A student reflection on communication and social media

Written by Bobby Joynes, Student Digital Champion studying Theatre and Film.

Bobby Joynes

During my time as a Student digital champion, I’ve been quite interested in the relationship between the student body and the university through the use of social media. Students use their phones on a regular basis. Combining both social interactions with workflow as they use popular apps such as Instagram, snapchat and Outlook. I began work with the DEO to utilise this and to merge the connection between the two parties closer together. In doing so, we would be able to relay information efficiently and effectively, while also allowing students to take the initiative to begin their own explorations into their digital activity and to boost their knowledge of how things worked in the world of work.

Yes, it sounds like a tall order. However, I felt that if we were able to bridge the gap, it would be one step closer to securing a stronger connection between the student body and the university itself. I spearheaded a project, that is currently ongoing, to create more online awareness from the DEO to the body, with things like Instagram takeovers with the SU and other societies being the first step, and the project finally concluding with the full integration of an Instagram page run solely by the DEO and supported by the uni. The page would be a direct way of sending out regular tips and updates about ongoing events in order to keep students in the loop and much more aware.

Person holding phone showing Instagram logo
Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

As I said, the project is currently ongoing, and the DEO is working hard to try and achieve the goals that I originally stated. On top of this, I wanted to also make a comment about my own perspective surrounding my digital usage every day. As a theatre and film joint honours student, my interactions with technology come in irregular amounts, with the majority being used to support physical performance or film creation. Online learning is something that has generally been kept to a bare minimum because of how little of the course can be completed online. However, the communication that the staff have with the students is something that I truly appreciate. Regular forms and email lines of communication are sent out as a way of checking up on what we think works well and what doesn’t work so well within the department. At the end of the day, communication is the fundamental element that keeps any healthy relationship alive, whether it be between students or students and staff. Without that line of contact, unhappiness and anger can be allowed to build up, resulting in students not wanting to interact and even attend classes.

People working together
Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

I’ve personally found that this communication has been great at allowing me and my peers to express our thoughts which have then actually been publicly addressed, opposed to other empty promises and dead-ended emails sent by other departments which don’t foster any kind of interaction between themselves and students.

Yellow telephone
Photo by Mike Meyers on Unsplash

I want to finish by just saying how important it is for students to communicate with their staffing bodies. It may be tough and challenging, but if they don’t know, then how can they help you? And your opinion matters. It may not feel like it but raising issues with staff via emails or digital forms etc. can make the world of difference to how this university is run.

Find out more about the Student Digital Champions.

Student Digital Champions: Summer 2021 Update

Suzanne Collins

Digital Education Office


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

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

This summer, we’ve been working with:

Arts:

Annie Walsh (UG) and Hollie Smith (UG)

Engineering:

Deepthi Nanduri (UG) and Gloria Bosi (UG)

Health Sciences:

Jessica Mounty (UG) and Emma Ford (UG)

Life Sciences:

Leah Parker (UG) and Helena Thornton (UG)

Science:

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

Social Sciences and Law

Olivia Muggleton (UG) and Alex Maskell (PGT)

Our Student Digital Accessibility Champions are:

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

Reflecting on the Student Digital Champions in 2021

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

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

Written by Helena Thornton

Student Digital Champion and Undergraduate student of Psychology


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Hamzah Teladia, Student Digital Champion.

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

Laptops on a table
Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

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

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

So, what are digital skills?

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

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

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

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

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

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.