Students Staff
University of Essex

October 16, 2017

Is email the best option?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Alex ONeill @ 9:00 am


Whether you love it or hate it (or maybe both) email dominates our communication at Essex.

Although we have a very high reliance on email here, it is with good reason: it’s convenient, easy to learn, reliable and we know others within the organisation and outside use and respond to it.

However, whilst email is most definitely the most convenient communication method, is it always the best option? Well, the fact that I’ve written this article obviously implies not, so here I have outlined some arguments for other options. Take a look and see what you might want to try instead this week:

What do I need? What could I try?

Instant response to a quick question

Telephone – good old-fashioned talking to someone can solve your query far quicker than trying to explain it all in writing and waiting for a response.

Skype for Business (instant messaging) – a great way to get quick feedback on short questions, plus you can see whether the person is at their desk by looking at their status. Download it at under Other installations.

Work together with others on a document

Online document editing – this saves me SO much time and confusion as I don’t have to work out which is the latest version or who edited which bits. You can use OneDrive at Essex, which is available on the web or you can sync it to your PC. Google Drive works incredibly well too, if everyone has Google accounts. Features include: editing a document together and at the same time (no different versions), adding comments for others to read and saving historical versions of changes.

Have a conversation with a group of people

Skype for Business (instant messaging) – great for more informal chats. You can invite whoever you want from Essex to a Skype group or search for an existing email group and start a chat from there. Download it at under Other installations.

Social media – informally converse with lots of others inside or outside the University and keep track of conversation threads. We have a business social media site here called Yammer, or you could try Facebook for more in-depth conversations, or Twitter or Instagram for light-hearted chats and picture sharing.

Video or telephone conferencing – sometimes it’s just easier to get something across in speech rather than written text. You can use your SIP telephone to run a telephone conference or hire kits from AVS to use Skype for Business as a video conferencing facility.

Send a teaching announcement

Moodle news forum – if you want to keep all your announcements in one place and easy for students to access later, you can pop it in the news forum in your Moodle course. It will automatically get emailed to everyone on the course and it will also stay in the forum in Moodle. If you want to, you can also encourage students to respond on the forum too.

Organise workload in a team

Trello – a really easy-to-use and versatile tool that works with cards and columns. It’s accessible across devices, you can categorise cards and assign cards to people with deadlines. We use it for managing our work in the Digital Skill Group. I would recommend starting with their inspiration page to get some ideas and get started.

Smartsheet – for larger scale projects or if you want project tracking, Smartsheet is available at Essex. It is a project management tool where you can assign tasks to individuals, set deadlines and see a fancy Gantt chart of your project timeline.

Make notes

OneNote – ties in nicely with all your other Microsoft programs and allows for organising your notes in a big virtual notebook. If you go to you can access it on the web, download it under Other installations and get the app for your phone or tablet. Oh, and it’s free while you work or study at Essex.

Evernote – this is the tool I use for notes and I really wouldn’t be without it now (although I think OneNote is just as good, I just committed to Evernote first)! Again, there are web, desktop and app versions, although you do have to pay if you want to download it on more than 2 devices. I particularly love being able to take different types of notes (audio recordings, photos, handwritten notes) and being able to search all of the notes I’ve ever made.

I hope this post inspires you to try something a bit new this week. If you have a revelation by using one of these tools, or have your own to share, do get in touch with us at – we would love to hear from you!

October 9, 2017

Black History Month in the Library: using digital tools to increase student engagement

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — sjkelly @ 9:00 am

Welcome to the first ever Digital Skills Group blog post! This week, we’ll be talking about how the Library has used Talis Aspire and Box of Broadcasts (BoB) to create an engaging and interactive reading list to tie in with our Black History Month celebrations.



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