Make the most of technology as you prepare for your exams 💻📚

As we near towards the start of the Semester 2 examinations, we’ve put together a range of resources to help you make the most of technology as you prepare and revise for your exams.

(Please login with your AU email and password)

(Please login with your AU email and password)

Please also take a look at the general FAQ’s for exams, and if you have any questions about any of the resources listed above, please contact the Digital Skills Team (digi@aber.ac.uk).  

Is there life after social media? – My digital detox month 📵

Blogpost by Noel Czempik (Student Digital Champion)

Have you ever felt like your phone was controlling you more than you were controlling it? That was me, until I hit a breaking point last year. Frustrated by the failed attempts to reduce my screen time and the feeling of being stuck in a digital world, I embarked on a digital detox journey throughout December – you can read about it here.

In this blog post, I’ll share my experience, the highs and lows, and the lessons I learned from reclaiming control over my digital habits.

👍 Positive changes from my detox

  1. Less, not more, loneliness. I never realised how much social media drained my social battery. After some time without it, I found it easier to go out and interact with people, and I certainly didn’t miss the FOMO.
  2. Better emotional awareness. I thought using my phone helped regulate my emotions, but it was just a distraction. After an unpleasant adjustment, I could recognise and process my feelings more healthily.
  3. A new morning routine. I thought I didn’t have one, but my morning routine was using my phone. Once I stopped, I found it easier to do other things, like journaling with a cup of tea.
  4. Effortless productivity & creativity. I could get a lot done in those little moments when I would normally pick up my phone. I also had the headspace to come up with my own solutions rather than seeking them online.
  5. Better rest. The quality of my sleep improved, and I found little breaks throughout the day more restful.
  6. Living in the moment. I found it easier to enjoy the everyday moments, and the time seemingly slowed down.

👎 Some of the downsides and challenges I experienced

  1. My digital habits migrated to other apps. For a while, I found it difficult not to replace social media with YouTube or even scrolling through my photos or messages. I found the ScreenZen app to be very helpful – read my review of the app here.
  2. The adjustment period. For some time, I felt irritable and bored and craved using my phone all the time. I needed to re-learn how to spend my time and be patient.
  3. The inconvenience. I was surprised how much I needed to use my phone to check the time, set the alarm or timer, use two-factor authentication, or pay for things.
  4. Missing out. Many events, such as local gigs or club and society events, are only advertised online. I found out about many opportunities after they happened, and even when searching proactively, most search results took me to social media sites, which often required logging in to access the full content.

My advice for those interested in doing a digital detox

  1. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Even if you need to use devices for work/study or if you slip up in your commitments, not all is lost – you can still majorly benefit from the experience.
  2. Tweak as you go. You may need to adjust your expectations if things don’t exactly go as planned, this isn’t a failure. Celebrate small successes and find what feels good to help you build sustainable habits.
  3. It’s not all bliss, but not all boredom, either. There will be moments when you’ll want to quit and moments when you won’t regret a thing. Your experience and everything you learn about yourself will be unique, perhaps the most valuable thing.

Take control of your phone with ScreenZen (before it controls you!) 📴

Blogpost by Noel Czempik (Student Digital Champion)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Main positives: Free. Customisable settings for different apps. Motivating.

Main negatives: Take a bit of time to set up for each app.

Nowadays, smartphone users often find themselves in a losing battle when it comes to staying focused. Access to distracting apps has become so easy and habit-forming that we get lost in the digital world before we get a chance to make a deliberate choice. This is one of the reasons I decided to try a digital detox in December, and that was when ScreenZen came to the rescue!

What is ScreenZen?

ScreenZen is a configurable app that empowers users to set boundaries with their devices. Unlike traditional app blockers that restrict access entirely, ScreenZen introduces a novel approach by increasing the barrier to entry. By providing users with time and mental space to make conscious decisions about their digital consumption, ScreenZen naturally fosters mindfulness in the interaction with technology and, therefore, better digital wellbeing.

The app is entirely free and available for both Apple and Android users.

What are ScreenZen’s main features?

What sets ScreenZen apart is its remarkable customisability, and its main features are:

  1. Allowing you to choose a specific wait time before you open each app.
  2. Interrupting you whilst using selected apps after a set time (you can set different times for your various apps).
  3. Cutting you off when you’ve reached your daily time limit or pick-up limit (i.e. how many times you open an app each day) and even preventing you from changing the settings to get around it.
  4. Displaying a motivating message or remining you of more valuable activities to you.
  5. Introducing more mindfulness into your digital habits by prompting you to do breathing activities whilst waiting for the app to unlock, which also encourages you to reevaluate your need to use the app you’re trying to open.
  6. For the goal motivated, accessing streaks and other stats to track your progress and encourage you to stay on track, but only for the apps you choose, so you can still read ebooks or use your favourite meditation app without worrying about losing your streak!

My final thoughts on ScreenZen

Will I continue to use ScreenZen? Absolutely!

My favourite thing about this app is that it makes it easier to align my digital choices with my values and routines and can be useful to anyone. Whether you prefer strict limits or simply looking to cultivate awareness of your digital habits, ScreenZen accommodates these diverse preferences. The customisability features mean it takes a while to set up, but once set up, I found this app to be a valuable addition to supporting my digital wellbeing.

Digital Decluttering: A Student Guide To Organising your Digital Spaces

Blogpost by Noel Czempik (Student Digital Champion)

Most of us engage with digital devices daily, and just like our physical spaces, they often become home to clutter, affecting our wellbeing and productivity. In this blog post, I will share the most effective strategies for reclaiming my digital spaces.

Preparing For Your Decluttering Journey

  1. Try approaching your clutter with curiosity rather than judgment. This will help you stay positive and better understand your digital habits. Visualise the positive impact decluttering will have on your wellbeing.
  2. Expect this process to take time. Sorting through years of accumulated digital content can be daunting, but sizing up the challenge and allocating the right time and space can make it more manageable.
  3. Start with the quick wins that will make the most immense impact with minimal effort. This will allow you to build up momentum and approach the more difficult tasks with empowerment.
  4. Consider any upcoming longer journeys as opportunities to make progress on your decluttering adventure.
  5. Deciding what to keep and what to delete may be challenging. Ask yourself what would happen if everything were to disappear?

Quick Wins: Small Actions Can Yield Big Results

Each of these 5-10 minute tasks is beneficial alone, but as you progress through the list, their impact compounds for greater effect.

  • Cleaning your desktop: Delete unnecessary files and find a home for the rest to achieve the bliss of an empty virtual desk.
  • Decluttering your apps: You might be surprised at the number of apps on your phone or desktop that you no longer notice. Uninstall any apps you don’t use to free up space and minimise distractions.
  • Customising your home screen: Make apps that you want to use often more accessible and hide ones that are likely to distract you by using folders. Consider adding shortcuts to quickly access lists such as shopping, gift ideas or business ideas lists, preventing you from adding to the clutter with every stroke of genius.
  • Reviewing your notification settings: Disable unhelpful notifications to avoid overloading your lockscreen.
  • Customising your taskbar and quick access bars: Delete or unpin features you don’t find useful to implement your organisational systems.
  • Cleaning your downloads folder: Eliminate unnecessary files and duplicates to free up space.
  • Decluttering your browser: Remove unused extensions and bookmarks to streamline your browsing experience and pin the tools you’d like to use more often. Consider clearing your cookies and cache to protect your privacy, keeping in mind you might get signed out or remove saved preferences on some sites.
  • Clearing your screenshots: The screenshot folder is often a catch-all for single-use files.

Read More

Digital Detox: Rebooting My Digital Lifestyle 📵

Blogpost by Noel Czempik (Student Digital Champion)

In my journey to digital wellbeing, I found myself at a crossroads, dissatisfied with the evolving relationship between technology and me. Once a source of joy for facilitating connections and enriching experiences, it gradually became a frustrating and anxiety-inducing presence. Attempting various strategies, from greyscale displays to setting reminders, proved futile; my devices continued to dominate my time, now laced with guilt and a sense of personal failure, far from the fascination of my early experiences with technology. What had changed?

Swipe Wars: The Smartphone Menace

In the early days of social media, logging in required a ritual—turning on the family PC, navigating through desktop layers, and patiently awaiting the slow progression of the digital world. That world could disappear at the press of a button at dinnertime or the first signs of an oncoming thunderstorm. Fast forward to today, and our devices are ever-present, always in our pockets, ready for instant engagement. The ease with which we unlock our phones without a clear purpose has turned habitual, a craving for the dopamine reward that digital interaction brings.

Initially confined to finite feeds, social media has evolved into expansive content platforms crafted to hold our attention endlessly. In today’s consumer-centric landscape, our devices are not neutral tools but deliberately designed to encourage frequent and prolonged use. While we seek engaging technology, the allure that captures our interest can sometimes work against our best intentions.

From Whoville to Screensville: How the Smartphone Stole Christmas

While invaluable in connecting us during lockdowns and holidays spent at a distance, our devices have also altered the nature of our in-person interactions. I vividly recall the post-pandemic Christmas spent with family, surrounded by screens, each of us engrossed in our digital worlds. It was a far cry from the planned festivities but a reality shaped by the omnipresence of technology.

My once-positive relationship with technology has now turned toxic, and breaking free from my phone’s grasp requires more than just free will.

Read More

Eyes on the Prize: A Student’s Guide to Defeating Computer Eyestrain 👁

Blogpost by Joel Williams (Student Digital Champion)

Whilst computers can be excellent tools to increase and streamline a student’s productivity, staring at a screen all day can have several adverse effects. Through this post, and accompanying infographic, I hope to impart several tips which I’ve used to help make using computers a more enjoyable experience throughout my degree. In this post, I will discuss one common computer-related ailment, Eyestrain. Eyestrain can occur after extended periods of looking at the same monitor or by using a computer in a poorly lit environment.   

20-20-20 Rule  

One of the approaches I’ve found easiest to implement into my studies is the 20-20-20 rule; this approach involves taking a break every 20 minutes, looking at an object 20 feet away (don’t worry, this doesn’t need to be precise), for 20 seconds. Blinking often during this is also suggested, as this can help relax the eye muscles and further reduce the likelihood of strain.  

You can find out more about this via this LinkedIn Learning course

Reducing Blue Light  

Another method to reduce eye strain is to limit your exposure to blue light; this is because the blue light produced by screens can limit the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone), which can disturb our natural sleep cycles and result in our eyes feeling strained at the end of the day. This topic is still up for scientific debate, and you can read more about it here. This is easier to setup on personal machines but with some tweaking can be used on almost any computer at the University. 

There are two main approaches to managing this: 

  • Firstly, you can use software to reduce blue light exposure; MacOS and Windows have built-in settings, Night Shift and Nightlight respectively; you can even enable Nightlight on university computers.  
  • Secondly, most monitors and laptop screens have options which enable you to control brightness and contrast, enabling you to achieve a similar result. However, if you are looking for more customisation, you can use free programs like f.lux which works on MacOS, Windows & Linux, and can provide far greater control over the tone of the screen (shown below).  

Finally, blue light glasses can also be used to filter light not only from your screen but also from the surrounding environment and can be purchased cheaply from several retailers.   

Enabling Dark Mode  

Finally, another strategy which works well on many of the programs I’ve used during my course to reduce eye strain is to enable dark mode; this can be done within both MacOS and Windows and both are designed to aid working in environments with poor ambient lighting.   

However, programs like the office suite and some internet browsers will require additional steps to change. Steps to switch Office to dark mode can be found here, and you can convert any Chromium-based browser to dark mode using extensions found in the Chrome Web Store.  

More information can be found within the Digital Ergonomics LinkedIn Learning collection, click on the image above or use the link here

Navigating Digital Wellbeing: A Personal Journey in the Digital Age

Blogpost by Noel Czempik (Student Digital Champion)

As a Student Digital Champion, I embarked on a quest to better understand our digital world and its impact on our lives. Despite acquiring knowledge about the tools and resources it offers, I was discontent with my relationship with technology. This discontent prompted deeper introspection and a lot of research, leading to a profound realisation: Digital Wellbeing isn’t a fixed destination but an ongoing journey demanding a diverse set of skills for navigation.

The Digital Revolution: Embracing Change Through History

Technological progress in recent decades has reshaped our lives. We’ve transitioned from clunky landlines to sleek, multifunctional devices that fit snugly in our pockets. This shift isn’t solely about convenience; it’s a fundamental change that has redefined how we communicate, learn, work and unwind. It has also brought concerns – digital reliance, information overload, and the impact on the health and wellbeing of digital natives.

Although not entirely novel, our current experiences echo past technological revolutions. Similar anxieties existed during historical milestones, such as the reading panic caused by the printing press; back then, the world grappled with an information explosion, much like we face today. Understanding this historical perspective sheds light on our contemporary challenges.

Unravelling the Intricacies of Digital Wellbeing

Digital wellbeing encompasses all facets of life affected by technology. Its complexity is fueled by the pace of digital evolution, individual differences in how we respond to technology and diverse circumstances. Thriving in the digital world demands a nuanced and continually adaptive approach. It’s not solely about restricting screen time; in fact, challenging the superficiality of such limitations might prompt us to engage with our devices mindfully and with empowerment.

Our Digital Wellbeing Matters

In a world where screens are omnipresent and connectivity is perpetual, our digital habits can profoundly impact our mental, emotional, and physical health. Harnessing the advantages of living in a digital era with healthy boundaries ensures technology enriches rather than overwhelms our lives. Prioritising digital wellbeing is an investment in our overall quality of life, empowering us to navigate the digital landscape with resilience, mindfulness, and a sense of control.

Exploring Digital Wellbeing Together

This blog post initiates a series focused on digital wellbeing. In the upcoming blogposts, we’ll delve into specific aspects, including maintaining ergonomic practices while using devices, understanding the impact of technology on mental and emotional health, and strategies for enhancing productivity in a digitally driven world. Our aim is to equip you with insights and tools to navigate your personal journey.

We hope to inspire you to identify the areas where improvements are possible and those where you find contentment. Let’s navigate this digital landscape together!

The Power of Digital Wellness: Introducing our Digital Wellbeing Series  

Blogpost by Joel Williams (Student Digital Champion)

One focus for the Student Digital Champions this year is to explore strategies and programs we’ve used to increase our digital wellbeing. This series will explore what digital wellbeing is and will consist of posts and infographics discussing reducing eyestrain, digital detox, working environment and much more!   

This information will be posted throughout the year with several seasonal posts, including challenges for Christmas and Easter. You can also use the LinkedIn Learning collections we’ve curated if you want to find out more in between posts, and you can stay up to date with all new posts within this series through this page on our Digital Skills blog

To accompany this introductory blogpost, we’ve created A student’s guide to defeating computer eyestrain! (text version and clickable links below visual)

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