3 steps to improving your time management with digital tools


flickr photo by hang_in_there shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Everyone is busy and sometimes it seems we are too busy to find ways to organise our time better. This post will take you through three steps to improving the way you manage that most precious resource – your time.

Step 1: Identifying what you need

Before looking for digital tools it is worth spending a few minutes thinking about what you are doing and how well that is working. Here are some questions to get you thinking:

  • How do I keep track of the things I need to do?
  • How do I prioritise tasks and make sure I meet deadlines?
  • What tools and devices do I use? (A diary, notebook, smartphone, tablet, PC?).
  • What sort of tasks do I have? (Do I work alone? In teams? Short tasks or big projects?)
  • What are the issues I have with my current way of managing my time?

Step 2: Choosing tools for organizing time and tasks

Now you have an idea of what you need in terms of tools it is time to consider some options. First, let’s look at a couple of apps made specifically for students.

  • MyStudyLife is a free app that was created to help students organise their study tasks. It keeps track of classes to attend and assignments due as well as helping to plan revision and sending reminders. MyStudyLife can be accessed from any web-enabled device and there are apps for iOS, Android, Windows and Chrome – you can even access your information offline.  
  • SussexMobile is the University of Sussex’s own app for students (and staff) which brings together timetables, details of assessments, access to Sussex Direct, Study Direct (VLE), email, the library, careers, housing, Skills Hub and much more. There are also alerts for problems with e-submissions, university closures due to weather etc. Whilst this isn’t strictly a time management tool, it has many features to allow students to keep track of their commitments and access useful information on the go.


Although these tools for students are great, they only address the study aspects of life and there is usually much more that has to be juggled. We all have domestic and social lives that also take a bit of organizing so you may want a task management app that will accommodate all aspects of your life. Here are a couple of popular ones that approach the job in slightly different ways:

  • Trello is rather different in the way it looks, displaying tasks as ‘cards’ arranged into ‘lists’ on ‘boards’. I wrote about Trello recently in the post on Working together online because it is a useful tool for organizing collaborative projects (see Sheila MacNeill’s blog post on Using Trello for learning design). Many people prefer its layout to the lists in Wunderlist and other apps. I like it because I can see all of my tasks at a glance and rearrange them as priorities change. The ability to add checklists, comments, images and attach files makes it a great tool for keeping track of progress and the ability to forward emails into a Trello board makes it easy to keep my ‘to-dos’ where they belong rather than cluttering up my email inbox.

3. Finding tools to help you focus


flickr photo by toolstop shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Once you have organised your tasks and you are clear what you need to be doing next you may want some digital help in keeping focused on the job in hand. Here are a few options:

  • Productivity techniques. Many productivity systems and techniques have been invented and each has its adherents and critics but it is really about finding one that works for you. Pomodoro is a simple technique that involves tackling work in 25-minute bursts with breaks between. If you like the idea then the Tomatoid website can help you put it into practice. As well as doing the timing for you it will let you name your task, set different work periods and breaks, keep track of tasks not yet completed and add notes as you go. The ability to add notes means that if something pops into your mind while you are working on your task you can jot it down to come back to later instead of getting distracted.
  • Managing your online time. The internet is a marvellous resource but also a potential distraction. Fortunately there are tools like RescueTime (the Lite version is free) that will show you where you are spending your time online. You can install a browser plugin in Chrome or Firefox and install it on your Mac, Windows, Linux or Android devices. Unfortunately the free version won’t let you block those distracting sites, but once you have identified the sites that are your timewasters you can block them using other apps such as:
  • Getting the atmosphere right. You may not be able to choose where you are working, but there are digital tools for creating an atmosphere conducive to getting your work done. There is a lot of research on using music and sounds for work and concentration and increasingly people are using ambient sounds to help them focus. You may find you can focus better with birdsong in your headphones or even the gentle sounds of a coffee shop. See this piece on 8 Ambient Sound Websites to Help Students Focus for some options.

Where can I get more help with time management?

The Skills Hub has online resources for students on time management; the Researcher Development Programme includes resources and training on a wide range of topics including time management; and teaching staff can contact the learning technologist for their school.

Posted in Digital scholarship, Technology Enhanced Learning

Scenario based learning design

Over the summer, I worked with Amanda Griffiths (Student Wellbeing Manager) at the University of Sussex to develop “My Wellbeing” – a bitesize online induction course aimed at all students within the university.

This used a scenario-based learning approach to educate students on prevention and intervention within the context of health, safety and student wellbeing and to raise awareness of available help and support. This article will explore the approaches used to design, conceptualise and produce the resource.  Read more ›

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#DIWSussex Makerspaces, conductive ink and more…

As part of Digital Innovation Week 2016 Pollie Barden (@polliepi), Lecturer in Product Photo of Pollie BardenDesign, ran a ‘Makerspace: Light an LED with Pencil, Ink and Paper’ workshop which introduced participants to ways of making simple circuits out of paper, pencils and conductive ink. We decided to find out more about Pollie’s teaching practices both in the community and at Sussex. The interview is edited for brevity and clarity.

What does innovation mean to you?

When we hear innovation the stereotypical image that appears is the light bulb above the head, the eureka moment. As I talk with students I challenge that notion, invention doesn’t necessarily mean something huge.

Oftentimes what appears to be a huge leap is built off of lots of tiny changes, micro-inventions. We should be inspired by the term, not afraid of it. You should recognise that in your own life you’re constantly inventing, whether it’s figuring out how to carry your child and sippy cup and everything at the same time; or all of your books; or making sure your keyboard is where it needs to be, we’re always inventing on multiple levels and fixing things everyday.

Those lightbulb moments come from a lifetime of looking at all these different things, so nothing happens in isolation.

Could you describe what it is that you do in your workshops?

The main ethos behind the workshop is getting people to express themselves through creativity in whatever means fits them. I do focus on bringing some type of digital technology into the workshops. We use the term ‘smart’ device and we interpret that to mean they’re smarter than humans when really all that means is that they are smarter than they used to be. We are infinitely smarter than our digital devices, they run on algorithms and code built by humans so they have limitations.

In the workshops I focus on physical computing. Initially this sounds scary because people have visions of wires and things of that nature. That is the case when we are working with the Arduino, an open source platform for physical computing. However it was built with the intention of democratising the ability to take control of electronics, it’s very easy entry. We also look at Makey Makey and Scratch, a graphical coding programme.

We have done workshops where people make puppets that represent avatars on Scratch, connecting the physical and digital world. And then there’s Bare Conductive, conductive ink which is non-toxic and washable so it’s accessible from an application standpoint as children and adults can use it. In the workshop at Sussex that’s what we used to create circuits, it’s kind of bringing the new and old together and making it accessible.

Image of an octopus

What motivates you to do this?

Long before DIY became a popular term, my dad was someone who made projects around the house. In my youth when he had his weekends off I was annoyed because there was always a project for us to do.

However now I am infinitely grateful because I have all these skills which I didn’t realise were unique. Being female, the other interest is redefining roles. In the late 60s, early 70s there was a more balanced representation of women in computer work. When personal computers were introduced they were marketed towards boys. This led to an assumption that there was a baseline of knowledge regarding computers that had not been expected previously. Women typically did not have that baseline and that has contributed to the continuing divide between male and female engagement in developing digital tools. F

or me the idea behind these workshops is this idea of independence whether you’re six years old or 100 years old, if you have an idea or a problem you want to solve you have a way to start solving it yourself. The learning curve is no one is disabled, our environment creates learning barriers.

How does this affect your teaching practice at Sussex?

I come from a family of teachers. My teaching has always been influenced by making sure people feel valued and understanding that people learn differently. One of the reasons I run different kinds of workshops, the same as I introduce material in different ways in my teaching, is that really it’s a case of understanding how people process information.

The other part is bringing in these tools, conductive ink, graphite, pencil and paper and getting people to realise that constraints can be a creative benefit. It’s not about do I have the best sensor? It’s about what do I have around me and how can I make that work?

With my teaching it’s really about getting the students to understand the materials, here at Sussex I teach product design and the first thing that sparks in people’s minds isn’t the object but actually nowadays it’s an app, or the experience of purchase things, whether it’s online or physical, and how that space is designed.

In that way it’s getting students to challenge their thoughts. Being able to use these DIY tools allows them to mock up quick solutions without having to worry about actual programming and things of that nature to get their ideas across and test their ideas. That’s how the DIY thing then translates into a formal teaching practice.

Image of a maker space

How does this approach affect the student experience?

The intention is that the students are able to be more engaged. Again it is getting back to the cascading idea of teaching and learning, so by having this range of tools that go from very low-fi paper to physical computing to even getting into app development, it allows anyone multiple the entry points to explore an idea.

It allows someone who is very keen at coding and wants to code an app to go ahead and do that and explore that, and someone else can tackle the problem in a different way and be successful and both learn the necessary things. Whereas if I dictated and said ‘everyone has to learn coding’ that may be favoring a certain type of learning and a certain expertise.

From the feedback, I’ve got over the years it’s been something that the students have been very positive about. Because it’s not a black or white issue it allows people to explore the more interesting and varied grey areas, to find where they fit and that’s in keeping with the way the workforce is changing today. This builds off of IDEO’s concept of ‘T shaped people’, the idea that people have an in depth knowledge of one area and a broad range of knowledge across a variety of topics which helps feed into their expertise and allows connections to happen to develop interdisciplinary teams for agile development.

If you would like to book a place on any of the remaining sessions during Digital Innovation Week, including Spherical Photography and At Home at University? ‘Constructing campus as home with Wikimedia’, visit www.sussex.ac.uk/library/about/projects/diwsussex.

Image of a maker space

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Posted in Digital scholarship, Technology Enhanced Learning

Keep calm and use technology #DIWSussex

Photo of a Panic Button

Let’s Panic Later flickr photo by wackystuff shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

I recently wrote How to overcome barriers when using tech in your teaching.

The post inspired me to think of more ways to introduce technology into your teaching, especially if you are new to using technology, worried, reluctant – or all three.

The ideas here are simple and require no specialist skill or knowledge. You can pick out one or two ideas to use in your own teaching to:

Below you will find a number of scenarios that you might find yourself in as a teacher. The scenarios each present a dilemma followed by a simple idea for using technology with your students.

Teaching and learning scenarios

Scenario 1. I want to get responses from my students but I don’t really want them to use a mobile app. I don’t want students distracted by their mobile phones.

Idea. You could try PlickersThese are scannable cards that you print (for free!). Once Plicker cards are assigned to students, you can glean feedback from them by scanning the Plicker cards with the Plickers app on your phone. Only you need a device in this instance! You can display the results of the feedback you get on a screen using the LiveView and you can also keep and export feedback.

See Plickers! An easy-to-use quizzing tool. There are sets of 40 or 63 Plickers cards but if you have a larger group, you could split the larger group into smaller group and assign a Plickers card to each group.

You can use your Plicker cards over and over again so you might want to laminate them to keep them going for longer (matt laminate to prevent shine interfering with scanning).

Here is a diagram to show you how Plickers work (below).

A diagram of how Plickers work

Scenario 2. I want to get students to work together and collate ideas on a subject in one place. I don’t want to worry about log-ins and registering accounts and I want it to be private (i.e, not listed on web searches).

Idea. You could use Padlet. This is an online ‘virtual wall’ that allows you to add a text comment, an audio file, a video, an image or upload a document. All your students need to add to the wall is a link, so no fiddly registrations or log-ins are needed.

You can upload directly to your Padlet wall which means you don’t need to confuse saving documents and then finding them again to upload.

The Padlet wall requests access to your mic and camera or recorder which means that you can add your audio, image or video directly to the wall. You can now add comments to items on the wall (activate this option in your settings). Students and tutors at Sussex have loved it and you can now embed your Padlet wall easily into Study Direct. See Learning together: Technology enhanced collaboration for examples of Padlet use at Sussex. 

An image of a Padlet wall

Scenario 3. I want to add images to Study Direct but I am not sure where to look for them. I am a bit confused about copyright and I am not sure how to attribute images. I really don’t have the time.

Idea. You could use Photos for Class. This is a large database of images that are available under Creative Commons licences. Best of all, when you download the images they download with the attribution already included. Photos for Class is a great resource for the busy teacher. See the recent TEL blog post, Understanding Creative Commons, for a great explanation of the Creative Commons licences for education.

A photo of a handmade Twitter bird

Twitter flickr photo by fjromeroa shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Scenario 4. I want to learn more about social media, in particular, Twitter. I am not sure where to start. I have a Twitter account but I haven’t used it in years. I don’t really get hashtags #help

Idea. You could look at Ten Days of Twitter developed by Dr Helen Webster (@scholastic_rat).

This resource has been especially designed for academics to help them to understand Twitter and to tackle it in small bite-size chunks. Day 1 starts at the very beginning with guidance on how to set-up your profile.

Each day you will learn a little more until you are Tweeting and using hashtags.

For a helpful explanation of how to use Twitter and hashtags at conferences, see the post Conference Tweeting and Storify. See also the excellent LSE guide, ‘Using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities’.  

Scenario 5. I am not confident about my digital skills or my computer skills. I want to improve them but I don’t know where to start. There seems to be so much to learn!

Idea. To help you with using technology in your teaching, you could onto book one of the Technology Enhanced Learning workshops. We run a range of workshops throughout the year, and we are always open to requests.

Improve your IT knowledge by booking on an ITS course at Sussex.There is a broad range of training available, from MS Word to flyers and poster design.1-min-cpd

You might also be interested in Go ON Local. This is an initiative that allows you to find help with building digital skills in your local area.

Subscribe to the #1minuteCPD blog to ‘improve your digital skills one minute at a time’.

There’s a new technology tip everyday from the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) Learning and Innovation Team.

Scenario 6. I want to make a short screencast (a narrated video of your screen, perhaps talking through a PowerPoint) but I am not sure where to start. What can I use that is easy and free?

Idea. Try Screencastify. This is a simple tool for recording videos of your screen that works with the Google Chrome browser.

Screencastify records your screen for up to ten minutes with the option of including a thumbnail video of yourself. If you are camera shy, don’t worry, you can just have the audio narration of you talking through the slides without the webcam. Here is an example of a short screencast to demonstrate using the Google Voice Typing tool

Once you are happy with your recording, you can then upload the video clip directly to your Study Direct site for students to watch the PowerPoint slides as you talk through them.

This is ideal to give to students before a session if you want to try flipped learning techniques in your teaching. See the post Screencasting and podcasting: Create rich learning resources to read about other options for making simple screencasts and podcasts.

At Sussex we also have a licence for Corel VideoStudio X9 which allows you to create screencasts. You can read about how to use this in the post Using screencasts as an instructional tool. If you are interested in trying flipped learning techniques at Sussex, you might be interested in a new Flipped Learning at Sussex group. Join us by emailing Tab Betts for details. 

Scenario 7. I want to randomise my groups and use some time management tools in sessions. I am not sure what I can do other than picking students out. No one seems very keen to move once they are settled but I think new groups could change the dynamic of the room.

A logo of Super Teacher Tools

Idea. Try using Super Teacher Tools. There are lots of tools here you can use to randomly select groups, manage classroom layouts, random name generators, classroom countdown and SpeedMatch which allows for quiz and easy quiz matching.

The Group Maker is an easy, simple but very effective tool and somehow students seem much happier to move when the class is autogenerated. Mysterious!

We hope the scenarios here have helped to give you inspiration to start trying to use technology in your teaching and learning.

If you are keen to hear more, listen to the new TEL podcast, Teaching with Tech. You can also get lots of ideas by subscribing to our blog. Try The Learning Wheel too for subject-specific technology for teaching.

lthechatIf you would like to be part of an engaging community of teachers who like to talk technology on a weekly basis, try the Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Chat #lthechat, every Wednesday from 8pm-9pm.

Be warned, it’s fast and furious and we recommend using TweetDeck or HootSuite to keep up with the conversation. 


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Exploring spherical photography in Digital Innovation Week #DIWSussex

A photo of a user trying Google Cardboard

flickr photo by mkoukoullis shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

There are many exciting events lined up for Digital Innovation Week which began yesterday (Monday 28th November 2016) and runs through until Friday.

Today, we are looking at the Spherical Photography session which will be held on Friday 2nd December 2016, 10.00-11.00am.

The workshop for staff and students will be led by Dr Ben Jackson, who describes himself as ‘one of the library’s contributions to the new Sussex Humanities Lab project’.  Read more ›

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Learning in the post-digital age #DIWSUSSEX

Digital Innovation Week

Digital Innovation Week 28 November – 2 December 2016

In  this first of five blog posts that we’ll be publishing as part of Digital Innovation Week here at the University of Sussex we interview Professor Peter Hartley ahead of an invited seminar he will be delivering here at the University on Tuesday the 29th of November alongside Professor Keith Smyth. The title of their seminar is ‘Opportunities and Challenges in the Post-Digital Age’ and we started by asking Peter exactly what he meant by the term ‘post-digital’.  Read more ›

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5 Tips for Multimedia Enhanced Teaching and Learning

Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/social-media-interaction-abstract-1233873/ CC0 Public Domain. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.

Image source: CC0 Public Domain. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.

How can we use multimedia content to make learning more effective? The traditional approach to teaching in higher education tends to limit learners to reading texts, listening to lectures and discussing ideas in seminars. However, we learn better, and are more interested in learning tasks, when information is presented in diverse ways – so why not try something different?  Read more ›

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Understanding Creative Commons Licences

As members of a University, we all enjoy a fair amount of freedom to reuse and distribute copyrighted material to our colleagues and students, under the framework of our Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA), Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) and Educational Recording Agency (ERA) licensing agreements.

Specific exceptions to copyright even allow us to copy works not covered by CLA, NLA and ERA, within certain limits.

However, whilst under these exceptions we might, for example, be able to use a copyright image to directly illustrate an educational point, we don’t have carte blanche to use it in a more general illustrative way within our teaching materials: a Bleddyn Butcher photograph of Nick Cave might justifiably be used to examine the iconography within images of popular musicians, but using it as the background to a presentation slide titled “looking to the future” would probably be seen as a breach 1 Read more ›

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We are the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

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