For Dafydd Evans, 21, who studies media production at De Montfort University, online teaching has got off to a good start. “I didn’t think the new systems would cope, but they have,” he says. “We have contact with academics as normal and I really don’t think there’s much I’m missing out on.”
Others, however, say it’s been an uphill struggle. “The sites are crashing and lecturers are struggling to turn face-to-face interactions into online discussions,” says Isabel Thomas (not her real name), who studies international development at the University of Sussex. “We don’t all log on at the same time as some don’t have stable enough internet connection for live chats. Everything is slower.”
Scott Henderson, who studies esports at Staffordshire University, feels he’s missing out on valuable experience. “A big part of what we were doing this year was running a live event and we obviously can’t go forward with that,” he says.
What should UK students do during the coronavirus outbreak?
Although UK university learning has been moving online for a while in light of the coronavirus crisis, this wasn’t the experience most envisaged. For others, though, it was their first choice. We asked online learners and tutors for their tips on how to make it work.
Create a study area …
Although you may be competing with others in your household, try to mark out a work space. “Even if this is temporary each time you use it, place some physical objects around you to customise it. Make it comfortable,” says Martin Weller, professor of educational technology at the Open University. Set boundaries with others. If your study space is now the kitchen table, try to get an agreement that it is yours alone for a set time period.
… and keep it tidy
It’s hard to be disciplined to work at home, and even harder if the place is cluttered. “If you have piles of dishes or laundry around you it can be difficult to focus. I like to set a timer for 15 minutes and do a quick blitz of a room. It makes for a calmer environment,” says Kimberley Lowe, who studied Spanish and English at the Open University.
Although you may miss campus and socialising in person, reaching out and connecting with staff and other students can maintain a sense of community. Use the online systems to maintain social contact. Stephane Bignoux, senior lecturer in management at Middlesex University, says although it can feel lonely, posting on discussion boards and reading other student’s posts can help. Set up informal discussions via Skype or FaceTime if you can.
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Reach out for help
Not everyone has access to a laptop and reliable wifi. Some students are relying on mobile data to connect to their online lessons and many are missing physical resources such as the library and laboratories. Get in touch with your university if you don’t have access to the right equipment. “We are telling staff to make content easy to view and interact with on smartphones. It needs to be much more inclusive,” says Neil Morris, dean of digital education at the University of Leeds.
Manage your time
Recognise that different tasks require different levels of concentration. Watching a video can be easier than reading a complex text and taking notes. Divide your work in to manageable time slots and take proper breaks.
Plan your day
The fact that you can put off watching recorded lectures until later can be dangerous. Make sure you devote your full attention to the recording – don’t squeeze it in while eating or listening to music. Set a routine to use time efficiently, says Jack Yarrow, 28, a final year engineering student at the Open University. “If you’re tired or not feeling great don’t just sit there – go tidy up, and when you’re feeling more awake, apply yourself then.”
Be clear when messaging colleagues
As with other social media platforms, a simple misunderstanding in writing can quickly escalate. “What may have been intended as an ironic comment can be misinterpreted,” warns Weller.
On discussion forums you may find that some who don’t speak up in class have more to say – which is a good thing. “My course generally don’t interact that much in lectures, but the interaction with online teaching has been constant,” says Evans. “It seems hiding behind the screen brings out confidence in our generation.”
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