Durham students’ top picks for productivity and organisation apps

Swiss army knife

Which digital tools do students use to organise themselves and their work? This was one of many questions Durham students answered in the 2018 Student Digital Experience survey. We count down the top ten answers here:

Sonocent icon10. Audio recording apps

Students reported using various audio recording apps, including Audio Notetaker, for making their own notes as well as recording lectures.

Google drive icon9. Google Drive

Students particularly liked being able to instantly save their notes to the cloud and the free storage space that Google Drive provides.


Another option for online storage is Office 365, which is available to every undergraduate and taught post-grad for free. This includes 1TB of space on OneDrive and the ability to share files with anyone else at the University.


Excel icon8. Excel

Students reported that they used Microsoft Excel for specific coursework as well as for more general study purposes.

Mendeley logo7. Mendeley

This free reference manager was popular with students, with one explaining how Mendeley ‘revolutionised how I consume literature, as well as how I write and reference’.

Cite this for me logo6. Cite This For Me

Another frequently mentioned referencing aid was Cite This for Me, which extracts reference information from webpages and produces citations in different formats.

Forest logo5. Apps for focus and productivity

This category included several different digital aids, but garnering the most mentions was Forest, an app that encourages you to stay off your phone for a specified amount of time.

Evernote icon4. Evernote

Students mentioned the Evernote app in relation to both note-taking and general organisation.


If you’re interested in note-taking apps, have a look at OneNote: it comes in at number 1 and is free for Durham students!


Google Docs icon3. Google Docs

Students especially mentioned Google Docs as helpful in collaborative work, from presentations to translating texts.


You can also share and co-edit documents in Office 365 without having to create a new account for everyone.


Word logo2. Word

Proving that the newest tools are not always the most popular, Microsoft Word was cited as useful for notetaking and ‘all aspects’.

OneNote logo1. OneNote

Microsoft OneNote garnered more mentions than Word and Google Docs combined. Part of the Office 365 suite available to all students and staff members, OneNote was described by one student as ‘amazing’.


Please note that this list is drawn from the student survey and is not necessarily endorsed by Durham University. When using any third-party tool, please read the Terms & Conditions carefully. Durham University is not able to provide support for third-party tools used by students or staff.

Insights into Durham students’ digital experience

Students with digital devices

Students with digital devicesAhead of the release of the 2018 Durham Student Digital Experience Tracker survey results, Malcolm and Candace were invited to speak about how we used the Tracker at Jisc’s Connect More event in Newcastle on 10 July 2018.

Our presentation was part of a session entitled How are students’ expectations and experiences of their digital environment changing? and we highlighted how different data analysis techniques revealed some key findings from the Tracker.


Open to first- and second-year undergraduates and taught Master’s students, the survey received 877 responses. This was a representative number for this group (with a confidence level of 95% and a confidence interval of 3.19), and the data reveal that this was largely due to two emails that went out while the survey was open.

Graph showing responses peaked when emails were sent


SPSS was used to analyse the quantitative data. Even simple frequency tables were useful in gauging student attitude toward digital. For example, here is how students responded when asked ‘How much would you like digital technologies to be used on your course?’

44% said more, 53% said same, 3% said less

Custom questions

The Tracker allowed each institution to create its own questions as well, and we asked students about online assessment. This revealed that the majority of students liked almost all types of online assessment, although some types are rarely used at Durham.

Of students who submitted the following online: Essay: 80% liked, 6% didn't; Presentation 25% liked, 3% didn't; Portfolio: 10% liked, 3% didn't; Audio: 5% liked, 3% didn't; Video: 6% liked, 2% didn't; Quiz: 17% liked, 3% didn't; Other: 11% liked, 2% didn't

This question also provided an unanticipated insight into the types of assessment that students expect: many students who had not submitted an assessment online considered it inappropriate to their subject.

Results in this order: No but would like to, No and wouldn't like to, No not appropriate to my subject. Essay: 4%, 2%, 8%; Presentation: 20%, 16%, 8%; Portfolio: 18%, 8%, 60%; Audio: 13%, 16%, 63%; Video: 15%, 16%, 62%; Quiz: 14%, 10%, 56%; Other: 10%, 7%, 70%


The Tracker survey allowed us to benchmark student responses against last year’s Durham survey and against this year’s responses from all participating universities and from Russell Group institutions. Significance tests revealed where Durham was ahead or behind for every multiple-choice and Likert question in the Tracker. For example, when asked whether they had access to reliable wifi whenever they needed it, Durham students were significantly less positive than last year, but more positive than students at other UK universities.

90% at DU in 2017, 86% at DU in 2018, 83% at Russell Group in 2018, 82% in all UK HEIs in 2018

Correlations for composites

SPSS made it easy to get overall impressions of student responses. For example, if multiple questions that measured a similar attitude were all strongly correlated (p < .01), they could be combined into a single composite to represent that attitude generally.

Composite answers to 'When digital technologies are used on my course...' questions were 42% positive, 51% neutral, 7% negative

Free-text analysis

We used Nvivo to analyse the free-text responses, coding over 2,500 discrete comments into cascading categories. This was extremely useful in drawing out individual student experience narratives and in quantifying trends.

consider embedding digital tools more in lecture and seminar content PGT in Social Science & Health; Embrace digital learning as much as you already do First-year in Arts & Humanities; often time is spent inefficiently using digital teaching First-year in Science


The most popular free-response topics could then be mapped back onto student responses in SPSS, allowing for correlations between multiple-choice responses and free-text responses to be discovered. A striking example is the strong correlation between attitude toward the use of digital technologies on courses (as shown above) and free-text mentions of in-class polling as a useful digital activity. Those who did not mention in-class polling as useful…

Of those who didn't mention in-class polling, attitude was: 40% positive, 52% neutral, 7% negative

…had a significantly less positive attitude toward technology use in courses than those who did.

Of those who did mention polling, 62% positive, 37% neutral, 1% negative


Look out for the full Durham report, which will be available on this site soon! Stakeholders across the University will also be approached to discuss deeper analysis that would be particularly useful to them.

Jisc’s analysis of the data from all participating institutions was published today on the Digital Experience Insights site.