Social Media – making it work for you

Social MediaYes. I know. The irony levels are high with this – using social media to discuss… social media!

But irony apart, social media can be really important to deaf students. [Actually, social media is really useful for all deaf people, but this blog is referring specifically to students.]

If you’re the type of person that really struggles with making connections with hearing people, worries about understanding hearing people, or are just concerned about networking (which, lets face it, is a necessary evil for academics) then social media can be one way of getting over that ‘hump’, so to speak.

Here’s a couple of ways in which it can be useful.

  1. It can allow you to get to know people as individuals. My partner, for example, is not English, and I recently found someone who was a part of the postgraduate group that I struggled with, via their facebook group, and that is from the same country as he is. We had a lovely chat about that country via social media and it helps the group to know that a) you’re very approachable as a person, b) gives them something to chat to you about in real life and c) allows you to break the communication barrier ahead of the face to face meeting. So. when you find them on social media, send them a message. Introduce yourself. and SNOOP (yes, I felt nosey too, but hey, its info that is out there – and you honestly think they’re NOT doing it to your accounts?). Get info on them. Note the commonalities that they have with you, outside of your course/uni, and then you’ve got a stock of info that you can ask them about. “hey, I couldn’t help noticing… XYZ on your facebook/twitter/whatever. D’you like.. ABC? Really? Have you thought about… ‘ trust me, they’ll be flattered that you took the time to remember and chat to them. 🙂
  2. Many universities, particularly if they have strong postgraduate communities in your field, will run a variety of facebook groups. In my own field, for example, I am a member of at least three, one is just the discipline-specific postgraduates group from my uni that I mentioned before, another is very discipline specific but has hundreds of members all over the country, and another still is discipline specific, but locally orientated and is about fostering relations between our academic community and people out there who are interested in the field but not academics. As a student alone (never mind the deaf bit) this can be really useful to give you a heads up on events that are happening that are crucial to your discpline, new theories, new books, and if you’re really smart, keep an eye on the names of people writing. Again, if you’re going to an event, some social media (like facebook) allow you to click that you’re attending, and if you can view who else is going, its a wonderful opportunity to bone up on people so that you walk in there confident as to who people are (photos are great for that), what they do, and a bit about them.
  3. Outside of the discpline, it can be useful as a way to keep in touch with the wider university community. I bet your uni’s student union will have a facebook group, for example, which will post info about events that you might want to go to, or info about different groups operating from within the SU that you might want to join, like… ooh.. cake baking!
  4. It can also be really useful as a way for you to educate everyone else, gently, about your requirements for dealing with your wonky ears. This can range from things like posting a link to a really cool video (like Charlie Swinbourne’s “Found”, for example), or a new work of literature featuring deafness in some way, or a link to fingerspelling, deaf awareness day, all kinds of things. This shouldn’t be seen so much as a “hey, you’re on my friends list, you must look at this”, but more in the way of drip feed… just making things available so that when someone realises that you’re the fabulous person you are and that they really want to talk to you about your work… they can access the material that will enable them to do that. Help them to help you. Many hearing people are really curious about deafness, sign language, deaf culture and would love to ask about it, but are worried about causing offence. Show them that you won’t be offended, and they’ll ask. 🙂
  5. Finally, its a way to show the world and your colleagues, what an interesting person you are, about your work, about YOU, beyond your deafness. Just as you’ll be looking for info to give you an ‘in’ for talking to colleagues, so may they be looking for info so that they can get to know you better.

However….

Social media has drawbacks as well. Things you post there can come back to bite you where you’d rather not be bitten! So, follow these rules for happy social media-ering… (is there such a word? no? well there is now!):

  1. Your university will almost certainly have rules about social media. Look them up and follow them. Trust me, said rules are there for a reason and a lot of them will echo what is said here. Not to mention that really, its just not worth triggering a dispute with the uni for. No one needs that kinda stress in their lives.
  2. Most social media options have privacy settings. Make sure you enable them, so that only people that you allow can see what you’ve posted. And remember, if you can see their stuff, then chances are, they can see yours! I’ll never forget posting a pic of xmas lunch on my (real name) twitter feed, and my lecturer greeting me after the xmas holidays with “Nice lunch, wish I was there!”. I’d forgotten that in asking to see their feed, they also had the right to see mine! Although I had no problem with them seeing my xmas lunch – it was a good spread!
  3. Some social media sites change their rules on privacy on a regular basis, and some will change your settings on the basis of “we’re changing this rule to XYZ, this is the default, if you want it different you need to change it” and then don’t tell you that they’re changing it (one particular site is very bad at doing this… naming no names but it begins with an F…). Don’t be caught out by that and check your settings regularly. Make sure you periodially check what can be seen by people who aren’t your friends too!
  4. Remember, the internet is a jungle. Privacy is a forgotten principle there. If you don’t want it being shown to your mother, don’t put it out there – even if you’ve got privacy settings that make your social media account look like Fort Knox. If its on the internet then assume that people can view it. That includes those drunken 3am pics of things you really rather you could forget you’d ever done!! Forget about deleting stuff – you can only do that if you posted it, and  deleting stuff from the internet is much easier said than done! This is particularly the case for when you come to want that super important job that you’ve been working towards – it is now common practice for people to google the applicant, and look for their social media accounts. Those pics of you falling over drunk at 3am can be held against you! When going for an interview, DO google yourself and see what’s out there about you, so you’re prepared. Also make sure that you see your social media through their eyes. What do your photos say about you? That you like to spend every saturday night getting absolutely totalled, or that you’re a confident person who enjoys travelling and seeing the world? Which would you rather employ?
  5. Along the same lines, don’t say anything on social media that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. As Mr. Swayze memorably said in Roadhouse, ‘I want you to be nice until it’s time to not be nice’. For example, if you must have a giggle with your friend about that lecturer who wears the very odd clothing, then don’t put it on social media, and if you absolutely must, then don’t use the lecturer’s name and don’t include any identification details. You don’t need to sanitise all your opinions but make sure that even if someone who is trying to get you in trouble takes a screen shot of your social media account, that there’s nothing there that would enable that.
  6. In addition, be very careful about what you say about organisations and people that are important to you. For example, posting things about your employer can cause a whole heap of trouble. Just don’t do it.
  7. If you want to post stuff that you would rather your supervisor/granny/employer didn’t see then do consider setting up social media accounts with fake names. This doesn’t always have to be cos you’re ashamed of whatever you are posting. I’m definitely not ashamed of being DeafStudent (in fact, my real identity is rapidly becoming the world’s worst kept secret!). But it is always an option. If you are going the sekrit-identity route, then make sure that you don’t inadvertently give away your super-hero identity by cross posting, or replying to something with the wrong blog account, or even sharing a blog entry with the wrong twitter feed – there are automatic things for that on wordpress, for example, which I have to carefully check or it will post something with my real name on it onto DeafStudent’s twitter feed! Also think about inadvertently sharing, in your writings or photographs, where you come from – mentioning a location, or a recognisable location in a photograph. Even just the name of otherwise generic things can reveal far more about you than you thought.

Social media is about communication – let that work for you to help you deal with issues in real life. You may think its a waste of time – perhaps it is, there’s no doubt that things like facebook can be terrible for procrastinating on that essay that you really don’t want to do and you’ve been dragging your heels on. And there’s no doubt too that social media can cause terrible problems, twitter trolls have been the source of real heartbreak for people, for example, and bullying is as rife – if not more so – in the social media world as it is in real life. But despite all that it also has the power to do a lot of GOOD. Used wisely, used well, it can really help to create the connections between you and hearing colleagues, help to educate them about deaf awareness, make you friends, and get you information about important things and events.

How do you use social media? If you have any thoughts or tips that I haven’t written about here, please do feel free to email me – deafstudentuk at gmail dot com. If you are a deaf student thinking of going on to study at postgrad level, or a postgrad already, there’s a facebook group running already! Please do get in touch with me – we only get stronger together!

Technology, Part Two

Smartphone Technology

Smartphone Technology

This is a very brief follow up on ‘Technology, Part One‘ which was posted a month or so ago. I spotted this article on the BBC which discusses research out of the US which suggests that ‘students cannot multitask with mobiles and study’. The study, entitled ‘Mobile Phones in the Classroom’, looked at 145 undergraduates and examined the effect of facing interruptions from their phones while they had to watch a video lecture and take notes/answer questions from the video. There was a substantial fall in effectiveness in those who were using their phones. An interesting line at the end of the article says that other research suggests that it is low-achieving pupils who are most likely to be distracted by phones.

So, what does this mean for deaf people? Well on one level, its a no-brainer. I mean, in a teaching environment, if I take my eyes off the lecturer/interpreter (or whatever) to check my phone then I’m paying even less attention to what’s going on than a hearing person listening with half an ear. In a teaching environment, the phone goes on silent and stays in my bag.

But what about outside of a teaching environment? What about when you’re watching a video with subtitles, with the pause button available, or you’re taking notes from a book you’re reading, or trying to write something? Then, deaf people are operating on the same level as hearing people … with the same problem when it comes to interruptions from phones, social media and the like. It becomes important that you’re able to exercise a little self-control and not look at your phone to allow you to focus on whatever it is that you need to do at that point.

So. Here are six suggestions for this:

1) set a timer. This works well for revision-type tasks, where you should only really study in short bursts anyway (research has shown that revision done this way is more effective). This is popularly known as the pomodoro technique – if you google that, you’ll find lots of how-to sites on that technique. You can also do this with a set task, rather than a time, which isn’t too long and you know roughly how long it’ll take. e.g. read through and do notes for a chapter, or a set number of pages.

2) allied to this is making a plan for the day – work through your plan diligently, taking your breaks, and try to vary the kind of work you do – or at least, vary where you do them, or how you do them. When memorialising something, for example, stomping up and down and chanting is a tactic that works, even if you do feel a bit stupid (probably best NOT done around annoying little brothers).

3) put your phone on the other side of the room, or in a different room altogether. Out of sight, out of mind.

4) turn it over/down/away on your desk, so that even if a message does come in, you won’t see it.

5) give it to someone else! Parent, partner, friend. that way they can keep an eye on it and tell you if a super important email comes in, but ignores everything else.

6) if you really cannot be without your phone – e.g. you’re waiting for an important email – consider turning off notifications, or worst comes to the worst, actually removing apps like facebook and twitter from your phone for the duration. There are also vibrating apps like Good Vibrations which you can apparently use to tailor your phone’s responses to various things – so you can set it to vibrate when you get a text message from superduperimportant person, but blank everything else. I haven’t tried this myself though, so please take this recommendation with a large pinch of salt.

Oh, and it goes without saying: if you’re struggling with phone interruptions, and you’re trying out these techniques, DON’T have facebook/email etc. up on your computer while you work! Be disciplined – shut that stuff down!

Short moral of the story? Make your phone work for you. Don’t be ruled by it! Technology is great, but only if it helps, rather than harms.

Technology, part one

Smartphone Technology

Smartphone Technology

I expect that most successful post-graduate students will know this already, but in order to get ahead in higher education, the key mantra is to work smarter, not harder. If your uni is anything like mine, then you will get long bibliographies of books you should be reading and you look at it and wonder how the hell you’re meant to keep up with this lot. The answer, of course, is that you aren’t. They’re meant as a guide as to what’s out there. Most of them will identify what they regard as a key text, but otherwise, its up to you to direct your learning.

But as with so much else, time is precious. For the normal student, that’s the case – but for the deaf student, time is a resource that is forever running out. Smartphones are game-changing devices, quite literally. For the deaf student, they have immense capacity to provide assistance – not directly, but indirectly in terms of saving precious, precious time. I intend to devote this blog entry to some of the apps that I find helpful and use myself.

One thing I’m not going to do is to recommend a specific smartphone. I use an android: some of the apps that I recommend may not be available on i-phones or windows phones; but they may have apps that won’t work on androids. Please take that caveat seriously – If you like the sound of an app that I describe here, look for it on your app store through your phone, that way you can be sure that you’re not getting something that will break your phone! I’ve tried to group apps so that you can see the use of the app – even if the specific app I mention isn’t available, there may well be one similar for your phone – its worth looking.

The second thing I’m not going to do is to make recommendations for apps for social lives at uni. This is for a couple of reasons. 1) I firmly believe most of you are more than able to do this for yourselves anyway! 2) I’m a mature student so what I deem useful for my social life almost certainly will not be the same as for a 21 year old. 🙂

Finally, some of the apps I mention may be apps that you have to pay for. I’ve tried to say where this is the case but I’m not infallible – do check before hitting that ‘install’ button.

Communication

First up: the obvious. I survived my first year at uni as an undergraduate without a smartphone and I was always terrified I was going to miss out on something while I was running around and away from my laptop at home. I did everything via email: the uni had a copy of my mobile number for texting, but that was for emergencies. Email was the way that the Uni did everything anyway, and I was more than happy to fit in with that. Smartphones are very very able to handle email – and more importantly – multiple email accounts. As you might imagine, Deafstudent has its own email account, and that comes through to my phone. I actually have three email accounts on my phone. My uni email, my own personal email under my real name, and the deafstudent email. I use three different email apps for it, but there are apps out there that will handle multiple email accounts. As an android phone, I set up the android email as my uni email, the gmail app as my real name – as this is what my phone is linked to, and I use the type mail app for my deafstudent account. There are plenty of other email app clients out there though.

In addition, my uni uses blackboard heavily. This is a learning management system by which modules are organised, material is made available, and assignments are submitted. Many universities use it – if yours doesn’t, it may use something like Moodle, which is very similar – there may be others. Having access to this on the go is useful too – to check details of classes, to find out when assignments are returned, that sort of thing, and Blackboard themselves do an app. My university actually has their own app through which I can access Blackboard, the library etc., so I don’t use the blackboard app directly but it may be useful for those whose universities don’t do apps. It may well be worth checking on your app store whether your uni does an app for it’s students.

Documents

If your uni is anything like mine, then your notetaker may well email you notes after your lecture or seminar. You may actually want to check that immediately cos the lecturer mentioned some really important person or their book and you want to get it out of the library. So the ability to at least read documents that have been emailed to you on the go is an important one. There are plenty of ‘office’ apps out there. I use Office Suite and Polaris Office, but hey, go investigate and choose your own. Definitely download a couple, though, so that you have an alternative if your primary one can’t handle a document.

Another app that is of immense use to handle documents is a PDF reader. Some office apps may be able to handle them, and if you have the kindle app, that can sometimes handle them too. I use ezPDF reader, which is a paid app (but not too expensive – £2.54 at the time of writing – and there is a free trial version available if you want to give it a go) as this app will allow you to annotate your PDFs. This comes in very useful if you’re on the go a lot and you want to read through the article you just downloaded from the library, and make notes directly on it – or highlight the text, that sort of thing, then print out your annotated version when you get home.

One thing that may make the movement of your documents far easier, as well as providing a backup for your files, is cloud computing. The idea here is that you keep your documents out there in the internet, rather than at home where your files are only accessible through your laptop, and, as a result, vulnerable. Personally, I prefer to keep them on my laptop but I DO keep backups of everything on a cloud. Some universities give each student a bit of their own area on the university computers, accessible from any computer on campus. This can be really good if you do a lot of work on campus (i.e. if you don’t have your own laptop). While I have some files there, most of the time I use dropbox, as it facilitates movement between my smartphone, tablet, laptop and desktop. If you want to use dropbox as a backup, you can install dropbox sync, which automatically backs up whatever file is directories that you specify onto dropbox, and then onto your phone/tablet. Be wary of this though, if you specify your university directory, as I did, then by your third year your phone will be screaming at you because its overloaded with data. Use wisely! There are almost certainly other versions of things like this out there – find what works for you.

Finally, in managing the movement of documents and finding them on your phone to work with them, some sort of File Management app is always a good idea. There are lots of versions out there – just type “File Manager” into your app store.

Research

Library Research is something every university student has to do, in varying amounts, and there are apps out there that can really help with this. One of the best I’ve found is CamScanner. This is a paid app, but as with other paid apps, there is a free version, although I can’t find it, probably because I have the paid version already. There are a number of other apps from the same stable that are worth looking at, but they all work on the same principle: of taking a photograph of a page and turning it into a scanned image. It will allow you to do this for multiple pages… and then turn it into a PDF. There are other apps that do similar things – it may be worth shopping around.

Once you work with this you can quickly see the strength of it for scanning articles that aren’t in digital form, or for scanning sections of books. You can even use it to scan paperwork so that you can email it to people like SFE when they need documentation for your DSA. These days I rarely do any proper work in the library for very long: I do my research at home as to what books/articles I need, write them into a small notebook with the library reference number and its location, then go around and collect the books/articles. I scan the articles with Camscanner, books I assess – if I think I’m going to need the entire book, then I borrow it, but if its just a chapter, then I scan it. With this technique I can be in and out of the library with all my research in just a few hours, and then work from the comfort of my home.

This technique DOES require you to have self-discipline: it is far too easy to find other things to do (such as blogging!) once you get home. But it does have the potential to save huge amounts of time, especially if you keep files. I find even now as a postgraduate that I will need an article or a book chapter that I first read in my second year, and I will go and find my scanned copy to re-read it, rather than getting it out of the library. It also means that you can turn otherwise wasted time, such as bus or train journeys, to good use – as you can read a book or article you scanned earlier, and maybe even annotate it in ezPDF ready to be printed out when you get home.

Several caveats to all this:
1) Copyright. Obviously, you’re taking a copy, just like if you’re doing a photocopy. Unlike a photocopy, digital copies have more potential to be given to more people, particularly if they are placed on the internet. Doing this can get you into a great deal of trouble. Be careful with who you give copies to!
2) Any successful student will tell you that half the battle is organisation. Most students learn quickly to write article or book references across the top of any printed or photocopied documents that they take, so that they’re not scrabbling to find that reference that they just KNOW exists the night before an essay is due in and the library is closed… !! Obviously with Camscanner this is more problematic. The way I have found around this is to always photocopy the front page and then whatever else you need to give you your reference. With a book, that would be the title page, then the page behind it, with all the bibliographical details such as when it was printed, where, what edition it is, etc. I find it useful, sometimes, to also scan the index page, particularly if it is an edited book as you may vaguely remember a chapter in that book and want to check it out. Also do not forget to scan the appropriate footnotes pages for the bits that you’ve scanned. With edited books, these footnotes are often at the end of the chapter, or as a proper footnote on each page. Some books do them as endnotes at the end of the book. For an article, this may be the front page of the article that shows the edition number, year, issue number, etc. Make sure, too, that your scanned copy shows the page numbers!

Another useful app is something called Ref Me. This allows you to scan the barcode on a book, or to put in the ISBN Number (which is found on the reverse of every title page for every book) and it will use the internet to find the details of your book. You set up an account with Ref Me, which you can then use via their website on your laptop/desktop browser, and you can copy bibliographic details into your bibliography or references for your essay. Very cool. Make sure its set to reflect your institution’s referencing requirements, and away you go! It works well with other bibliographic software as well like EndNote too.

In terms of ebooks, downloading the Kindle may be worth it. Personally, I use the kindle to read fiction, for when I want a break, and rarely use it for reading study books. I find it difficult to move back and forth using a kindle and prefer hard copy, unless I’m using a PDF version that I can annotate. There are exceptions however. Sometimes the ebook is just cheaper (and not available in the library), so you stump up and get it.

Finally, if your University library allows you to borrow e-books then its a great way of accessing the library from the comfort of home (or those times when you’re working at 2am the night before your essay is due…!). Different publishers specify different readers. I’ve even found that one publisher, who published a series of books in e-format, specified a different e-reader for each one! Highly annoying, that. Unfortunately Digital Rights Management (DRM), which is what stops you from keeping a copy for free, and just borrowing it for the time period specified, is difficult to get around – for a good reason. It’s worth keeping an eye on the proliferation of e-readers, noting which ones you like, and if you find ones you don’t like, delete them after you’ve read your book.

Notes

Most students have to take notes of some kind. Whether that’s notes in a lecture, or just taking notes from a book, or revision notes – even if you have a notetaker, you’ll almost certainly have to do the last two. I’ve not yet found anything to beat the humble paper and pen but if you’re technologically minded, then there are lots of note apps out there that can create beautiful notes for you. One I like to use is JotterPad, which is free to use and very minimalistic. Most files are saved locally, but it does allow you to save files on dropbox. The files save as a .txt, so you would have to open them in a wordprocessing program and make them look nice on your desktop/laptop before printing. But for notes on the go, its not bad. In Note, which comes from the same stable as CamScanner is one I found during the writing of this article and I have to admit, it looks quite good. The concern I have with that is that you spend so long beautifying your notes that you don’t get any work done! The one thing it does seem to do which JotterPad doesn’t, is to save your notes as PDFs, so you can save it on dropbox and then print it. However, if you go with In Note, you’re stuck with doing your notes on your phone until they’re complete, whereas with JotterPad, it is possible – in theory at least – to work on a document at uni on your phone via dropbox – then come home and download the file from dropbox to your laptop and continue working on it there. What that really comes down to is your particular style of working. There are other note apps out there – searching will find them – but me? I stick to pen and paper. 🙂

Organisation

As I’ve said before, most successful students will find that their success is due, in part, to their control of organisation. This goes from organisation of papers, through to their diaries, task management, and so on. There are lots and lots of apps out there to help with some of these. There are many diary apps. I particularly like the ones that are based on Google’s diary – I myself use Business Calendar, which is a paid app (there are free ones around). Yes, you have to give up some privacy (i.e. Google gets to see everything you put in there), but the key strength of it is that the info is kept on your Google account, not your phone, so it’s very movable, for example, if you lose your phone or it breaks, or even if you upgrade. Ditto with Contacts. Gone are the days when you need to redo everything everytime you upgrade (thankfully!).

There are also tons of task-manager apps out there, some of which link into your diary so you can schedule tasks for yourself. Particularly useful if you have a lot of assignments due in a specific period. My partner swears by Wunderlist, which comes in various (free/paid) versions depending on your specific requirements. The strength of Wunderlist is that it can supposedly (it has hiccups occasionally) works across devices, like Ref Me, you have an account with Wunderlist which you can use on your laptop, phone, tablet, desktop, etc. You can also share lists within Wunderlist with other people who have Wunderlist – very useful for group working. There is a Wunderlist for Education, although I fail to see how its different to the usual Wunderlist. There are other task managers out there. I quite like Todoist, which, like Wunderlist, has different paid subscription levels according to your requirements, and is accessible across your devices.

As with taking notes, though, I prefer good old pen and paper. I buy a ring-bound book, open it up so that there are two blank pages available, on the left, I note all the to-dos for Uni for that week, on the right, I note all the to-dos for non-Uni stuff for the week. Following week I turn the page and start a new section. In between I fold the book back on itself, so uni stuff is on top, non uni on bottom – all I have to do is turn it over to access the other side. Combined with different coloured pens its a system that works well. I do combine this with recording the dates of assignments and classes in my phone diary, so the two systems work together. If I have a lot of things to do at Uni one day, I may sometimes record that list in Todoist, or scribble it on a postitnote and stick it inside the phone cover. If I have a lot to do at home in one day, I sometimes scribble a daily to do list on a reporters notebook. Its a system I’ve honed over the last 5 years and it works for me: I’ve often been complimented on my organisational abilities. It helps that I also have an office of my own at home, which I know many students won’t have – as a mature student, having my own home (not my parent’s) gives me stability that really helps with my studies. I have a filing cabinet that I put all my research notes into, for example, and rarely throw anything away.

Divider03What apps do you find useful? What working methods do you have for organisation? It’s important to share – because by learning from each other, we grow stronger, and I’m a firm believer in the importance of technology – making it work for us, and helping us to work SMARTER, rather than harder. Feel free to leave a comment or email me on deafstudentuk at gmail dot com. Thanks!