Surviving Online Learning & Getting the Most Out of University 2020/21

Due to the pandemic, for the majority of university students, most or at least some learning will be online for the unforeseeable future. This may change termly dependent on government guidelines and university preferences. I have recently been informed that one of my modules will be fully online and we will have one small cohort seminar every four weeks. There will also be Microsoft Team live drop in sessions available with our seminar tutors weekly. I will find out about the rest of my modules in the next upcoming week.

At first, the news of the lack of face-to-face learning was worrying given I am going into my final year with an 80% weighting of my LLB degree. I was also a little disheartened and was looking forward to going back to university for some routine, normality and socialising. Overall, I really enjoy university and was worried it wouldn’t be the same this year. Whilst there are some disadvantages of online learning, there are some advantages and things we can do to combat the disadvantages.

Communication and Peers

One of the biggest disadvantages and probably the most daunting, is the absence of peers. Being a third-year student, I know making friends at university is a big worry for many students, especially in the first year. I have found seminars (especially those with the awkward ice breaking activities on the first day) are the most effective way of meeting and making friends at university. Now seminar groups will be a smaller cohort and less frequent, it is important to do your best to reach out and get to know your peers and try to keep in contact. Creating a seminar group chat is a great way of communicating, sharing issues and reminding each other about dates. But, remember this is not for sharing work, as it would breach the Academic Irregularities and Collusion Rules.

This year I have become a student CERT Mentor at university, and it is our role to look after our first-year mentees and support them with their transition to university and settling in. The Microsoft Team training was very interactive, fun and useful. It will be our role to help our mentees to make friendships by connecting over similarities and shared interest. In the absence of physical tutor communication, it is important to keep in contact with your personal tutor termly with any queries, even if you’re on top of everything. It is important your personal tutor knows who you are, as you may require a reference in the future from them. Also, email your seminar tutors or lecturers if you have any questions or don’t quite understand something.

Don’t struggle alone, they understand and have been in your position before, if anything it shows engagement with your course. No question is a stupid question, and if you don’t want to ask a tutor, you could ask your student mentor/buddy.

Routine/Timetable

Dependent on the system your university uses, if the sessions are live, these may have to be viewed at the time of streaming. However, many universities use lecture capture so that the sessions are recorded and can be viewed at any time. Whilst I was looking forward to some routine and normality, online learning could actually prove to be more flexible. No timetable enables you to more easily manage your studies, part-time work, social life, sports, extra curricular activities and future employability. For example, you can build your CV from home by getting involved in online internships and opportunities online, such as BeComAware.

It is important to keep up to date with lectures and seminars (including preparation) on a weekly basis. Additionally, keep up-to- date with reading and note taking. It is important to treat your course as a full-time job and spend between 30-40 hours a week on your studies, like a 9am-5pm job. Now we have no timetable as such, it will be down to us to coordinate our study time (sadly, this means less McDonalds trips to fill the frees in our timetables). To make the most of our time it is a good idea to make a timetable. However, if like me you struggle to stick to timetables, make a list or log of what you have done and at what time. This will help you to keep a record and balance your studies.

No change of environment and sense of normality

To avoid getting fed up, bored or distracted at home, I would recommend trying to get out to study. This could be going to a coffee shop, the library or a friend/family member’s house (subject to restrictions). This change of scenery will be refreshing. Personally, I would recommend creating a workspace that works for you. Just moving my desk from one side of the other really changed my study environment. To balance your workload and maintain your self esteem it is super important to take time out for yourself, exercise and take regular breaks when studying. All universities will continue to have their support networks available and your personal tutor/student mentor will be able to signpost these and put you in contact with the correct people.

Overall, I have realised online learning may not be that bad after all and it can work. Whilst it may feel weird and different, there are many ways of combatting the negatives and ways of getting the most out of your time this year at university.

By: Nicole Palmer – Nottingham Trent University

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