A reflection on my time as a Student Digital Champion

Written by Olivia Muggleton, Student Digital Champion

Olivia Muggleton

I began my role as a Student Digital Champion (SDC) in the Summer of 2021. Having recently returned from my much needed post exam holiday, I was re-energised and raring to start making some changes to our digital learning experience as students at the University of Bristol. Since then, I am proud to say that I have provided the DEO with a number of insights, resources and other miscellaneous contributions which I feel will prove useful, not only for current and future students, but also for the DEO in helping them understand what it is that works for us. Beyond this, however, I have also received an immeasurably valuable experience thanks to the DEO, as it has pushed me to develop my skills and confidence in a way that I could not have imagined prior to that Summer of 2021.   

As it was an entirely remotely based role, being an SDC enabled me to gain valuable work experience despite living at my home in South Wales for my final two years of study. Although I was wholly inexperienced in working remotely, I soon discovered that organisation, time management and the ability to work productively and efficiently with minimal supervision, were going to be key to adapting successfully to this new style of work (at the time I had also started Peer Mentoring so this lesson was learnt doubly as fast!). As I was afforded great freedom to select and complete my tasks and projects in my own time, the SDC role really enhanced my skills in all the aforementioned areas, especially as it was a role that I undertook alongside my fulltime studies – Self motivation and drive are essential! As a result, I am now confident not only in my ability to adapt to new modes of working, but also in my ability to produce high quality work in a timely and efficient manner, by setting my own deadlines and keeping a thorough log of my hours. 

Desk with a laptop and lamp. Photo by Rich Tervet on Unsplash

Being able to work autonomously in this sense was not, however, the only skill that I developed thanks to my work as an SDC. The ability to communicate and work well in a team was also a central requirement for this role. Thanks to the highly collaborative and open minded environment that the DEO and other SDCs have created, this is an ability which I feel I have strengthened tenfold. I now feel that I can better appreciate the value and insight that can be gained by encouraging individuals from diverse backgrounds and circumstances to share their ideas and perspectives, as these will inevitably lead to more effective problem solving and an all-round more supportive (and subsequently productive) workplace – From accessibility requirements and culture to professional background, everyone has a unique perspective which can enable you to see the bigger picture when trying to creatively solve problems and overcome particular challenges. In the same vein, the SDC role provided me with an opportunity to focus on the areas of my communication skills which I felt least confident in – For instance, I was able to coordinate and lead two presentations which portrayed the student voice to university staff and academics within and beyond the University of Bristol. This has increased my confidence in presenting and orally communicating my ideas to my team members and audiences in a formal, presentational setting. It has also improved my confidence in taking the lead on projects, a confidence subsequently demonstrated by taking the lead in creating the student digital glossary and keyboard shortcut guide. 

While I would love to elaborate on all the interesting projects and tasks that I had the pleasure of working on during my time as a SDC (and all the skills that I subsequently developed in relation to these projects), I believe it is sufficient to say that this was an incredible opportunity, for which I owe a great deal to the DEO. Accordingly, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the following individuals who made working as an SDC such a valuable and enjoyable experience. Firstly, I cannot convey enough thanks to Naomi (Nay), my first port of call when I needed any guidance in this role – From the beginning Nay has always been in touch and eager to put our ideas into practice, she really cares about our progression as SDCs and what we get out of the role, not simply how we can benefit the DEO. She works incredibly hard and is generally a lovely person who always made me feel comfortable in expressing any thoughts or feedback and regularly encouraged me to pursue the things that I cared about most. I would also like to thank the rest of the DEO team – Every one of them truly respect and actively seek out the student perspective, going out of their way to do it justice. It was nice to be treated as an equal in a professional environment where my input was highly valued, and I have the upmost confidence that the team will continue to work hard to shape their work around the needs and concerns of the students at the university long into the future. Last but not least I would like to thank my fellow SDCs – Although I have seen many come and go due to my extended time within the role, each one of them has inspired me with their ideas and passion, enlightened me and opened my eyes to perspectives and challenges which I may never have even considered without their contributions. Everyone has always been friendly and eager to help each other to be successful, which made for a very easy environment to collaborate and work productively as a team, so thank you!  

Person walking on a beach. Photo by José M. Reyes on Unsplash

I think my three extensions make it quite clear that I would happily go on to continue my work as a SDC, but unfortunately I could not do the role justice as I am no longer a student! So where do I go from here? As of July I have completed my LLB Law with The University of Bristol and cannot wait to get stuck into the legal world in practice. It is fair to say that this role has set me up incredibly well and provided me with a level of confidence in many skills which will prove highly transferable when I commence my next role. From team working and communication (written and oral) to problem solving and even remote working (time management, minimal supervision, organisation), working as an SDC has enabled me to leave university feeling prepared and ready to tackle the next phase in my life, but it has also provided me with some treasured friends which I know will help me on that journey.  

Girl looking over hills. Photo by Vlad Bagacian on Unsplash

All that is remaining for me to say (in case I have not made it clear enough) is that I highly recommend that you apply to become an SDC – It is more than a source of extra income, it is an opportunity to shape the digital learning experience that is provided by The University of Bristol (and perhaps beyond) while gaining valuable experience and friendships along the way.  

Thank you 

Diolch 

Olivia 

Mastering your digital body language

Written by Souwoon Cho, Digital Education Developer

You might have already seen or read articles about the importance of body language when communicating with others. In some cultures, to show your engagement this can include maintaining eye contact, sitting up straight, and not crossing your arms.

As we find ourselves in a world where hybrid teaching and working is becoming the norm, how does the importance of body language translate to the digital world? In this blog, we delve into some of tips to help you to improve your digital body language.

Girl looking at her phone

Check and re-check before you send

In June 2021, Whatsapp tweeted:

Over 100 billion personal messages a day are end-to-end encrypted by default on WhatsApp.

This staggering statistic reflects the sheer volume and frequency we send messages on a daily basis. The ease and speed of sending and receiving instant messages can often create typos, misunderstandings and ultimately tension in your relationships. It’s worth taking the time to read and re-read your messages to check:

  • What details should you include for the receiver to respond to your message?
    For example, if you’re e-mailing your school office, have you included your full name, student number and the name of the unit you are querying? University staff are working with hundreds of students, so providing these details will give the receiver clarity to respond to your query more efficiently.
  • Have you read and understood the message you are responding to?
    While moving between lectures, you might find yourself checking and responding to e-mails quickly and on the move. Trying to multi-task and respond quickly can lead you to mis-read or miss out key details from the message causing more confusion in the long-run.
  • What is the call to action in your message?
    It can be confusing what is expected from us when we receive a message. Enhance the clarity of your message by specifying if the message is just for information or if you expect them to respond or action something by a certain date.

Coffee cup sat next to a tablet

Establish expectations from the start

Today, we have an incredible choice of digital tools and channels to help us communicate with others. But how to you choose the right channel and the right time to communicate?

When working in groups, put in that extra work at the start to establish from the beginning the group’s preferred communication channel (for example Microsoft Teams, Whatsapp, Facebook) and the group’s expectations for responding. This is sometimes referred to as digital netiquette.

Every lecturer will have their preferred time and way of communicating with you as a student. If this was not clear from your introductory lecture, ask your lecturer for clarity on how they prefer questions to be asked outside of the classroom and what you should expect in terms of response times. Whether that is asking questions via e-mail, Padlet, Blackboard forum or a Microsoft Team’s channel, it is best for you to know which channel you should use, and how you are expected to use it from the start for a better learning experience.

Lady holding colourful balloons

Don’t forget your human side

While in theory digital communication can strengthen your connections with others, it’s very easy to forget that there is a human behind every message you send and receive. Without physical body language, it is even more challenging to communicate your feelings or gauge the feelings of others.

If you are attending lectures or seminars online, a simple way to do this is turning on your camera to replicate the body language signals you would communicate in person. There are many reasons why you may choose not to turn on your webcam. If this is the case for you, make the effort to engage with the chat functions where available. Erika Dhawan a digital collaboration expert recommends using the power of punctuation and emojis to communicate your feelings, your engagement and to add context to your messages.

In situations where you are finding messages are being misunderstood, it is okay to try to revert to another channel. Particularly if the topic of conversation is complicated or sensitive, a phone call or face-to-face meeting may be best to move the conversation in a positive direction.

People seated around a laptop

Conclusion

Going forward, communicating digitally with your peers, lecturers and colleagues will continue to play a key part in your day-to-day lives at university and in the workplace. How do you rate your digital body language? Do you have any tips or resources for mastering digital communication? Let us know in the comments below.

Further resources

Find your digital balance on University Mental Health day

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

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

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

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

Man looking at his phone
Man looking at his phone

Digital tools for focus and motivation.

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

Dark mode for a better nights sleep.

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

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

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

Free Yoga, HIIT, and Meditation.

Cat stretching
Cat stretching

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

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

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

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

Student minds mental health day poster

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/. 

Bringing the cohort together: Student solutions to the problems of online isolation

It’s no surprise to anyone that a lack of social interaction has been really difficult for many of us this past year. In our context of university life, this has shone a light into what a social experience learning really is for a lot of us, and what a huge loss there is when suddenly you’re studying alone. Learning together adds motivation, a sense of belonging, a sense that others are in it with you, a way to sense check your own ideas. It’s that intangible magic of feeling like you’re ‘at university’ which is easy to lose online. How can we possibly foster that feeling when we’re all in our own four walls and without the atmosphere of a lecture theatre, library or seminar room? 

This year, the DEO have been working with a team of Student Digital Champions, spread across all faculties in the university, to try and find out. They were tasked to listen to students, hear their concerns and bring them to us so that we could foreground that student voice in our work. They didn’t stop there though, once they identified common issues arising in the student experiences of online learning, they wanted to do something about it. 

One thing they head from students is just this problem of isolation: students were finding the experience of online learning lonely, and felt that they are missing out on the social aspects of university study. We know that a lot of work has already gone into solutions for this problem across the universityThe brilliant Study Skills team ran ‘Study Lounges’ as early as last summer, and we at the DEO worked with them to make a toolkit for these sessions, so that anyone could run them with their students too.  

The Student Digital Champions decided they too wanted to do something practical, and worked with staff and students in their schools to develop and pilot a series of toolkits and case studies for different kinds of events and activities aimed to bring students together online. The idea is that staff or students can use these as inspiration and practical help to run a session like these in their own contexts. 

All of our Student Digital Champion case studies can be found from the DEO Case Studies pageHere are a few examples which are all focused on increasing a sense of belonging and overcoming student isolation when studying fully online, whether that’s within an online session, at a school level, or as a networking or social event. 

Working with the students in this way this year has been incredible for us in the DEO. They’ve been coming up with ideas and suggestions for how to make positive changes, and we’ve been co-creating solutions which are already impacting the current cohort of students. It’s not always been easy, and these aren’t magic bullets, but maybe they’re a step in the right direction? 

If you want to try out any of these ideas, why not find a few likeminded people in your school and give it a go. Don’t forgot to let the DEO know how you get on, we’re really interested in hearing from students and staff about whether these suggestions are helping to make a difference.