15 Tips for College Online During COVID-19

Just over a year ago, I moved to Dublin, 320 kilometres from home, to study psychology at University College Dublin (UCD). I remember how challenging it was for me to settle into completely new surroundings while being thrown head-first into busy college life. Of course, I know that the college experience will be different for students this year, but I have compiled a list of tips which will hopefully assist you in your transition into third-level education. I, like most students, experienced virtual learning for a couple of months at the beginning of lockdown. Given the fact that there is currently a global pandemic occurring, I'm going to focus on online learning as universities seem to predominately favour this approach, with a few exceptions, although many of these also apply to face-to-face learning also. I am aware that many of these tips may be considered common sense, but oftentimes, the most simple concepts are the ones overlooked.

  1. Choose a designated workspace where you can work undisturbed, and keep it tidy and organised at all times. A cluttered workspace is extremely distracting and can reduce your productivity.
  2. Mute your phone, turn on 'do not disturb', shut it down, or leave it in another room - whichever you want. It's very tempting to scroll through Instagram, especially when there is no lecturer to deter you, so ensure that you eliminate that distraction as much as possible.
  3. Turn on 'do not disturb' on your laptop and log out of your social media accounts on your internet browser. Again, notifications can be very distracting, particularly when you're trying to understand a new concept, so eliminate the distraction as much as possible. Scrolling through the ASOS sale can wait, trust me.
  4. Develop a routine and stick to it. I can probably accredit this to the fact that I was homeschooled from 5th class and throughout secondary school. Throughout the majority of my education, I was responsible for structuring my own routine and learned how to maximise my productivity. Time and time again, I have found that the easiest way to stay on track is to develop a routine tailored to your individual needs and to stick to it.
  5. Take regular breaks. This is particularly important for me as I have astigmatism, and I find staring at my laptop screen can really strain my eyes and cause awful headaches and migraines. Go for a short walk (weather permitting), have a (healthy) snack, read a book, or even take a catnap. Doing something that you enjoy for 5, 10, or even 15 minutes will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to return to studying.
  6. Keep an academic journal / diary / planner. I'm extremely organised, so I always keep a (very) detailed journal containing my timetable, what lectures and tutorials I have to virtually attend each week, along with assigned reading and deadlines to ensure that I never miss anything. Last year, I used The Macmillan Student Planner by Stella Cottrell and found it excellent. In fact, I have just purchased the 20/21 copy, which you can purchase here. I also kept a simplified copy of my timetable on my iPhone calendar as a backup (excessive, I know). If you only require one copy and prefer to do everything digitally, your iPhone or Google calendar would suffice.
  7. Regularly check your college email address. This is an absolute must as this is the medium through which the university and your lecturers communicate with you. If you can, add your email address to the email app on your phone so you can always keep up to date.
  8. Familiarise yourself with the virtual learning environment used by your college or university. UCD uses BrightSpace to give students access to lecture notes, a submission portal for assignments, and much more. You're going to be using this a lot, trust me.
  9. Sign up for a daily summary email. At the beginning of the academic year, I subscribed to the 'summary of activity' and 'instant notifications' on BrightSpace which means that I receive daily emails containing any upcoming deadlines, new announcements, and so on.  Everything that I need to know is in my inbox every morning, and it ensures that I stay up to date and never miss a deadline.
  10. Always take full and concise notes. It's tempting to just skim over the material and call it a day because everything is online for you to go back to at a later date, but it definitely reduces your workload, in the long run, to make notes as you go. I can't think of anything worse than trying to reread all your lecture slides from the semester and make notes the week before an exam.
  11. Pace yourself. Take a look at your upcoming deadlines, and tackle them in the order in which they're due.
  12. Don't leave everything until the last minute. This is quite similar to number 11, but it's something that needs reiterating. Even if your assignment isn't due for a month, save yourself unnecessary stress by starting to plan your approach as you receive the information for it. Both the middle and end of the semester are intense, and you may have as many as 6 assignments due in the same week, while also trying to study for upcoming exams.
  13. If you need help, ask for it. If you're struggling, it's absolutely okay to ask for help. If you're struggling academically, lecturers and tutors are so helpful and willing to answer any questions that you may have relating to their respective modules. If you're feeling overwhelmed or just need someone to talk to, there are many supports available to students, such as NiteLine, who can be contacted through 1800 793 793, and 50808, a new 24/7 text service for third-level students.
  14. Familiarise yourself with the supports available to you, so you know who and where to go to if you need advice during the year, whether it be your Student Advisor, the Student's Union, and so on.
  15. If you do happen to have a blended learning experience, explore the campus in advance, particularly where each of your lectures will be held, as detailed in your timetable. Every semester, I check my timetable and if I have a lecture, tutorial, or lab in a building, room, or lecture theatre that I'm unfamiliar with, I always make a point of locating it in advance because let me tell you, I get very flustered when there are 30,000+ students rushing about the place. I know that this year, the campus won't be as thronged as other years, but it's still very reassuring to know where you're going, particularly if you only have only 10-minutes between classes to (literally) run across campus.

I know that beginning your college experience in the midst of a global pandemic is not how you imagined your first year to go, but try not to stress about it too much - things will get better. Remember... we're all in this together.

Rachel x

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