Studying online during COVID-19

  • The Covid-19 pandemic has brought some significant changes to how we learn and teach at Brookes. It is likely that for at least Semester 1 2020-21 you will be doing more of your learning online, alongside some small group sessions on campus with social distancing measures in place. The move to more online learning has some benefits, especially in a world where we are now realising the greater potential of flexible working from home, and the power of worldwide virtual communication.

    Our top tips

    Be safe and well online

    All Brookes students can access an online course called Digital Capabilities for Students, which covers a wide range of issues including how to keep your data safe online and measures to ensure that technology becomes part of your solution, not your problem.

    The main differences

    It sounds obvious, but learning online is different to learning face-to-face. It’s good to reflect on these differences and be prepared to adapt your existing study strategies to suit the new situations. Some of the main differences you may notice are:

    • Fewer opportunities to mix with your whole year group or class face-to-face
    • More self-guided study that you can complete in your own time
    • More chance to interact through written communication via chat, discussion boards, or email
    • Learning materials broken down into smaller segments like 5 minute videos and short activities
    • Some members of your class spread across different locations and time-zones
    • Small group teaching sessions either online, face-to-face, or both

    See this overview for more on how the move to online learning is organised at Brookes and some of the challenges and benefits.

    More self-guided studying

    Learning online involves having materials and activities available for you to work through at your own pace. It can seem more fragmented with shorter videos or documents interspersed with brief activities. This can lead to the temptation to click through quickly just to reach the end. However, the real learning happens through pausing and thinking, and the activities are designed to help you do this, so don’t dismiss them.

    Don’t neglect note-making!

    The more segmented format of online learning helps us focus, as we can’t process larger chunks of information as easily when working digitally. This fragmentation means it’s crucial to have good note-making strategies for bringing ideas and information together, creating overviews, and making connections. See these guides for more on different ways to take notes:

    Structure your day

    Coming on to campus for a lecture gives a structure to your day and forces you to allocate that time in your schedule. Online learning may involve much more unstructured time. It’s still a good idea to give yourself a structure to your days, like scheduling blocks of time when you will work through the materials for each module. Also set aside time for less obvious learning tasks like posting and replying on discussion boards. See our guide below on time management for strategies and semester planners. Being constantly online can also make you feel tired and headachy. Plan regular non-screen activities and off-line study times into your day. For more tips to avoid screen fatigue, see the link below:

    Multi-tasking in webinars

    If you have online seminars it can be distracting trying to watch, understand, take notes, and reply to comments in the chat box. You might want to try ‘checking-in’ on the chat box now and again to give you time to focus on the main seminar content. Most online classes at Brookes will take place on Zoom. See these guides for more on using Zoom effectively, and for managing the multiple streams of information in webinars:

    Studying with others virtually

    Working with other people, or studying in an environment where everyone else is studying can be very motivating. Look for ways to recreate a similar experience at a distance. For example, agree to study with your friends at the same time and check in with each other on WhatsApp, or be on the same video call, with cameras off, getting on with your own work. If your friends aren’t available, there are now lots of ‘Study with Me’ videos on YouTube like the one below:

    Keep communicating

    There are advantages to online communication, like you might prefer asking a question in the chat box to speaking up in a class. There are also disadvantages, like not being able to drop in to see your lecturer informally. It’s harder for your lecturers to know how you are doing at a distance so do keep them informed, for example if you need to quarantine. If it is taking longer to get replies by email, you can always phone most services and staff. For more on effective online communication for learning see our guide:

    Access and tech difficulties

    Let your lecturers know if you don’t have the necessary technology or internet access, and you can work together to find an alternative. It’s likely that other people are in a similar situation and letting people know will help speed up finding a solution. For any smaller-scale problems, the IT Service Desk is a good place to start:

    Managing uncertainty

    Online learning at Brookes has been specifically designed to be flexible, so during the semester we can return to more face-to-face teaching if the virus is under control, or switch to more online learning if there is a second wave. This flexibility can cause some uncertainty and it’s natural for both students and staff to feel some anxiety about this. You can help manage uncertainty by looking at trusted sources of information such as University emails, as opposed to speculating or listening to rumours. It can also help to use your problem-solving skills to find possible solutions, e.g: the link to the online reading material is broken? Try searching for the article directly in the Library catalogue. If you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious, there are people to help - contact Wellbeing or your Student Support Coordinator.

    Accessing resources

    Thousands of e-books and online journal articles are available through Brookes Library, and you can limit your Library searches to only material available full text online. Help with finding and accessing e-books is available on the Library Web site as is help with finding books, journals and articles,and with referencing. The Library's Chat service (Yellow Contacts Us banner at the side of the page) is available, with extended hours in the evening and over the weekends. The Academic Liaison Librarians for your course are available by email and in many cases can also do video 1-2-1s on Google Meet if you need help. It's also worth following @BrookesLibrary on Twitter if you are a Twitter user, as well as any other social media accounts your Academic Liaison Librarian uses, to keep updated.

    Good enough is good enough

    We are still in a global pandemic so it is totally understandable that your circumstances or studying environment may not be ideal. Your lecturers are in similar situations and will understand. If in doubt, try making a start and do the best you can given the circumstances, and be kind to yourself. The first and most important thing is to look after yourself and do what feels safe and right for you.