In this blog post, Anna Wray, one of our student researchers from the University of Nottingham outlines her experiences and practices of digital reading. She tells us how books helped her to improve her posture while reading digitally and has some useful tips (and tools) about focusing when studying online.

History, put quite simply, requires a lot of reading and our generation is living in an increasingly digitalised age. When my mum went to university, she would have to go to the library to find books, whereas I can find the book online from the comfort, and sometimes isolation, of my room.

I personally try to keep a balance between digital and physical resources; it’s good to take a break from screens. With online reading, I find I must take things slower otherwise my eyes glaze over, and I take in little information. The longer the articles or chapters, the bigger the challenge which is why I try and take breaks every twenty-five minutes using a pomodoro timer. This works for me by offering some structure which can be easily lost. With the pandemic and no in-person classes, this challenge increased. I found online study communities were a great support system. Discussing what people had for breakfast or where they had gone on walks added some humanity back to the isolated study environment.

This type of online collaboration also proved useful in discussions of primary sources. Talis Elevate was incredibly useful to asynchronously bounce ideas off classmates under the guidance of a lecturer. Every type of learning benefits from collaboration as it provides different ways to view an idea or a source. Challenging your own assumptions is important but it’s difficult to do without the open discussion forum that Talis Elevate or in-person seminars provide.

One positive of the pandemic for me was the digitalisation of my notes. I have always found that my knowledge retention is better with physical, written notes. However, being online all the time led me to explore other systems like One Note. I really liked the notebook system and the fact I could buy a stylus and keep physical notes in a digital space. Having all the resources you need in one location is invaluable and requires much less bag space!

British Library digitised image from page 49 of "Picture Posies. Poems chiefly by living authors, and drawings by F. Walker, J. W. North, A. B. Boughton [and others] ... Engraved by Dalziel Brothers"
British Library digitised image from page 49 of “Picture Posies. Poems chiefly by living authors, and drawings by F. Walker, J. W. North, A. B. Boughton [and others] … Engraved by Dalziel Brothers”
While online learning has generally been manageable, I have still experienced difficulties with it. It was a steep learning curve coming from a school where online education was never utilised beyond making a PowerPoint. Digitalising the whole experience led to new challenges relating to motivation, distraction, posture, and digital literacy. Fortunately, I was able to overcome most of these: I downloaded focus apps to stay off sites and apps that weren’t to do with my learning; I changed my study space to make it a better learning environment and went to the library when restrictions allowed; although my posture initially suffered, I started using books to raise the height of my screen; I also watched YouTube videos on how to best present via Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

One positive of the pandemic is that the students of the future will be very apt at working online by the time they arrive at university. I do, however, feel the pandemic has revealed the impact of digital poverty – and digital inequalities more generally – on some students’ experiences of Higher Education.

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