“Are You Here” and Cultural Mapping

Here is a guest blog about my work, as featured on the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities Practice Research Network.

Source: Are You Here, Cultural Mapping

This has information on my MA project and my PhD work.  My Masters was about walking in the footsteps of my ancestors and included an ebook, illustrations, a blog and an exhibition, whilst my PhD has elements of digital storytelling, mapping, and creative activities with community groups.



Create Cafe- Mapping my Paisley

As part of my PhD I have been working with some community groups around Paisley, exploring what culture means to them.  One of the groups, Create Cafe, asked me to put up a blog post about what the group made.  It was so much fun to work with the young people who attended the cafe and the Create Paisley volunteers, a real privilege to be able to spend some creative time exploring the town through their eyes.

I explained the project in my participant information sheet/ consent form like this:

‘Mapping My Paisley’ is about drawing a map or picture about your view on what is important to you in Paisley; where you enjoy spending time, what you think is important to the culture of Paisley, which areas you like and what you think could be better.

So what did Create Cafe make?

Six maps were created by Create Café and three different kinds of maps were made, one as drawing on top of a printed map of Paisley, one as a mind map list and four as plans of a part of Paisley they knew.  Some maps showed Create as their centre of Paisley, some concentrated on a small area of the town and some mentioned places outside the town as well.

The average number of things in the maps was 9, with some as many as 19 or as few as 3. One map included very detailed drawings of buildings and features, some drew pictures of things which they associated with Paisley (e.g. things which their favourite shop sells), many added notes to what they included to show what it meant to them such as visiting friends, being a member of a band or where they took art lessons.

Some of the places which were included are as follows:

Natural features

Buildings/ landmarks

Clubs, societies and events

  • Sports and active hobbies – Pokemon Paisley, Parkour coaching, Barshaw Golf Course
  • Paisley Comicon
  • YMCA, Create (office and Blend café), Arts Collective of Paisley and Art Classes

Activities and meeting places


  • Transport hubs (Paisley Canal, Paisley Gilmour Street)
  • Paisley Cross and County Square
  • Roads including the Wynd, Barrhead Road, High Street, Causeyside Street

Areas mentioned

These map results are anonymised as a general summary.  The picture at the top is actually my map, where I was playing with ways of representing places; as a practitioner-researcher I think it is good to test out your ideas.. no prizes for noting that my picture of Paisley includes the university and is rather cafe, museum and parks -centric, and on reflection it is pretty funny that I have drawn a cup of coffee bigger than the abbey.  I wanted to work with Create because I hoped to involve groups which can traditionally be under-represented in cultural discussions to explore a diversity of opinions on culture and what it means; I also worked with The Star Project, and ROAR Connections for Life.

Thank you again Create Paisley and all of the cafe attendees!


“Mini publics”- practice and research

I attended a seminar today at UWS about academic blogging, which is something I have left alone for a while but always intended to get back to (this is what not to do, for I think blogging is often best as a regular and scheduled activity).  I thought I would “revive” my blog here as a little reflection on today’s seminar and as a way of pressing play on this blog again.

The seminar was organised by UWS Centre for Social Science and Creativity (CSSC) and invited speakers were Pat Thomson,  Paul Cairney and  Jane Tinkler  who all provided inspirational presentations about their own practice and their thoughts on the role(s) of blogging in academic life.  If you follow the hashtag #uwsblogging  you can get a feel of the discussions, it was even trending in Glasgow for a while!

I was particularly taken by the term “mini publics” used by Pat Thomson as it made me think about all the projects I have been involved in recently and in the past, and what those audiences were.  For some of the projects like Digital Commonwealth  blogging was integrated within these practices and was an intended teaching and learning outcome, I’ve tinkered with collective blogging based around training sessions and seminars  but for others the work was documented as part of an institutional publication  or went unblogged as it was part of everyday work in a particular role. I have also been employed specifically to blog, as I was the IHBC newsblog consultant   for several years and wrote about the work of that organisation and current heritage and cultural issues.

The visibility of researcher work discussed by Jane Tinkler was fascinating.  I am only a “Phd-er” (again, Jane’s term, not one I had heard before but very relevant to my own academic identity; am I currently “invisible”, “solidly middle”, or an “influential-communicator”? ) What do I want to be as a practitioner-researcher? (another term I have only just learned, which seems very relevant to my own approach (comes from Little et al, 2013).  I’ve only just completed my PhD transfer event, so these issues are very fresh in my mind.

I am a visual thinker.. but I also love writing, I think today’s session has given me a kickstart back to posting on here again.. here is my short visual summary of the session.  My featured post image is space for contemplation, for this is what the session gave me!

IMG_5534 Continue reading “Mini publics”- practice and research

More lovely new things to learn

So I may not be a knowledge ninja quite yet (more on this later) but I have been spending a lot of time reading academic papers as well as policy around heritage strategies and ‘creative places’ and various e-books and websites related to this.  Today I attended my formal PhD student induction with lots of others from around the University which included lots of useful information on the practical ‘need to knows’ for student life here as part of the UWS research community.

Like most universities, UWS has a graduate researcher training programme – we had an interesting overview of the courses available and a ‘student eye view’ of how they can help. Here is a copy of the older programme, but it shows the kind of events put on.  Many people also stressed that networking was one of the key things they got out of the events, it was fun to meet other PhD students today from places as far away and as close as Glasgow, Ayr, Bangladesh and Algeria.

It is good to think about CPD.. I already do this as a member of professional institutes but academically there are transferable and academic specific skills which I would like to develop more.  I signed up for a conference in June organised by the SGSSS which covers various topics of direct relevant to my PhD (and has networking and other social events).  There is an upcoming UWS research conference including poster presentations given by 2nd and 3rd year students from around the university, which will be good to see how it all works before I do it next year.  I am also going to sign up for events bulletins from UWS careers and the library (Moodle has a lot on it too).

Library things

Today I learnt I can access any library! I applied for Sconul access which would allow me to borrow books from other academic libraries.  I presume it also allows me to sit in their libraries to work (my brain likes a change of scenery, I used to enjoy sitting in Glasgow School of Art library when doing my evening graphic design class research.. they have fantastic creative research books, and when I used to teach at GCU and City of Glasgow College I used the GCU library occasionally to do TQFE work as their learning pods were a fun and colourful environment to spend time in).  I love libraries.. might even make a little trip back to where I used to sit in the Andersonian as a creature of habit in my undergraduate planning days.  UWS library in Paisley has some great quiet study areas, as well as ‘coffee break’ areas where you can sit, and the Ayr Campus is very light and airy with group study rooms and quiet study as well as a great selection of journals and periodicals to browse.  Have Eduroam and library ticket, will travel!

Vitae, Academia.edu and Mendeley

I had been meaning to explore these further; today Vitae was mentioned as being particularly useful for developing skills at different stages of research and I have been completing my profiles on Academia.edu (and set up a group in Mendeley as an experiment to see how it works).

Knowledge ninjas and mind mapping

As I mentioned before, I love mind mapping, so when I was browsing my local charity shop books I was utterly delighted to find a Tony Buzan mind mapping book.  I had read it years ago, but not only was this a lovely book it was actually signed… and supported charity too.  Must buy, a good £3.99 there I thought.  I have been flicking through this and its lovely diagrams, reminding myself of some additional techniques for memory recall and creative association.  I also got ‘how to be a Knowledge Ninja’ from my local Glasgow library, a new book which includes mind mapping but also goes into the practicalities of sorting out ‘stuff’ to be able to achieve more from your day.

The Cornell note taking system was new to me (see pdf for info); although I feel I have an adapted version of this which involves using one page for notes from whatever I am reading at the time, and the opposite page for reflective notes and action points.  I later review these in a mind map and save into Evernote.  One of the things which first taught me how to revise was an article in Cosmopolitan magazine on how to pass exams.. a rather unlikely source one would possibly think but I remember it being stuck to my bookcase and trying out some of the tips and I have used them ever since!  Knowledge Ninja has given me a further 20 points to reflect on and try out (some I do, some I knew, others which are new or are helpful to be reminded of).  I enjoyed the style and presentation, a ‘quick read’ or something to dip in and out of. The Knowledge Ninja also has amusing little cartoons and summary points which make it a useful starting point for studying any topic at pretty much any level.  Follow @thinkproductive and author @grahamallcott on Twitter for more.

Reflecting on reading

Weirdly, reading is helping me do more reading!  Whilst on holiday not too long ago I got back into fiction reading, and used my iPad as a Kindle reader for the first time in any sort of concentrated manner.  Sitting in the sun sipping cocktails is not the usual way I spend my day and it felt very luxurious but it reminded me I always used to love novel reading, so I devoured lots of holiday reading (mainly the escapist kind which often has pink sparkly writing on the spine in print books, but also some classics and one or two business books).  Since I came back and have been PhD reading I have been doing more evening reading- I found a fun travel book and started using ‘Goodreads’ which recommends books which you might like based on ones you have already read.  I did not expect that reading for my PhD would lead me to want to read more for leisure, I now have a list of ‘to read’ novels and some forthcoming AyeWrite events to attend (including a writing workshop.. using Day One has made me write more and explore creative writing).  Has anyone else felt this reading = more reading and more writing effect?

Digital academia (#JobsQ), museums week and dividing my time

Contrary to how my online persona may appear, I do not actually spend hours and hours on the internet, I am actually quite judicious about dividing my time between all the things I have to do so that online research and social media connections are a productive and useful part of my day rather than a time sucker. I have also been looking into ways to incorporate exercise into my week (partly as I have signed up to a 10k in May.. eek, but also because I do generally enjoy the exercise when I do it and know it actually does me good mentally and physically). I am currently adopting Fitbit to get my 10,000 steps a day, go to my local gym and booked into a lunchtime Renfrewshire Leisure Body Pump class today (which I was delighted to discover has the most reasonable student price of only £3.75!). A number of the PhD ‘how to’ books (and several blogs I follow) all speak about the importance of balance in dividing your time and making time to take care of your health. Internally, I probably know these things, but sometimes a friendly reminder helps, as does a bit of quiet space (recently discovered this room at UWS):

Space for contemplation
Space for contemplation

Yesterday I followed the #JobsQ Twitter feed from the digital academia conference in Warwick. I had been alerted to this via a phdchat tweet which Emma Cole (@Emma_Cole1) had suggested, she is experimenting with vlogs to reflect on and share her PhD experience.  Here is her vlog which reflects on the days teachings, and a copy of two of the presentations available, with many great tips (follow also The Thesis Whisperer’s blog , Dr Inger Mewburn also spoke at this event)


I find Twitter is quite useful for virtual conference attending (and very cost effective, of course).

All this week is ‘Museums Week’, an international event organised by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, which encourages professionals and the general public to share their experiences of museums and heritage using daily themes on social media. I have been joining in with the daily themes (yesterday was ‘behind the scenes’ secret museums day, and today is souvenir day). I find it fascinating to see the tweets from all over the world, and enjoy making a little contribution to the discussions.

From a PhD point of view, I find that these different ways of presenting heritage attractions to the world are rather interesting and tap into the public engagement, marketing and image making/ placemaking agenda as one can gain an impression of the character of a museum or attraction as expressed in its digital presence, its physical souvenirs are also part of this. I have been reading about perceptions of cultural heritage and opinions on the management its ethos in a publication edited by Waterton and Watson (2015), which (among other things) looks at leisure landscapes (Haldru and Boerinhoudt), the origins of tourism and different perceptions of heritage globally (Light) and also the cultural planning and conservation policy contexts for this (Pendlebury). I also like the tips in the presentations above.  Much food for thought.

I am really enjoying perusing and reflecting on academic articles and books again, my brain is full of happy endorphins (I know that it is exercise which is meant to do this, hopefully a bit of body pump, which I have not done for at least a year, will also help my afternoons reading and concentration and burn off some of the extravagant drink choice I made yesterday whilst taking my reading out and about!).

What do you do to help nurture your connections and maintain your overall good balance?

Books referred to:
Waterton, E. Watson, S (2015) The Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary Heritage Research, Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke

A festival of ideas- ‘culture’ ‘creativity’ and ‘heritage’ conference reflections

Embed from Getty Images

I have chosen this image to include at the top of the post because it is similar to one used within the talks which I attended today as part of the RSA Festival of Ideas organised by the RSA Fellows Media, Creative Industries, Culture and Heritage Network (p.s. for bloggers and potential bloggers, using Getty images for non commercial purposes to embed on a blog = free and legal, find out more here!  I generally like to produce my own images but sometimes something like this work really well).  It shows a large cruise ship in port visiting the world heritage city of Venice, and represents a dramatic visualisation of one of the key issues debated at the sessions; the relationship between tourism, heritage and culture and the potential conflicts which can arise.

I thought it would be useful to review my thoughts on the day, and how these might relate to my PhD.  For those of you with an interest in all things culture and heritage, I also hope this is of interest to you.

Session 1- The Future of Funding for Festivals in Scotland

This session was chaired by Professor Joe Goldblatt (QMU Edinburgh) and featured talks by Nick Barley from Edinburgh International Book Festival, Leonard Harper Gow and (my PhD Director of Studies/ supervisor) Professor Gayle McPherson.

Nick Barley talked about how the Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIBF) worked, and the different ways in which its funding helped ensure successful operation and continued growth. I was fascinated to learn about the global versions of the EIBF and also that there are a number of free events which are unticketed and ‘turn up and go’.  There was a lot of discussion about the importance of the audience and also some barriers to attendance.  Perhaps I am a bit of a cheapskate by nature, but even though I am probably technically part of the intended demographic for the Book Festival I have never been because it is in Edinburgh (= train or bus fare, then more for tickets and probably again more for picnic/ lunch or drinks). I have to really, really want to go and see something to pay £10 for a ticket, I often make a wishlist for AyeWrite then whittle it down to 1 or perhaps 2 events as I feel a bit guilty about spending so much cash to go and see a book talk (where I probably buy the book as well, as I wouldn’t be going to a paid event in the first place for an author who I did not already admire!). I am always on the lookout for free events and now that I am a full time student again my student discount card is of course very useful in this respect. The whole economics of festivals and events fascinates me. This is one of the many reasons why I give my time freely to Glasgow Doors Open Day, that most egalitarian of festivals where everything is free and I get to share my passion for my adopted city with other people (and often learn a lot from those who go on my events too!). I was amused and happy to read the recent Heritage Lottery Fund/ BritainThinks report (20 years in 12 places) where Glasgow’s heritage was discussed and there was such a positive reception on HLF funding and 70% of people thought that heritage was part of their identity (source)).

Gayle spoke about ‘festival funding: friend or foe’ using many international examples and debating the relationship between festival events and local identity.  The importance of festivals to communities and the ability to leverage events to create social change and active citizenship was highlighted (emphasising ownership and the right of everyone to participate rather than just a certain type of audience).  In Scotland festivals can receive funding from a variety of public sources (such as Events Scotland, Creative Scotland, Visit Scotland and Sport Scotland) depending on how they are positioned; some are local but have grown in international reputation whilst others set out to be international in focus as part of mega-events).  Gayle discussed how space and place are important in this positioning and how some cities like Singapore have a year round programme of events themed with their identity and promotion, and how in Canada culture is often seen as enhancing the quality of life of an area and city policy taps into this.  The possibilities for creating a ‘culture of connectedness’ around events and festivals and their funding and promotion was also explored.
Embed from Getty Images
Leonard Harper Gow spoke about the origins of festivals in the Scottish Borders, using ‘horse and harvest’ to summarise the tradition of the common ridings and agricultural shows.  The area also has the Borders Book Festival and Borders Walking Festival.  I have fond memories of local shows and fayres in the Borders and North Northumberland (and indeed, the heilancoo show in Glasgow which could be said to be an urban version for the Highland Cattle Society, and the famous Glasgow herd doesn’t always win!).  Rock buns and craft tents, and even dog racing, I have face painted and exhibited at various ones over the years, and even represented a Council I used to work for by manning the ‘put a pin on the map where you see things you would like to change’ stall).  I was interested to hear about the range of events involved in his festival, and the importance of this for young people in the area (and the ticket price discussion came up again).

The panel discussions touched on many topics, from how funding worked (Local Authority support and public funding, product purchases, merchandising, ticket sales, patrons, benefactors, friends, donors, sponsors..), the concept of glocalisation (where local festivals are taken to a global audience), the promotion of festivals and events (though social media and local/ national programme distribution), challenges of broadcasting of festival output (what do you broadcast and why, how might this work across a multi-venue programme with varied audiences as opposed to a single large stage) and the local funding situation in Scotland compared to other areas of the UK and the rest of the world.  The audience questions were interesting; also as people introduced themselves they also said where they were from; I didn’t know Edinburgh also has an Irish Festival and a Magic Festival, as well as the obvious big ones in August!

Provocation- fashion and wellbeing

Mal Burkinshaw (from Edinburgh College of Art) gave a provocation on fashion and wellbeing,  and explained how his ethical stance towards this had influenced his own career and teaching philosophy.  he showed typical fashion magazine style images and told how he used these to challenge students (and us as viewers and consumers) to look at the images which they portrayed, and consider the messages they sent about norms.  I was interested to learn that they have a diversity network which helps embed this in the learning (an exhibition is currently on at the Scottish National Portrait gallery showcasing the work).

Session 2- Creativity

Session 2 was my favourite of the day; I found Professor Pier Luigi Sacco’s presentation on ‘socially sustainable models of creativity in culture-led development’ to be highly engaging and full of inspiration (not that the others were not, it’s just sometimes a presentation makes your brain do happy things!).  Professor Sacco spoke about the importance of digital tools in everyday life and culture and emphasised the how public participation and active citizenship means trust building; digital storytelling, co-created public art projects and using technology can help create new approaches to participation in culture among communities.  The concepts of culture 1.0 – 3.0 intrigued me, I must read more about this.

I enjoyed hearing about Bookkupy Siena, which is a social media storytelling celebration, the website describes it as ‘the first large scale group story-telling experiment ever to be organised in Italy’ (source Siena 2019, candidate European Capital of Culture city website). Islamabad Civic Hackathon was also mentioned, I later had a look at their website and it is a really interesting example of how people can use technology and design to solve problems and challenge issues which affect them.  I am aware of local hack days and events; ‘hack’ to me is not a comfortable term as in my cultural upbringing it implies disobedience and bad things like in the War Games film (but I do like the concept of using tech for good!  I love Mozilla open source technology and had a whale of a time at Mozfest, as you can see from blog entries on this).  Collective co-creation, learning together, having fun with technology, sharing skills and storytelling, joy!

Session 3- Heritage

The introductions to the heritage session were presented by Jane Jackson of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (hands up, one of the many reasons I attended this day was because IHBC helped organise it and I am their newsblog consultant so on this occasion I was Tweeting on their behalf on the day), Professor Mairead Nic Craith of Heriott Watt University and Dr Graeme Purves from the Built Environment Forum Scotland.  This embraced such diverse topics as heritage skills and importance of heritage professionals, the poetry of the Forth Bridge and the evolution of town planning, all in only 3 minutes each).

I have to confess I had a little bit of a brief ’academic star struckness’ moment as I had only just recently read one of Francesco Bandarin’s books, and here he was! It was also nice to hear some ‘history of….’ type discussions as it reminded me of old uni lectures and also gave me new information and food for thought. His presentation was ‘Cities as Heritage: results and challenges’.  Memories of studying the ‘secteur sauveguarde’ system in my postgrad at Dundee came back to me, and I thought about how I was so keen to see Le Marais when I had the fortune to spend a few days in Paris a couple of years ago (I’ve always had heritage holidays, my head seeks out historic buildings and arty/cultural destinations taking comfort in the luxury of cultural wandering).  Within the presentation, the main threats or challenges which historic cities are likely to face were discussed:

  • cityscape
  • iconism
  • loss of the urban fringe
  • infrastructure development
  • tourism

A new way to look at the city in all of its contexts was also discussed as a way to address these issues, suggesting matters which policy makers should look at:

  • archaeological layers
  • geological and hydrological layers
  • morphologies and typologies
  • memory and places (the intangible)
  • contemporary creativity

It was suggested that the Berlin Neues Museum might be a useful example of contemporary creativity, fusing these points together.

Piet Jaspaert from Europa Nostra looked at ‘mainstreaming culture and heritage’.  It was useful to know more about Europa Nostra, I periodically look at their website but it was informative and useful to get an overview of their activity with an engaging presenter discussing their work. I was also intrigued to learn that they are on the lookout for partners; Piet Jaspaert specifically mentioned some key pieces of European Commission documentation which has only recently been adopted (21 May, 22 July and 26 November 2014) and I think this is something I could investigate further, especially with forthcoming ‘Cultural Heritage Counts’ event in June this year (link).

Storify of the day

I created a Storify featuring tweets on the different events of the day.  As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I find this is often a helpful way to collate information and remember the day.

What I will take away from the day with reference to my PhD study areas:

  • That kind of inspiring ‘ideas everywhere’ feeling, where (like certain parts of this blog post) one thought takes me to something else which then grows arms and legs.  Inspiration does however sometimes needs a bit of reflection and order prior to public presentation, ahem.
  • reflections on the selection of presentation styles used, uses of provocations, and ways to present my ‘speaker biography’ (I have spoken at various events before, but always find it difficult to summarise myself)
  • reflections on how I consume culture, from free events to paid
  • how culture has many strands and means different things to different people
  • a useful selection of case studies illustrating different issues in cultural heritage, some of which I will investigate further in academic literature searches, together with knowledge of more people who work in the areas discussed
  • greater knowledge of the multi-modal nature of festival funding, and the fact that there is not a ‘one size fits for all’ model for this (every festival is unique and has a different raison d’être)
  • more things to look up regarding European policy
  • more good news on the digital storytelling front, and some more Twitter feeds to follow (I love the idea of Bookkupy- follow hashtag #Bookkupy and Siena2019 for info, though I feel it might challenge my somewhat basic Italian skills!)
  • confirmation that community = key (as festival attendees, purchaser of products/ consumers of culture, volunteers who embrace their local culture and traditions, knowledge and enthusiasm for an area and activists for social good)- this reminded me of the work of ‘nothing about us without us is for us’ in Govan, Glasgow by Northlight heritage) and all the debates around community engagement and how it works (or not!)

My PhD toolkit

I have been gradually compiling a new toolkit of ‘things’ which help my work on a day to day basis, which (for me) involves treating myself to a little new stationery but also has helped me create a relatively consistent notetaking system which works for me from the start (though I realise that this may evolve over time). This blog post is a reflection on the tools I use and their pluses and minuses.. I would love to know what others use too.

Day One

A digital journal, which I use for private notetaking and ‘brain dump’ type activity.  Since reading Rowena Murray’s how to write a thesis book, with tips for freewriting (and in referring back to my previous reading of The Artist’s Way, and a writing tutorial book by Manjusvara when I attended one of his workshops) I find that spending a period of time at the start of the day freeing my thoughts can help become a source of clarity. None of the writing is necessarily intended for public consumption, but it gives me permission to write whatever I wish without any particular judgement. Lists can sometimes be compiled from my entries.

Pluses- easy to use interface, compatible across devices. Private journal (or easy to copy and paste to share where you wish, or save as pdf). Search notes by location, date or keyword tags. Automatic backup is possible (I need to set this up).

Minuses- no text formatting options which I have found, so longer entries can appear very wordy and difficult to read.



I was introduced to this by my PhD supervisor, and really enjoy using this. This is the first time in my academic studies that I have used an electronic automated reference maker, I always wrote things down longhand before. I like the fact that it collates references easily, and you can set up groups to allows collaboration on useful journal sourcing. I have a laptop and iphone version, though I find reading on the phone is a little small.

Pluses- easy storage of references with searchable indexes and keywords. Potential for reference collaboration for joint projects and papers.

Minuses- limited storage (as I understand it there are premium options, though I have not looked at this yet as I have not yet reached my maximum storage).



Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 17.36.33
Screenshot of my Evernote PhD notebook

I shelled out for the premium version some time ago (sucked in by the extra features and things like the Evernote Moleskine notebooks). I now use Evernote for pretty much every aspect of my life, from bookmarking useful websites to scanning and recording receipts or saving healthy recipes.   I occasionally work with other people to share notebooks, which is a useful function where you want to work as part of a project team. I am still experimenting with the best use of tags and labels, any hints welcome (I need to rationalise my tags somehow).

Pluses- Can be used for virtually any project, academic or personal. Silly accessories are available to express your love for Evernote.

Minuses- It can take time to get used to (I had the free version initially and did not use it much, I find that the more that I use it the more that I need it!). The premium version costs money.



I use this for blogging, as you can see. I have found quite an academic community here, my reader always is full of interesting topics.

Pluses- Easy to type and edit, across desktop and phone. HTML editing is available for creating your own widgets at the side of blogs e.g. copy and paste a pre-made social media following button link, or add a customised news feed). I like the statistical element of analysis which is available to see where audiences are (hello visitors from Australia and Denmark for example, nice of you to stop by).

Minuses- Premium versions with more customisation options and personalised domains cost money. I hope that the address which I choose is sufficient!



This is a tool for creating your own mindmaps (sign in with Google accounts to allow collaboration with contacts).  If you have not tried mind mapping, I recommend Tony Buzan’s books on this, I swear I would not be where I am now academically without them (I have used them extensively since middle school).

Pluses- a visual way of presenting information, which allows collaboration

Minuses- drag and drop functionality and limited fonts/ design options (it is not photoshop, but then it does not really need to be for the notetaking)



I like to use Padlet for making online versions of post it note boards. Useful for summarising meeting points.

Pluses- easy to create notes and organise them. Boards can be embedded elsewhere

Minuses- Limited fonts and designs. Not everyone uses this and sometimes getting people to interact with them is not easy, despite its visual appeal.



I now use this quite a lot for work projects and academic work, I find it useful for my own CPD as I collate links and Tweets into Storify to make notes from meetings or conferences as an aide-memoire. It is also useful for connecting with others as you can notify them that they are featured in your Storify.

Pluses- Easy to import sources from all over the web (links, text, tweets, maps etc)

Minuses- it’s quite easy to make things a little long.. it is a good exercise in being concise about what you include and exclude. Occasionally, things do not display in a Storify in the manner which I would expect (e.g. something embeds rather than links).



Essential for my connecting! I like that no two feeds are ever the same and that it is easily accessible from wherever I am. I use Twitter for researching current news in my topic areas, keeping up to date with relevant policy changes, finding out what different organisations are up to and connecting with colleagues (old and new). I also love taking part in themed chats like #heritagehour and #phdchat

Pluses- Personalised news feed, messaging and instant uploads. So much interaction! Lists are useful for grouping tweets.

Minuses- Not everyone is there, and Twitter can be a ‘time sucker’ if not used judiciously.



I love motivational playlists, and I even have this on my TV (from a Now box) so I can listen to it all around the house. I have a full subscription to this and am able to have playlists on lots of devices, even without wifi access. Music helps me concentrate and sometimes if I am struggling I set myself a limit to type for a certain amount of songs.

Pluses- I have not yet found things which are not on there!

Minuses- subscriptions needed for certain features.



For feeling the coffee shop noise when it’s just too quiet!

Pluses- brings the coffee shop to you without the cost (though also without caffeine unless you make your own!)

Minuses- only 3 options for soundtracks (although these loop, so no need to restart and interrupt your work)


Adobe Creative Cloud

I love to experiment with creative tools, and could not do without Creative Cloud now. I created my own website with Muse, used Illustrator and Photoshop to create images, and use Audition to edit audio files. I love to follow tutorials and faff about with effects (I used to make Flash animations, but am keen to explore other tools too). I plan to use the Creative Cloud for more projects, and possibly set up a Behance portfolio as well.

Pluses- so many tools!

Minuses- costs to subscribe, also the choice can be a little overwhelming and you need to spend time playing with the tools to make them work for you.


The other electronic tools

Dropbox and GoogleDocs for collaboration and storage backup, the usual Microsoft (or occasionally Apple alternatives) for word processing and spreadsheets.

I also like to make ebooks, for which I use InDesign and Apple iBooks Author, and I have various accounts on the standard social media sites like Facebook, Vine, Instagram and Audioboom etc. (my profiles are here)

Paper things

As a creature of the digital and analogue age I love to use the digital tools but still make notes by hand as well and have a back up paper diary which never crashes.  Other things I treasure are:

  • Lots of coloured pens and pencils in a Lego case (with occasional watercolour paint additions)
  • Derwent drawing pens
  • A Seawhite lined/ plain journal (I make notes on one side from the reading I do, then use the other side for visual reflection)

This will be expanded later to include large sheets of paper, post-its and coloured pens for making the craziest summary diagrams possible.  I use visual journaling a lot as I love drawing, I draw illustrations of everything from buildings to cups of coffee. Drawing is relaxing and I find you never look at something in the same way after you have drawn it as you notice its special features and foibles. I will scan some of the visual journals to put on here eventually, by way of inspiration some of my favourite visual and creative sketchbook journal people are Danny Gregory, Keri Smith and Dan Price.

What do you have in your toolkit? Are you more digital or analogue? Are there any ‘must have’s’ which I appear to have missed from my list?

Book references

Buzan, T (2009) The Mind Map Book, BBC Active (Find our more about mind mapping here)

Cameron, J (1995) The Artists Way (see also her website )

Gregory, D (2005) The Creative Licence: Giving Yourself Permission to be the Artist you Truly Are, Hachette publications (Read his blog at http://dannygregorysblog.com )

Manjusvara (2005) Writing Your Way, Windhorse Publications, Cambridge

Murray, R (2002) How to Write a Thesis, OU Press, London (more recent editions are also available)

Price, D (1999) How to Make a Journal of your Life, Ten Speed Press

Smith, K (2013) Wreck This Journal, Penguin, London