Digital tools for study

With O-week starting tomorrow, and several sessions programmed about returning to study, I’m getting really excited about embarking on my academic adventure the following week. But there’s one area that’s going to be really different for me this time and that’s the use of digital tools for studying. Last time I was at university we didn’t even have email, and you could handwrite assignments. I remember writing what I thought was a satirical article about the LSE in 2020, when lectures would be delivered straight into students’ rooms and essays submitted electronically. Well, that all happened a lot earlier than 2020!

But of course, it’s me, so I have done some thinking about and digging around for digital tools that will help me organise my study. Here are the ones I’ve lined up for the new semester. It’ll be interesting to look back in a few weeks and see how they’re going.

1. Evernote

I was slow getting into Evernote. Well, I set up an account ages ago but never used it much. But the development of IFTTT transformed my use of the service. I have IFTTT set up so that when I favourite a tweet, it gets saved to Evernote. This is a really easy way to mark things for later reading that I come across on Twitter. I can then later organise them into my various Evernote notebooks, one of which is for the EMA. I went the whole hog and bought premium – only about £30 for a whole year. It means you can use the notebooks offline and search them better, though I haven’t yet got it to search the photos I take from real-life notebooks, which it said it could do.

2. Flipboard

Flipboard is a very attractive way of reading social content, slurping your feeds from Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+ and whatever else you use into a magazine-style interface that you can leaf through. It used to work with Google Reader, but since that was closed, you need to feed from individual sites. It’s not great for the interaction element of these sites (it’s driving me mad that you can’t read Twitter bios) but is a great way of curating content and sorting it into categories through their magazine function. I now have a magazine called EMA Times, into which I can flip any content from across my feeds that I think will be relevant to the course.

3. Mendeley

I’ve just signed up for this tonight. It describes itself as a referencing tool and academic social network. The idea is that you load your PDFs of articles and it slurps the citation information. It also allows you to connect with academic colleagues. I can’t remember where I came across it (it was in Evernote, so maybe on Twitter?) but I’m willing to give it a go.

4. Wunderlist

Assignments, research activities, parties, club meetings: uni is going to be about time management. There are thousands of to-do list apps out there, but Wunderlist is the best one I’ve come across. Partly it’s the attractive interface, partly the flexibility in nesting activities, setting due dates and prioritising. Also it syncs seamlessly across the desktop, iPad and iPhone.

5. Dropbox

I bought a MacBook Air to come to uni, and it’s great that it’s so light, when I have to walk to campus in the morning, or lug it on the tram. But it doesn’t have much storage space. So Dropbox is a saviour. It’ll also mean that my research, drafts etc are accessible whether I have my laptop with me or not.

6. Scrivener

I bought this software at the suggestion of a friend who said it was extremely helpful for preparing drafts of academic papers and other manuscripts. It’ll be a while till I need this, but as it is linked to Index Card, which I already use a lot, I thought it was worth giving it a go.

I’m sure I’ll also be using a lot of the tools I found useful when working, such as Prezi, Yammer (there is a unimelb network), and Pearltrees. Though at the moment the best ones are those keeping me in touch with family and friends, and helping me make new friends here!

Settling in and making Aussie contacts

So, I have made it to Melbourne! The trip was fine, if long, and I was lucky enough to be met at the airport by a family friend, Deborah, who drove me to my temporary accommodation and handed me a very welcome care package of fruit and stuff. Helped when the jet-lag munchies hit in the middle of the night. Since then, the focus has been on sorting everything out at the university and finding somewhere to live. I’m enrolled in my courses for this semester and already have the assignments for the Critical and Creative Thinking course. My timetable will mean I am in seminars all day Tuesday and half of Friday. It’s going to be an adjustment after more than 20 years of getting up and going to work 5 days a week! At the moment it feels a bit like a holiday, but once the university stuff kicks in next week (Freshers Week! known as O-week here) I’m sure I’ll start getting my head round the fact that I am here for 18 months.

Twitter has proved its usefulness here as much as in the UK in connecting with interesting people. There seems to be a strong social media scene here, with people doing some real thinking about the issues around its use, including in a public sector context. Craig Thomler of Delib (whose UK arm managed our online debate for the Citizens’ Dialogue, as it happens) did this presentation on record-keeping of social media, an issue which I think generally needs more consideration in the digital age. What are future historians going to use as material for understanding the 21st century if everything is either locked away in defunct technology or lost in the ether? This image from Craig’s presentation says it all.

Retention of recordsThey also have a project where they highlight best practice from public bodies on Twitter: GreatOzGovTweet. Wonder what would get picked up if we did that in Europe?

By the way, if you’re interested in the more personal aspects of my time in Melbourne, then take a look at Euonym’s bits and pieces on Tumblr.

Thanks to matt.davis on Flickr for the feature photo, which is used under a Creative Commons license.

Moving to Melbourne

Well, the day is just about here when I load as much as I can into two suitcases and head to the airport to fly to Melbourne. It simultaneously feels like I’ve been planning this for ages and that it has come round very quickly.

I will try to blog a bit more than I have been doing recently, not least because things will be so different and interesting. And I will, for the first time in years, have time to really think about things and I can’t tell you how exciting that is.

The course I am doing is the Executive Master of Arts and one of the reasons I chose it was for the strong focus on communication. One of the core courses is Professional Communication and many of the possible electives have a communication focus, such as Mobility, Culture and Communication. So who knows where this will take me.

I also thought the move and change of emphasis (from a work blog to something more academic) justified a new look!

Social media in my future

In advance of heading off to Australia, I’ve been rethinking my social media activities a little. Once I leave the Commission, I will use @euonymblog on Twitter for the things I use it for now and write about here – digital and tech, media and communication issues, EU stuff, education, social enterprise. I’ve also set up a Facebook page for those sorts of things, as Facebook is so big in Australia.

I will of course stop contributing to @EUlondonrep, which will be a bit of a wrench, as that was my very first Twitter account :) But it has outgrown me and its original purpose, which is very satisfying to see!

Hopefully whoever replaces me at the Rep will be as enthusiastic about the potential of digital tools to connect with people and understand better their hopes, aspirations and concerns with regards to the EU. And equally hopefully I will meet as many amazing people through using social media there as I have here in the UK!

Playing the simulation game

In September of this year, I attended a workshop organised by UACES/BACES on ‘Teaching and Learning with Impact’, looking at how European studies courses could be building in elements that enhance the employability of their students. Or put more simply, how will doing European studies help me get a job?

At the time I mentioned the Mock Council that we do every year with sixth formers and wondered aloud whether this might be an activity that could be adapted for universities. A little while later I got a call from John FitzGibbon who had attended the workshop, picking me up on the idea and suggesting trying it out at his university, Canterbury Christ Church.

So today I got up way earlier than usual to get a train to Canterbury. The first session was a briefing session for interested students taking part in the simulation, at which I was also invited to talk about about what it is like working for the EU. I then spoke to another group about the same thing. Then, after lunch in the staff canteen with John and his colleagues, it was into the simulation exercise.

John had decided to use the EU budget as the subject for the debate. It’s one that works well because it highlights just how many different opinions there are that have to be reconciled to reach an agreement, depending on whether you are a net recipient or contributor, how agricultural your economy is, how global your outlook, your domestic economic or political situation. And it’s decided under unanimity! The pre-event banter on Twitter had been very competitive, so I stressed that this wasn’t an exercise where there would be a winner, but that we were trying to find an agreement that we could all live with.

I was very impressed with the way the students flung themselves into it. They had clearly done the research about the countries they were allocated and played their roles with conviction. I dare to hope that it brought home to them in a concrete way the complexity of negotiations among 28 very different countries. Quite apart from providing a different perspective on their learning about the EU, I think it will also have allowed them to demonstrate some of the skills that employers will be looking for – negotiation, communication, problem-solving and the difficult art of compromising. Finland cannot go unmentioned for their ability to come in with a suggestion that moved the discussion forward every time it seemed to hit a stalemate! There was lots of tweeting going on, using the hashtag #eusimgame if you’re interested in taking a look. I’ll just give you a flavour…



So as a pilot, I think it went quite well, even though it couldn’t ever be totally satisfactory, in dealing with level of detail and of course preparation time and time for the exercise to take place. I’m looking forward to hearing what comes up in the feedback session next week. My first reaction, and I think that of John as well, was that this was a valuable practical exercise for the students. I hope this is something we can work on recreating in other European Studies departments.

A European tour of London

Someone has contacted our office and asked for some ideas of European-themed monuments etc to visit with his class when they come on a trip to London in February. I posted about it on Facebook and Twitter and got a few ideas. Luckily, just at that point our work servers crashed, so that gave me some time to do a bit of digging about and put the ideas together on a Google map.

So here it is and if you have any other suggestions, particularly quirky ones like the Savoy entry, then please leave a comment and I’ll update the map.

Time for something of a change

Something very exciting is happening to me in a few month’s time. I will be packing up a couple of bags and moving to Melbourne for 18 months. I’ve decided to go back to university, and have been accepted on to the Executive Master of Arts at Melbourne, a leadership-type programme targeted at people in mid-career, and with a strong communication component, which I’m sure you can imagine appealed to me very strongly! I think a new perspective on the world, from a part of it that I don’t know very well, is just what I need at the moment.

I’ll definitely keep blogging, and hopefully will have more time and more space in my head to devote to it. I’m sure I’ll be interested in the same kind of issues on the other side of the world: tech, engagement with politics, use of social media especially for the public sector, EU stuff and foreign languages.

I’ve still got a few months in London, culminating in the Citizens’ Dialogue event on 10 February, so you’ll still be hearing from me here for a while yet.

Is eBay a force for good?

I took part in the @EurVoice Twitter event yesterday, which was a most enjoyable and interesting experience. One question that came up was ‘is eBay a force for good’ and I replied that the answer to that was too complex for 140 characters, but that I would try to blog on it. So here we go.

We’re at a moment of major change at the moment. Our ways of working, communicating, interacting are changing almost on a daily basis. Even in the 6 years since I did the Eisenhower Fellowship, communication technologies have been revolutionised by smartphones and tablets. Traditional media is being disrupted by the ability of people to talk to each other directly. The upshot of this is that there is a lot of focus on tools and platforms, and moral values are ascribed to them.

My position is that these tools and platforms are morally neutral. They are only as good or bad as the people that use them and own them. Twitter may have a lot of people using it to be horrendously sexist and misogynist, but that’s because those people are those things. Twitter is also used by the victims to bring this behaviour into the daylight, rather than hiding in the shadows as it has done for years. This isn’t even about technology. A stick can be used to help an injured person walk, or to bash someone over the head. It’s about the user, not the tool.

This is of course a generalisation – there are some tools that are specifically designed to harm and should be dealt with in that light (guns, say, or spyware). And of course the people that run the tools and platforms have their own obligations – to be open with us about what they do with our information, to make sure that they put rules in place to limit abuses, to respect the laws that apply to normal behaviour on their platforms.

So is eBay a force for good? If used by good people to do good things, of course. Is it inherently a force for good? No. But neither is it inherently a force for bad.

Get it off your chest

I am currently working on an event to be held in February of next year called a Citizens’ Dialogue. Vice-President Reding will hold a ‘town-hall’ style debate, at which she will answer questions people have about EU action in three areas – responding to the economic crisis, your EU rights and the EU of the future. In order to make the process as inclusive as possible, we have launched an online dialogue, in association with Delib and Democratic Society, for people to submit concrete ideas. Two themes are live at the moment and the third will go live on 16 December.

This is a chance to make your voice heard. We can’t guarantee that everything suggested will happen. But this is a way of feeding ideas in that will be put in front of the people that are making the decisions.

Over for another year

Many thanks to everyone that took part in yesterday’s Multilingual Blogging Day, also known as #babel13. More than 30 blogs took part, ranging from cabbage and cake recipes and sewing, to a multilingual test on your language profile via life stories and a list of the most useful words.

There was some great tweeting as well



and many, many others.

All the blogposts I found are on my new blog Facebook page. Do let me know if there are any I have overlooked.

Musings of an EMA student