital note-taking

Making the leap from one style of notetaking to another can feel a bit daunting – if like me you enjoy putting pen to paper but also enjoy the convenience and organisation of digital notetaking tools such as OneNote. Why not try combining the two?

Generally, I type my notes up with MS Word, but for some topics with a lot of interconnected themes, I’ll take my notebook and sketch out diagrams, bullet points and mind maps by hand.

Then, using the ‘document scan’ feature of the notes app on my phone, I can scan my pages and insert them into OneNote alongside my word documents– this makes the text in the hand-written document searchable, meaning I can easily refer back to the notes just by searching for that topic. You can also use Office Lens.

Image of how OneNote looks online

This was a real game-changer for me as it meant I could still enjoy sketching and writing out my ideas, but still have everything in one place on my laptop for revision – plus all the required apps are free, or already installed on most devices which is a bonus!

Goodnotes has similar handwriting-search capabilities, so you could give them a try and see which one works best for you, or have a think about other ways you might be able to integrate your current study approach with new digital resources.

Digital Flashcards

I’ve never been able to stick with making hand-written flashcards. I always started with the best of intentions but found that writing out card after card was just too time-consuming.  This changed when I discovered the digital flashcard apps and programmes – Anki is my personal favourite, but other students I’ve spoken to on my course enjoy using Quizlet too.  

A big advantage of these tools is that you can use your pre-made notes to create the flashcards, which is a huge time-saver.  

Photo of woman reading her tablet on her bed. Photo by Tetiana SHYSHKINA on Unsplash

These apps and programmes are cleverly designed, with algorithms ensuring that the cards you’re shown first are the ones you’re due a memory-refresh of, meaning you don’t waste study time looking over topics you’re already familiar with – an easy trap to fall into with traditional flashcards.  

ANKI has a bit more of a learning curve than Quizlet, but there are plenty of easy-to-follow tutorials online, and I found that once I was up and running, I could quickly turn my lecture notes into flashcards that I actually wanted to use. A benefit of Quizlet is that it allows you collaborate with other students on your course, which leads me on to my next tip… 

Don’t be afraid to get involved in online sessions!

Initially, it can feel strange sitting at home and being asked to type your thoughts into Mentimeter, PointSolutions, or Padlet in order to contribute to the conversation – especially when you’re used to being in the same room as classmates or colleagues and just speaking to your neighbour!

But these tools are so useful, taking Padlet as an example; I find it invaluable to have access to questions and answers from my fellow students and our lecturers – very often I’ll check a Padlet and find someone has asked a question I hadn’t thought to ask at the time but I’m keen to know the answer to, so it’s great to have the information there to refer back to – something that just wasn’t possible before tools like this existed. 

Image showing a padlet example

Every course will be slightly different in terms of the platforms they use, but they all offer the chance to work collaboratively online, a skill which is useful for university and beyond. I recommend spending some time getting to know which ones your lecturers use, and familiarising yourself so you’re ready to contribute and get the most out of online sessions. When working remotely, it really helps to actively take part online – you definitely get out what you put in. 

Final thoughts

Overall, my top tip as a mature student is to stay open-minded about the vast array of digital tools available – it can be tempting to stick with what you know, especially if you’re returning to education after a long break, but there are lots of ways to adapt and update your approach to find what works best for you.  

I hope my suggestions have been useful and given you a starting point for developing your own study style – remember, everyone is different and what works for others might not work for you, but if you give new tools a try, I think there’s a good chance you’ll discover at least one that makes you wonder how you studied without it!  

For more information, the Digital Education Office’s Digitally Ready course is a great place to start – I completed the course in my first year and I found it so useful to help me transition into the world of online learning. 

Other resources:

Meet our new Student Digital Champions for 2024

We are excited to announce that the DEO have recruited a new group of Student Digital Champions to work with the team for the next year to help us improve students’ digital experience whilst at University. You can find out more about them here. If you’re a student and want to get in touch with them, get in contact with your Course Rep who will be able to put you in touch.

Vaibhav Kumar Singh

Final Year, MSc Management

Vaibhav Kumar Singh

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

Hey there! I’m Vaibhav Kumar Singh, currently navigating the vibrant streets of Bristol as a Management student at the University of Bristol. Hailing from a background in Mechanical Engineering, I’ve clocked in some serious hours as a Senior Engineer in the automotive industry, dabbling in design, project management, and everything in between.
Before my UK adventures, I was a Senior Engineer at Bestec Systems in India, I was the maestro of automobile lighting components and interior trims, wielding CAD software like a wizard. I’ve led teams, managed budgets, and even jetted off to Hungary for some international engineering escapades.
When I’m not immersed in the world of management and engineering, you’ll find me on the cricket pitch and Table tennis room. I’m not just about business though; I’ve got a soft spot for Marvel movies, love exploring new places, and can whip up a mean dinner for my friends. Life’s all about the right mix of strategy, fun, and a good cup of coffee! ☕🏏✨

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Alt+Tab (Switches between open application)

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

Smile Smile

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

Honestly, there are times I feel like universities have their own secret language! One term that’s been a perpetual head-scratcher for me is “PLUS” in Bristol PLUS 2020. I’ve figured out it’s related to some extra-curricular award scheme, but the mystery of what PLUS exactly stands for remains unsolved in my university acronym dictionary. Bristol Plus Award.

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

One thing I’m really looking forward to is being part of the process that enhances the student experience.
Also I am looking for involvement in Digital Assessment.

Mahanum Rafiq Panjwani

2nd Year, studying Education Studies.

Mahanum Rafiq Panjwa

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

I am currently enrolled in 5 roles including Student Digital Champions.

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Ctrl + S (Save as)

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

😊 (smiling face with smiling eyes)

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

GRE: Graduate Record Examination

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

I am excited about the opportunities that the Digital Education Office presents, particularly in leveraging the power of AI to enhance teaching and learning experiences. Embracing artificial intelligence can revolutionize educational methodologies, providing personalized learning experiences tailored to individual needs.  Through the integration of cutting-edge technologies, we have the potential to elevate the overall quality of education and empower both educators and learners on their educational journeys.

Upendra Shahi

First Year, MSc (Public Policy)

Upendra Shahi

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

I am interested in politics, government and societal well-being; kind of explains quite a lot why I am pursuing public policy. Another thing is I didn’t know was that almost all British people (at least the ones I have had conversation with) adore Nepal, the country I am from.

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

The most important one CTRL+C (copy!)

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

😊. The happy face. I guess I use it to express my agreement with a smile most of the time.

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

Not yet!

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

I hope to grow professionally and learn more about technology.

Conor Macdonald

3rd Year, studying Philosophy and Economics. Conor has been a Student Digital Champion since January 2023.

Conor.

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

I can speak Welsh.

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Command + Tab (switches between open apps)

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

Probably the humble thumbs up 👍

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

MOOC (although I’ve now found out it means Massive Open Online Course)

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

I’m looking forward to encouraging students to use tools which can help them in a personal and academic capacity.

Emma Yi Kwan Lau

4th Year, studying Veterinary Science. Emma has been a Student Digital Champion since January 2023.

Emma Yi Kwan Lau

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

Hello! I often get asked by people that what is my favourite animal and I used to can’t pinpoint the exact animal I like the most. But after the last year volunteering in an aquarium, I can confidently tell you that my favourite animal is a porcupine pufferfish, especially the one called Piper in Bristol Aquarium!

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Ctrl+Z. Sometimes I accidentally delete what I have written. However, with this shortcut, I can easily recover the sentence or paragraph I was writing!

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

👍 A thumbs up!

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

Not at the moment but I don’t think I know DEO stands for Digital Education Office until I started working with the team last year!

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

It is my second year working with the DEO and I am very excited to start again. I really enjoy writing blog posts or guides for students to help improve their digital experiences. This year I particularly want to focus on students as content creators. As my course progresses, I realise how important this skill is and this aspect does not seem to be covered as part of the syllabus so I am hoping to create more blog posts for all of you to help with from your society promotion posts to your presentation for classes/ conferences!

Gen Kawaguchi

3rd Year. Studying Aerospace Engineering. Gen has been a Student Digital Champion since January 2023.

Gen Kawaguchi

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

I’m a big fan of aeroplanes!

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Shift+Ctrl+N (create new folder), I often use it to organise files in OneDrive.

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

Thumb up 👍

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

CADE (School of Civil, Aerospace and Design Engineering)  There is a new structure in the Faculty of Engineering which means new acronyms!

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

Looking forward to working with the teams to implement the students’ feedback on the online learning tools, especially Blackboard!

Laura Kennedy

3rd Year Veterinary Science

Laura Kennedy

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

My favourite type of dog is the Greyhound (as you can probably tell from my photo)!
Despite their speedy reputations they’re actually quite lazy, and make wonderful companions – I’m always talking about retired racing Greyhounds to anyone who will listen.

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

CTRL+F, especially when searching through my (long) lecture notes – I’ve used it so much over the past couple of years that now I find I miss it when I’m reading a physical textbook.

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

I’m a big fan of the happy cat emoji 😸

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

It took me a while to get used to ‘DSE’ – (Directed Self Education) – but now it’s had a name change back to ‘coursework’! (Unhelpfully, DSE also stands for display screen equipment!)

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

I started my degree in 2021 as a mature student, and having spent a lot of time in work and out of education, I found I needed to adapt to a new style of learning quite quickly, with a lot of the resources being digital/online.

I’m looking forward to using this experience to help other students make the most of all the digital resources on offer, and I love writing and all things creative, so my aim is to incorporate all of these things into my role as a Student Digital Champion!

Nia Burkinshaw,

3rd Year, studying Law. Nia has been a Student Digital Champion since January 2023.

Nia

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

When I’m older, I really want pet goats. Don’t ask me why, I just really like the idea of it 😂

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Ctrl+ Shift + Windows allows you to snip copies of part of your screen, super helpful for quotes on a PowerPoint

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

❤️A heart for when I finally understand what is going on.

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

It took me quite a while to learn what LLB (my course title is LLB law) actually means. Turns out it’s just a bachelors of law, in my defence the actual acronym is short for the Latin ‘Legum Baccalaureus’.

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

As part of the team last year, I was able to discover the breadth of the work that the digital education office does. This year I would love to continue expanding my skills, getting involved and contributing my ideas in a really broad range of projects.

Olly Dodd

1st Year, History

Olly Dodd

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

Petrified of heights – shouldn’t be a problem in the DEO I hope!

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Control + Z. I am indebted to whoever bought this out and I refuse to believe there is a limit on how many times you can use it!

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

Has to be the crying face emoji – underrated, basic but effective. Usable in all online calls I’ve been in as well!

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

Erasmus+ – sounds cool but quite wide as well.

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

I’m most looking forward to making a noticeable difference to technology through the DEO at the University. It’s basic but it is not only a great experience for me but will hopefully make a positive difference to how students and staff alike interact with technology.

Hannah Webb

2nd year, Geography

Hannah Webb

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

I love to travel, and explore new cultures, cuisines and countries!

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

My favourite keyboard shortcut is print screen,to quickly copy across a diagram, or slide, during lectures.

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

I love to use the clapping emoji, or the love heart, as it’s simple and shows your support and that you are engaged with the speaker on the call, as it can feel very isolated and like talking in to the abyss when you’re online. The clapping hands is a simple but wholesome way to engage.

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

Not as of yet!

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

As someone who is dyslexic, and struggles to quickly process and read through large amounts of text and information, I’m looking forward to being actively involved in communicating and exploring ways to best help the whole student population best use the technology and digital support available to help with the workload. Also, with the increasing prevalence of AI in our everyday lives, it is interesting to see and explore how best to academically use the software to ethically benefit university study.

Samantha Travers-Spencer

3rd Year, studying Veterinary Science. Samantha has been a Student Digital Champion since January 2023.

Samantha

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

My favourite animals are donkeys!

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Ctrl/Cmd+F is definitely my new favourite shortcut. (Searching for text within a document).

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

Still the classic thumbs up! 👍

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

You could probably fill an entire blog post with all the University acronyms that I still haven’t worked out!

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

Like before, I am looking forward to working with a diverse team and continuing to learn new digital skills. This year, I really hope that I can help to develop digital accessibility and inclusivity within the UoB community!

Jodie Tang

2nd Year studying Biochemistry.

Jodie Tang

Tell us something about yourself (interesting or not!)

I love to send my friends cat memes.

What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Ctrl + C 🙂

What’s your favourite emoji to use in online sessions?

A heart ❤️

Is there a University acronym or term you’ve still never worked out what it means?

INF

What are you most looking forward to being involved with in the Digital Education Office?

I’m excited about recording podcasts on digital learning to offer dynamic discussions with students. I am also excited about creating animations to simplify complex concepts to create an inclusive and effective resources.

Useful links

You can find out more about the Student Digital Champions, and see some of the work they have created on the following pages.

Take part in our Digital Insights Survey!

Our Digital Insights survey is now open! Responses are anonymous but play a huge part in the development of our digital development. This year it’s more important than ever to have your say, as the University is looking at the Digital Learning Environment in order to make tangible improvements to your learning. The Jisc Digital Experience Insights Survey aids us in our work to continuously enhance the student experience. As well as looking at our own data, we will be able to compare our results with other education providers and benchmarking data across institutions. Find a link to complete the survey here, it takes ten minutes to complete: Digital Insights Survey.

Person sat working on a laptop
Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

The Digital Education Office are hiring!

Following on from the great work of our Student Digital Champions, we are keen to hire some more students to work with us again starting in January 2024.

Student Digital Champion 

The UoB Digital Education Office (DEO) are looking for passionate students to work with us to ensure that all students can get the most out of their digital and blended learning experiences at Bristol. As a Student Digital Champion, you will be talking to students, course reps and staff members to hear what is or isn’t working in our online learning environments, and identify good practice in teaching and assessment. You will be working as a team, with the DEO and other Student Digital Champions, to identify and address key challenges the student body are facing when learning in an online, blended or hybrid environment, and then propose, pilot and implement practical solutions. In addition, you’ll be adding your own personal experiences and feedback to the work of the DEO, and helping us shape the work we do in real time. To apply for this role, you need to be a current student at the University of Bristol. You’ll be working an average of 3 hours per week spanning from January to December. 

You can read more about how our previous students have found the role in our past blog posts.

Getting back into studying after the summer break. A message from a returning international student

Written by Emma Yi Kwan Lau, Student Digital Champion.

Emma

The start of November means we are fully on our way into term! As the dust settles on freshers, it’s time for all of us to start preparing ourselves for our studies and continue with our learning. Academic work at the university requires us to be competent and confident at our digital skills. These skills may be a bit rusty to us as returners after a long summer break. They may also be entirely new to all our freshers. The comprehensive list of digital skills is long, however, I would like to take this opportunity to share my experiences studying at the Bristol and the top skills that I find useful for my learning.

Chalkboard reading Back to School. Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash

Experiences as an international  student

Some of you may be in the same boat as me – coming abroad to the UK for higher education. It may be your first time leaving home and living on your own. It may be your first time to use English as the only teaching language. Everything may seem a bit daunting and overwhelming. If you are a new student, everything is probably new and unfamiliar to you. There are some tips that I would like to share with you and hopefully that may help to relieve your nerves. Even if you are a returning student, you may still experience a shock after a long summer break so the following tips can also be helpful to you.

A lot of us would have heard of cultural shock. However, what exactly is cultural shock? It refers to feelings of uncertainty, confusion, or anxiety that people may experience when moving to new country or surroundings.  

Image showing the cultural show graph.
Image from Verto Education

Everything in the UK can be very different from home if it is your first time moving away from your home country. To minimise cultural shock, it is crucial to keep yourself busy. Joining societies is a great way to mingle with people and keep yourself away from experiencing cultural shock. There are many cultural societies which offer platforms to meet students from your home country or those with similar cultural backgrounds.

Other than extracurricular activities, it is also worth considering engaging in different job opportunities offered by the university. Not only will you make friends, but it’s also is a fantastic opportunity to boost your CV and gain skills to be ready for your future career.

Regardless of our cultural backgrounds, all students face the same difficulties in transitioning from college or high school to university. Firstly, higher education requires more independent learning. Therefore, self-discipline and time management become more important. Also, there are more online components in the university’s teaching syllabus. This is why the university offers a range of support to freshers to help with the transition.

This shock is also applicable to our returners. After a long summer break, it may take a while for us to resettle in. In addition, the content becomes more difficult as we progress to senior years (year 2/3/4/5). Therefore, I would like to introduce the five skills to our returners too. 

Digital Notetaking

As the new academic year starts, a lot of us may start trialling new note taking methods by using a different apps. Three popular note taking platforms are called Notion, OneNote and Evernote. They all have their pros and cons. However, the key consideration in digital note taking is not exactly about the application we use, it’s more about considering how we use it, and does it fit into the way we work. I highly recommend my peers to do research on the application they decide to use to ensure it suits them.

Selecting Digital tools

Speaking of us picking new note taking applications, we should also think about selecting other digital tools. An example of  a digital tool is  a digital note taking platform that we mentioned above. Other aspects that digital tools help with include networking, blogging, and timetabling. As we may be aware, independent learning is an important part of studying whilst at the university. Learning how to select the right apps will be vital for us. I would also recommend having a look at the Appinion series on DigiTalk where me and other students share experiences of using various digital tools.

Office 365

Speaking of digital tools, we must not forget about Microsoft 365. It is a service that provides access to a suite of Microsoft Office applications and other productivity services. It includes popular applications such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, as well as other services such as OneDrive, SharePoint, and Microsoft Teams.  

As a student at the University of Bristol, we have free access to all features of Microsoft 365. To explore all functions of Microsoft 365 and how to install, have a read of the resource below offered by the DEO – Microsoft 365 Support – Office 365 help (sharepoint.com) 

Blackboard

Blackboard is the main platform where all teaching materials are uploaded and delivered if the session is asynchronous or live online. It may all be familiar to our returners. It would be worth both our freshers and returners having a look at Digitally Ready course to familiarise the layout and functions of Blackboard.

Making the most of the services offered at the University

We have mentioned various applications we can use to maximise our digital learning experiences whilst at the university. It is also worth noting that the importance of utilising other university services online. These include the Study skill services, Library services, Disability services and IT services. Many resources are available online and you can navigate to relevant webpages through Blackboard. There is also a section in Digitally Ready course where you can explore the roles of study skill and library services, as well as how to reach out for help.

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Working as a Student Digital Champion

One of the job opportunities offered by the university is  a Student Digital Champion. This year I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to be part of the student worker team at the Digital Education Office (DEO).

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, my first year of teaching was altered into a blended learning method with majority of the teaching online and pre-recorded. There were occasions in which our cohort faced difficulties in accessing the teaching resources. This experience made me realised the importance of digital experiences at University. Therefore, when the opportunity to work with the DEO came up earlier this year, I applied to the job instantly I saw it on the career portal.

My job is to help improve students’ digital experiences by raising awareness through blogs and interacting with staff members at DEO. Very often, my job only requires me to work online and have regular online meetings with the staff. However, there were also in-person opportunities for me to interact with teaching staff to give students’ perspectives at staff meetings. My communication skills, both written and verbal, have improved significantly throughout this year with all the opportunities I was offered. I also learnt to be more proactive and take the initiative to create new projects to enhance students’ experiences whilst at university. These are all important skills employers are looking for when we apply for jobs. Therefore, I will definitely recommend my peers to join the team. It is a meaningful job and which you will be able to sharpen your skills.

Useful resources 

Netiquette

Netiquette describes the written and unwritten rules of conduct for respectful and appropriate communication online. The word is a fusion of “net” (short for internet) and “etiquette,” and it is the code of behaviour that governs online interactions. Just as we abide by social norms and conventions in our physical world, it’s equally essential to understand and practice proper etiquette in the digital world.

Moving through school, college and university provides students with a variety of experiences and exposures to different communication styles and expectations. This helps you to adapt and develop a versatile set of netiquette skills. Resources such as the Digitally Ready course and Staying Safe Online Guidelines exist to support this transition and establish appropriate standards.

Understanding appropriate netiquette is an invaluable skill that goes beyond your academic pursuits – it’s a set of principles that will serve you well in job interviews, future workplaces, and networking opportunities.

In this discussion, Student Digital Champions, Conor and Nia delve into what netiquette entails, why it is crucial during your studies, and how it will continue to shape your professional careers. By the end, we hope you will have a broader understanding of how observing proper online etiquette can enhance your learning experience and establish a positive online presence that will benefit you for years to come.

 

Conor and Nia discussed a whole host of interesting subjects in this chat, ranging from online lectures they have experienced, to how to write an email. Some really good thoughts to reflect on when we start thinking about what is best for our own online practice. Our understanding of netiquette will change and develop as we change and develop as learners and as workers. It’s important to remember that we won’t always get things right first time, but as you can tell from Conor and Nia’s discussion these are all learning curves that every one of us will experience, and it’s good to engage and share our thoughts about the subject.

Composing an email always depends on context, but it’s good to know the types of things we could include in it. Take a look at the following question and head to the Menti polling page to add in your answers. You will be able to view the results below.

Which of the below have you considered including in an email?

  • Signature
  • Scheduling
  • Emoji
  • Preference for accessible content
  • Response time expectations
  • Pronouns

Appinions – Content creation

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 Hannah Harrison, Bibiana Lebersorger, Samantha Travers-Spencer, Emma Yi Kwan Lau, Katie Stoker, Conor Macdonald, and Gen Kawaguchi.

HannahEmmaSamanthaKatieConorGen

July: Content creation

Social media is a platform where amateur content creators have an opportunity to shine. Professional content still has its place, but doesn’t dominate the market. Amateur creators may not have the same level of technical expertise, resources, or production value. But make up for it with authenticity, uniqueness and artistic freedom.

It’s now possible to generate captivating content merely with an original idea, enthusiasm, and a mobile device. With the continued emergence of generative AI tools, it is possible to fill gaps in your skillset, bypassing these would-be stumbling blocks. For better and for worse, these digital platforms are more egalitarian, fostering a greater equality of opportunity.

CapCut

capcut app icon

Capcut is an all-in-one free video editor, available both on computer and mobile app. With a huge range of visual features including filters, overlays, stickers and text, coupled with audio editing features such as adding sound effects and TikTok music, the creative possibilities are endless. Capcut also includes features to improve accessibility such as auto captioning, and is perfect for beginners to video editing, as it is easy to use and there are many tutorials online. Recently, CapCut has also added AI driven features such as auto-cut, colour correction and a ChatGPT-esque script generator.

Pros

  • Completely free, with hundreds of features
  • Easy to use layout
  • Option to crop video before upload – saves time
  • Option to add captions to make your videos more accessible
  • Copyright checks available
  • Options to remove audio or overlay with different sounds
  • Compatible with TikTok
  • Templates available and sorted by category so you can find the right inspiration
  • Integrated AI tools
  • Collaborative options for sharing and working on content as a team

Cons

  • There are so many options for visual effects it can be hard to find what you’re looking for
  • Adjusting the playback speed can result in blurry videos
  • App can lag, and uses up a lot of storage

The CapCut app is sleek and very easy to use. Tools are sorted by type and I found it easy to find what I was looking for, as well as discover new options. I particularly liked the fact that the app prompts you to trim the video before uploading, which minimises both upload time and data usage. Whilst I would recommend using a desktop editor for more professional projects (as the editor can be a little fiddly on mobile) CapCut is perfect for creating fun and engaging videos on the go, and I definitely recommend testing it out. I’d also recommend having a play with the AI tools as these can be a lot of fun – I created quite an amusing advert for an extremely red tomato!

Reviewer: Hannah Harrison

Download links:

Google Play linkapp store link

PowerPoint

PowerPoint app icon

The PowerPoint mobile app combines all the design features and functions of the desktop application, with the portability and accessibility of your iPhone, Android or iPad for on-the-go use. With the PowerPoint app, you can create, edit, and view presentations from anywhere. You can design a presentation from scratch with all the usual tools and features available; edit slides, alter transitions, and insert animations and images with the tap of screen. Using your Microsoft 365 subscription (which is provided for free through the University), you can sync all PowerPoints and documents across all devices with OneDrive. The ‘Share’ feature lets you share your documents at the touch of button via mail, AirDrop, WhatsApp and more. An active Microsoft 365 subscription gives you access to Presenter Coach, an AI tool created to help you practice public speaking by giving real-time suggestions to speak more confidently and to alter pacing.

Pros

  • Free to download.
  • Syncing available with OneDrive and a Microsoft 365 subscription to avoid annoying duplicates.
  • You can create and share a PowerPoint from almost anywhere without needing access to a laptop or computer.
  • The app provides pre-made presentation designs and formats for ease of use.
  • You can manage who has access to your files with 1-click sharing.
  • Great for on-the-go or last minute edits in preparation for a group project.

Cons

  • On a small screen of a phone, it can be quite fiddly to add text and images to the presentation.
  • To share over 5 GB of files, you need to have access to an active Microsoft 365 subscription.
  • Some features, such as the Presentation Coach, is only available for those with a Microsoft 365 subscription.

I would recommend PowerPoint mobile for anyone who wants to be able to access and make small edits to their presentations on-the-go but have found that creating a presentation from scratch on my iPhone was a little fiddly and time-consuming! I did find it useful to be able to go over my PowerPoint on the bus to Uni in preparation for my summative group project that I was co-presenting, making me feel well prepared for the upcoming assessment. I haven’t yet used the Presenter Coach tool, but I think it’s great that Microsoft are incorporating AI features into their products and will definitely try it out when preparing for my next presentation!

Reviewer: Bibiana Lebersorger

Download links:

Google Play linkapp store link

Adobe Express

adobe express app icon

Adobe Express (formerly Adobe Spark) is a free mobile and online design and photo tool app that enables you to effortlessly create eye-catching graphics for social media posts, flyers, posters, short videos, web pages and more. The simple, easy-to-follow layout of the app allows you to create media content from scratch or from a large collection of existing templates, to give a professional finish.

Features such as the ability to trim, edit, crop and resize video content, convert between PNG and JPG files and resize images makes this app a useful (and free) companion for university coursework. The new beta version of Adobe Express incorporates the exciting new possibilities of AI into its current features.

Pros

  • Easy to create a free account, plus an alternative option to sign in through Google, Apple and Facebook.
  • No design knowledge is necessary — you can create media content from a vast array of existing templates.
  • You can save your templates to use again, share with others or adjust them for later!
  • You can quickly remove backgrounds from photos using the background remover tool.
  • Seamless integration with other Adobe creative apps such as Photoshop and Illustrator.
  • Allows you to convert from pdf format to Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents without disrupting the formatting or fonts.
  • Lots of features are available to use on the free version.

Cons

  • A monthly subscription is required for access to premium content, but a free 30-day trial period is available.
  • Only 2GB of cloud storage is available on the free plan.
  • Despite the huge variety of different fonts, it can be a bit fiddly to edit text on the mobile app!

Overall, I would highly recommend Adobe Express for time-efficient creation and editing of graphics on the go without compromising quality. Even with the free plan, there are plenty of helpful and time-saving features to use, making it a very versatile design app.

Reviewer: Samantha Travers-Spencer

Download links:

Google Play linkapp store link

Snapseed

snapseed app iconSnapseed is a simple and easy to use photo editing app, which can be used to make a whole range of different adjustments to your photos. While the app offers the user a lot of creative freedom, it takes no time to learn how to use and navigate the different tools.

The app interface is very clean and simple. At the top of the screen is the option to open your camera roll and select photos, a button to review, redo and undo changes, an information tab, and settings where you can get help and view tutorials. At the bottom of the screen are three tabs: looks, tools and export. The looks tab opens up a range of different pre-made filters which can be instantly applied to photos. While there are only a few filters available, they are a super quick and easy way to make instant changes to your photo. However, if you want to make more specific, fine-tuned changes, the tools tab contains many more options such as contrast, grain and white balance to name a few. Here you can make more subtle edits, or even add text and a frame.

Pros

  • Easy to use and navigate
  • Takes very little time to learn how to use app features
  • Pre-made filters
  • A range of tools available
  • Option to export edited photos in several different ways
  • The app is free

Cons

  • Many of the tools available can already be found built into your device’s photo app (for example, iPhone already offer a range of tools to edit photos in your albums)
  • While the app is great for casual photo editing, it might not be great for those who need to edit photos for more professional purposes
  • No option to save edited photos in the app. This would be useful if you want to go back and re-edit previously edited photos

Overall, I think that Snapseed is a good photo editing app. It is easy to use and takes no time to learn how to navigate. All tools are available for free, so no paid subscription is required. However, there are many photo editing apps out there, and I fail to see how Snapseed stands out. While it offers a range of standard tools, I will personally continue to use Apple’s built-in photo editing tools. Despite this, I would definitely give Snapseed a go to see if it suits you!

Reviewer: Katie Stoker

Download links:

Google Play linkapp store link

Jetpack – Website Builder

jetpack app icon

WordPress is a free and open-source software that is popular for web content management. It can help us to publish our own website or start our own blog. After creating the content, we can monitor the browsing frequency and exposure of our website to the public. Jetpack is a plugin developed by Automattic, Inc. In addition to the functions WordPress offers, Jetpack allows safer and quicker website creation and ongoing maintenance.

Pros

  • Free to use
  • Templates are available for use
  • Easy to use as there is step-by-step guidance for users to create a website
  • Shortcuts to promote the website instantly
  • Can exchange opinion and experiences of content creation with other authors using WordPress.com Reader

Cons

  • Need a WordPress account to use Jetpack plugin
  • If you want a domain for your website, you need to pay £16/ year
  • Can be difficult to format the website or blog using the mobile phone as the layout can appear different from what readers using a computer may see

I never thought that I would be able to create my own website. I always associate content creation with very difficult work. However, it is manageable even with minimal experiences by using WordPress/ Jetpack. In fact, it only took me a couple of minutes to set up my own website!

Reviewer: Emma Yi Kwan Lau

Download links:

Google Play linkapp store link

Canva

canva app iconCanva touts itself as an all-in-one package for content creation. It’s best known for its image editing capabilities, but in recent years it’s expanded its offering with video editing tools too.

Canva is great for those who want to post content directly to social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram. It offers direct integration, meaning as soon as you’ve finished editing content it can be directly uploaded to those platforms.

Just like many other apps in the content creation sphere, Canva has now started offering AI tools. These can be used to create an image from just a description. Along with the AI tools, Canva also offers its users a myriad of templates as well as stock images and music.

Unfortunately, many of Canva’s features are behind a paywall. Whilst this isn’t a huge problem, some may consider a lot of the paywalled features to be necessities, such as resizing an image or accessing ‘Pro’ templates.

Video editing, is also a capability within Canva, although it’s arguably not on par with applications such as Premiere Pro. Canva’s offering is more in-between PowerPoint and iMovie – you can create good animations and cut video simply. But other than that it offers little flexibility. It’s a good starting point but those with little video editing experience may find it lacking.

Pros

  • The base programme is free
  • One of the best user designs on the market
  • It’s an all in one package for both photo and video editing

Cons

  • Some features are paywalled
  • By being an all-in-one package, it’s not the ‘best’ at anything
  • Limited to only simple export options such as PNG, JPEG, and PDF. Other applications offer greater flexibility

Canva’s unique selling point is its intuitive user interface, arguably the most important feature of content creation programmes. This means that users with little to no experience in this field can quite quickly learn to use the programme and create content. Not to mention that, apart from the paywalled features discussed earlier, the programme is free.

Reviewer: Conor Macdonald

Download links:

Google Play linkapp store link

OpenShot

openshot app icon

If you’re looking for a simple & powerful, yet free video editor, OpenShot would be a great choice! 

OpenShot is an open-source video editing software that allows you to easily create and edit video projects. It’s designed to be easy to use and quick to learn for beginners, so the main functions of the software can be easily navigated! For example, you can slice the video just by clicking on the scissor button, and trim it by deleting the unnecessary sections. What’s more, transitions are automatically added when the clips overlap, so there’s no need to set them up each time! 

Finally, the software is completely free to use and there’re no ads! You’ll never be frustrated by being asked to pay for subscription, or being forced to watch ad videos when using OpenShot 🙂

Pros

  • Free to use!
  • No ads
  • User-friendly interface
  • available on Windows, Mac and Linux

Cons

  • Only covers the basic functions
  • Not available on smartphones

It’s pretty good! It’s free, there’re no ads, a simple user interface, and powerful functions … It covers almost everything! I tried to create a short video clip, and I could easily create it without any frustration 😊

If I mention some drawbacks, OpenShot does not cover very advanced functions like Adobe Premiere Pro does, so it may not be suitable if you’re an advanced video editor. You’ll also need to keep in mind that it doesn’t work on smartphones, as it only works on Windows, Mac and Linux.

However, even with these disadvantages, I would still recommend this software because the app itself is great and free to use. If you’re a beginner and want to learn how to edit videos, I’d say OpenShot would be one of the best choices to kick-start editing videos!

Reviewer: Gen Kawaguchi

Download links:

Google Play link

visit OpenShot for macOS download.

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: Artificial intelligence

International students – Take part in our Digital Insights Survey!

Have you got time to tell us about your experiences of digital teaching and learning within the University’s online environments? This month we are running the International Students’ Digital Experience survey to gain a better understanding of the digital experiences and expectations of international students, and the survey is now open!

Image of person sat at a laptop
Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Responses are anonymous but play a huge part in the development of our digital development. This year it’s more important than ever to have your say, as the University is looking at the Digital Learning Environment in order to make tangible improvements to your learning. The Jisc International Students’ Digital Experience Insights Survey aids us in our work to continuously enhance the student experience. As well as looking at our own data, we will be able to compare our results with other education providers and benchmarking data across institutions. This survey is designed to be answered by students who have travelled from other countries to study in the UK.

Find a link to complete the survey here, it takes ten minutes to complete: International Students’ Digital Experience Survey.

The deadline to complete the survey is the 30th June.

 

 

The look of the Blackboard submissions page is changing.

The interface for Blackboard submissions such as essays, some timed assessments and some exams is changing on the 2nd of June 2023. There is no change to functionality, but you should familiarise yourself with the difference before any deadlines.  

After the 2nd of June, if you need to upload a submission, this option is contained within a concertina menu. This makes the interface less confusing, allowing you to select the options you need without having to navigate the options you dont.

Below are three images: one showing the current interface and two showing the new interface.

The old interface has all the ‘Attach Files, ‘Write Submission and ‘Add Comments’ functions on display. 

Old submission point: this is the old submission point for Blackboard which has all upload options on display.

 

The new interface places the features you are used to behind concertina menus.

 

New submission point (unexpanded): the new submission points have three clickable options: one called "Create Submission", one called "Upload Files", and one called "Add Comments"

 

Once expanded with a click, the same options are available to you. 

 

New submission point (expanded): once the "Upload Files" option is clicked, three buttons are revealed; one for "Browse Local Files", one for "Browse Content Collection", and one for "Browse Cloud Service". 

 

 

Skip to toolbar