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.


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.


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.


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?


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.

Cybersecurity: Top tips from a Student Digital Champion

Written by Hannah  Harrison, Student Digital Champion


In this digital age, where our lives are intertwined with technology, it’s crucial to arm yourself with the knowledge and skills to safeguard your online presence. From browsing securely and using multifactor authentication, to spicing up your passwords and staying updated, the tips in this blog post will empower you to navigate the digital landscape with confidence. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

Keep tabs on your browsing

Whether researching for an assignment, browsing news articles, or just looking for a recipe to make for dinner, most of us visit many websites every day, but how often do you check the search bar?

The content you look at on the web, the links you click and even the order in which you visit websites can provide information about you, and your interests, that is best not shared. To ensure that all your communications are protected from eavesdropping as they travel between your browser and the websites you visit, it is important to check that all of the sites you are using use ‘HTTPS’ (secure HTTP) rather than just plain ‘HTTP’. Many browsers indicate that a site is secure by displaying a padlock on the left hand side of the search bar, and so quickly checking for this when you enter a new website can really help to keep your information safe. Luckily, most browsers (such as Google Chrome and Safari) will warn you not to enter an insecure web page which asks for personal information such as passwords, as data in unsecured web traffic can be easily nosed into. Of course, using HTTPS only ensures that your web communications are encrypted and so doesn’t provide you with complete protection, but it does make your information much harder to decipher.

Use MFA (Multi-factor authentication)

I’m sure we’ve all experienced the groan after you’ve sat down at your desk, opened up some work only to be prompted to use the authenticator on your phone which is inconveniently on the other side of the room. Maybe this has you wondering whether it’s really worth having at all. However, data provided by Microsoft and Statista indicates that MFA has the power to prevent up to 99.9% of automated cyber-attacks, decrease the number of phishing attempts by 75%, and reduce rates of unauthorized access by 56%1 – so it’s definitely worth the extra bit of time and effort to keep your details safe! You can find more information on setting up MFA on the University website.

Image of the MFA screen

Spice up your passwords 

I’m sure many of us are guilty of using the same, or variations of the same passwords for different accounts to save forgetting them. However, the foundation of your cybersecurity relies on having strong and unique passwords. In particular, making sure that your passwords aren’t made up of information that can be found online such as pets names and birthdates can make your passwords less guess-able. If you’re worried about forgetting passwords if they are all different, then it’s definitely worth considering using a password manager such as NordPass, which securely stores all of your passwords in one place.  

Lock up when you go

Taking a break from work to grab a snack from the vending machine or take a quick stroll can be great for your mental health and productivity, but leaving your computer unlocked whilst you’re away can be dangerous. Although it’s unlikely that someone is lying in wait for you to leave your account open, leaving your device unlocked can give anyone the chance to snoop on your files, mess with your settings or even install malicious software to spy on you, and so it is always better safe than sorry! Even if the result is just one of your friends using your account to post on social media as a joke, there can sometimes be undesirable consequences to having something that you wouldn’t have said under your name online, and it can be difficult to truly delete something once it’s been posted. Locking your laptop or computer whilst you’re away can be done in a few seconds using the shortcut Windows+L  on Windows or  Control+Command+Q on a Mac, and stops anyone from entering your account without a password.

Padlock with blue background. Photo by Muhammad Zaqy Al Fattah on Unsplash

Keep an eye on your emails

One of the most common types of cyber-crime is phishing. This is where an attacker poses as a legitimate organisation and attempts to persuade the victim to divulge personal information. This type of attack is so common because it is one of the cheapest and easiest attacks for criminals to deploy, and with so much information available about individuals on social media, it is possible to make phishing attempts highly targeted (sometimes known as spear phishing). To keep yourself safe, it is important to trust your instincts regarding suspicious emails; would your lecturer really have sent you a link to a textbook in the middle of the night? Would your bank really ask you to suddenly verify your information via email? According to Proofpoint’s Annual Human Factor Report2 (a paper based on 18 months of their customers’ data), up to 99% of phishing attacks rely on the victim clicking on a link, and so the number one thing you should keep in mind when considering a suspicious email is; don’t click anything! You can also look out for spelling mistakes, check that the sender address matches the one listed on their website and be sceptical of surprising offers. As the common saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Social Media Privacy

Having personal information available online gives criminals the opportunity to make much more sophisticated and compelling attacks, as putting you at risk of identity theft. Although sharing online can be fun, it is important to take control of your social media privacy settings to limit the amount of personal information visible to others, and consider only sharing personal posts with friends and family. It can even be a good idea to have separate accounts or profiles for sharing your life, engaging with strangers, and sharing thoughts publicly so that you can still do everything you want to on the internet without giving away too much information.

Phone showing social media icons. Photo by Adem AY on Unsplash

Back up your data

Regularly backing up your important files and documents to an external hard drive or cloud storage provider such as OneDrive protects your data from unexpected events like hardware failures or accidental deletion, as well as ransomware attacks. A ransomware attack is a type of malicious software that threatens to publish the victim’s data or permanently block access to it unless a ransom is paid off. These attacks are often targeted at universities, and it is estimated that around a third of UK universities have been targeted with ransomware within the last 10 years3. Therefore having additional copies of your files can be a lifeline if you become a target.

Stay up to date

One cybersecurity tip that is often overlooked is regularly updating your software, web browsers and operating systems. Updates often patch over security concerns and vulnerabilities identified by the developers, and attackers can exploit these weaknesses. These kinds of attacks have affected companies as large as Facebook and Amazon, and so allowing update notifications and installing them as soon as you can is vital for keeping your information safe.

Laptop screen showing a system update

Digital practices and software are ever evolving and so there are always new avenues for attackers to exploit. While you can never be 100% safe from cybercrime, keeping these 8 tips in mind can significantly decrease your risk, while you navigate the digital landscape with confidence and peace of mind. 

Useful links


Gitnux. (n.d.). The Most Surprising Multifactor Authentication Statistics And Trends in 2023. Retrieved from Gitnux: https://blog.gitnux.com/multifactor-authentication-statistics/#:~:text=The%20statistics%20presented%20in%20this,unauthorized%20access%20rates%20by%2056%25. 

Network, U. (2023). A Third of UK Unis Hit By Ransomware In Last 10 Years. Retrieved from Urban Network: https://www.urbannetwork.co.uk/a-third-of-uk-unis-hit-by-ransomware-in-last-10-years/ 

Proofpoint. (2023). Human factor report 2023. Retrieved from Proofpoint: https://www.proofpoint.com/us/resources/threat-reports/human-factor 

Clear your cache to prevent possible equation display issues

Occasionally, you may find equations do not display correctly in Blackboard. If this occurs, you should clear your browser cache, then refresh/reload the Blackboard page or tab. Clearing the cache can also be done in advance as a preventative measure, once you have logged into Blackboard, eg if you are taking a test which includes equations.  

Firefox is unaffected by these occasional equation display issues.  

How to clear your cache


  1. Click on the group of three dots in the top-right corner of the Chrome window to open the menu.
  2. Select ‘Settings’ from the menu.
  3. On the ‘Settings’ screen, scroll down until you reach the ‘Privacy and security’ section.
  4. Click on ‘Clear browsing data’.
  5. On the ‘Clear browsing data’ screen, tick the box next to ‘Cached images and files’, set the time range to ‘All time’ and click ‘Clear data’.
  6. Close down the Settings tab and refresh/reload the Blackboard page.

Microsoft Edge

  1. Click on the group of three dots in the top-right corner of the Edge browser window to open the menu.
  2. Select ‘Settings’ from the menu.
  3. On the ‘Settings’ menu, select ‘Privacy & security’ from the list on the left side of the menu.
  4. Under the ‘Clear browsing data’ heading, click ‘Choose what to clear’.
  5. Set Time range to ‘All time‘ then tick the box next to ‘Cached images and files’ and click ‘Clear now’.
  6. Close down the Settings tab and refresh/reload the Blackboard page.

Digital Skill – What is a cache and what happens when you clear it?

A ‘cache’ is used by internet browsers when loading a page, to help make the page load faster. The browser essentially remembers small bits of the webpage – like images, logos, buttons etc – so that it can load them again much faster. However, sometimes this can be a problem, if the website is updated and the saved ‘cache’ is no longer the same as what’s actually on the page. A cache won’t contain information like passwords, or your browsing history.

Knowing how to clear your cache is a really important digital skill to learn, and it’s worth spending a few minutes practicing how to do it. Clearing your cache is one way you can check whether any issues you are experiencing are actually something wrong with the website, rather than something that is caused by your browser. If you need to contact IT services about an issue, they may well ask whether you have tried clearing you cache, so doing so in advance is a good way to speed up getting the help you need.

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 



Meet Jack – Bristol Futures student mentor

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

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

Profile photo of Jack, student mentor smiling.

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

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

The beginnings

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

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

The peak

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

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

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

The goodbyes

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

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

From Changing views on sustainability:

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

To helping people, seek comfort:

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

To inspiring:

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

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

Interested in becoming a Bristol Futures mentor?

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

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

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

Meet Freya – Bristol Futures student mentor

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

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

Freya, Bristol Futures student mentor profile photo.

 Why did you apply to be Bristol Futures Mentor?

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

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

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

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

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

What advice would you give to new Bristol Futures mentors?

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

What have you gained from being a Bristol Futures mentor?

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

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

Interested in becoming a Bristol Futures mentor?

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

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

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

Mastering your digital body language

Written by Souwoon Cho, Digital Education Developer

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

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

Girl looking at her phone

Check and re-check before you send

In June 2021, Whatsapp tweeted:

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

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

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

Coffee cup sat next to a tablet

Establish expectations from the start

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

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

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

Lady holding colourful balloons

Don’t forget your human side

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

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

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

People seated around a laptop


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

Kick start your summer with Bristol Futures Open Courses

Congratulations on coming to the end of your summer assessments for 2021/22!

A picture containing tree, grass, outdoor, person throwing papers in the air in celebration.
Photo credit: Ketut Subiyant

While some of you may be ready to not look at a book or a screen for the next 3 months, some of you may find the transition from the academic year to the summer quite unnerving. To help you ease into the summer months, Bristol Futures Open Courses is a great option for you to learn outside of your usual degree subject for free!

You can join the courses starting on the 13 June 2022 on one or more of the following themes:

  • Innovation and Enterprise
  • Sustainable Futures
  • Global Citizenship

The courses run over four-weeks and take approximately 3 hours a week.

Who can learn?

Exactly what it says on the tin, the Bristol Futures open courses are open to all! The courses are aimed primarily for University of Bristol students, but in fact students, staff, and alumni from all around the world can sign up and engage in the courses. This gives you, as the learner, a unique opportunity to gain a wider perspective on the theme.

Who are the mentors?

The Bristol Futures Open courses starting on the 13 June 2022 will be mentored run. This means that your learning and engagement will be further supported by trained student mentors from the University of Bristol.

How you can join

As a current University of Bristol student, you can join for free via the Open Courses tab on Blackboard.  You can sign up for a course up to 6 weeks after it has started. But you will benefit most from the mentor support if you sign up before the start of the next course run on the 13 June 2022.

A picture containing the word summer in scrabble letters on some sand.
Photo credit: Ylanite Koppens

We hope to see you on one or more the Bristol Futures Open courses over the summer. Otherwise, from all of us in the Digital Education Office, we wish you a very well-deserved summer break – whatever you decide to do!

Posters and Presentations

Written by Amy Preston, Student Digital Champion and MRes Student in Physiology and Pharmacology

Amy Preston

Introduction to Posters and Presentations 

Presenting your research, whether part of your undergraduate dissertation or postgraduate research degree, is a huge part of academia. However, it’s often difficult to know where to start when making posters or presentations. There are a few different ways that you can approach them, so hopefully this post will give you some ideas!


The main thing to keep in mind for a poster is that it needs to be clear and rely on visual representation of your research. There are multiple tools you can use to make a poster. PowerPoint is useful, especially for posters in landscape orientation. You can also use Microsoft Word or Publisher, but these can be a bit trickier to use. Sometimes research groups will pay to use Adobe Illustrator which allows for figure-making as well. But it is up to you, and you don’t need to pay for expensive software if you don’t have the means to do so. 

The majority of the poster should be focused on your methods and results, so make sure to keep the introduction concise and have a few short conclusions and future directions at the end to summarise. Depending on your course or the conference you are presenting at, you will likely have a specific format to follow – including orientation and size. Usually, posters are A0 size and portrait orientation, so make sure you adjust your font size to accommodate this – a good rule of thumb is 24pt font for main body text and at least twice this size for your heading if your poster is A0. If your poster format is portrait, it can be helpful to split the poster into two columns if you have quite dense figures, but this isn’t essential if your data doesn’t fit this way. 

Poster presentation example
An example of a portrait orientation poster with a two-column format. The science isn’t accurate, but the method of presenting research findings is clear and easy to follow.


Many of the same principles from posters apply to presentations and talks. Aim to make them clear, easy to follow and visually appealing. One way to help the audience follow along is to introduce each aim separately followed by its related methods and results (this is shown below). Or, depending on your data and how it fits together, you can introduce the aims all at once, then go through methods and results that follow on from each other. For example, if you found an unexpected result, what methods did you try next to further understand it and what did you find? Try to tell a story through your presentation.

Clear presentation layout
An example of a clear presentation layout, where each aim is followed by its methods and results. Again, the science is questionable, but you get the idea!

Making good quality figures

An effective figure should be clear and not too busy. It can be really helpful to demonstrate your methods with figures, especially in posters to save words, or for presentations where the audience may not have the same specialist background as you. You can create simple methods figures using tools like Microsoft PowerPoint and Visio (which are available in the Microsoft Office package with the university) or use free tools with pre-made components and better freedom for drawing figures like BioRender and Inkscape. Think about how you can break down complex concepts in to easier-to-manage chunks, to help your reader see the big picture.

A simple methods figure
An example of a simple methods figure – this can save words by representing data collection and analysis without having to describe what is quite a complicated piece of technology! This was created in BioRender for free with some data added in.

BioRender website

General tips to remember

  • More visual cues, less words
  • The main bulk of a presentation should be your methods and results – don’t take up too much space with the introduction, focus on your project
  • Unless asked to, don’t put your abstract in your presentation – you will be wasting valuable words by repeating yourself
  • Make your aims stand out – it really helps the understanding of the reader if they can refer back to them
  • Keep the font big, and save words by using bullet points
  • For each slide or poster section, use descriptive titles to help the reader follow along
  • Don’t assume knowledge of your subject area – although there will be physicists at a physics conference, their area of research may be very different to yours!

Useful resources

Hopefully you feel more confident presenting your own work, but above are some useful resources that help me when starting a new poster or presentation – good luck!

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