Everyone’s experience of online learning is different and finding out what works for you takes time. Dr Eleanor Parker, Planning and Projects Manager (Skills) in the Skills Centre, looks at how you can get the most out of online learning.
Last semester, we listened to our students with disabilities as they talked to Student Services and the Students’ Union about barriers they were facing in the online learning environment.
They reflected on what worked well (individual note-takers for Live Online Interactive Learning (LOIL) sessions and personalised support from academic staff were cited as especially useful) and identified what staff could do to better support them. The Centre for Learning and Teaching are writing a resource for staff so they can make your online experience the best it can be.
In this blog, to help you develop your skills in studying online, we’ll look at strategies the students we spoke to identified as helpful. We’ll end with sources of support to develop your skills further.
Each experience is individual, but we’ve thought about the patterns in what students experienced to come up with the following top tips.
Top tip 1: Take time to ensure your own learning environment is conducive to maximising access to live online sessions.
- Allow yourself some time before each session to review any notes on Moodle that explain what the session is about or complete tasks, test your Internet connection and join the platform (Zoom or Microsoft Teams).
- If you’re feeling anxious about a live online session or working on an independent learning task online, you might find engaging in a wellbeing activity beforehand helpful. You’ll know what works for you, but you could try a section from a book on the Read Well list, using a wellbeing app or joining a free online wellbeing and fitness class.
- If you need a place to concentrate, you can book a study space on campus.
- If more support is needed to help you better engage with live online sessions, consider talking to the Disability Service. Practical support such as mentoring may be available to address anxieties with online activities and practical ways to improve your study environment. Disability Advisers can also help to arrange the loan of equipment/software or help you to apply for funding for equipment/software to help you access your studies.
Teaching staff should help you understand the ‘ground rules’ for live online sessions and give you a variety of ways to participate, e.g. hands up, chat functions, sharing ideas on an online space before, during or after the session or maybe even the option to message them direct.
Top tip 2: Experiment with these different options and reflect on how you feel most comfortable engaging.
If these ‘ground rules’ aren’t clear or they don’t give you what you need, feed that back to teaching staff, either yourself or through your Academic Representative. One of the students we spoke to from Health advised you ask for clarity whenever you need it.
‘If you don’t understand something or think you missed out on important information, always email your lecturers for more clarification. Don’t be afraid to do so.’
Top tip 3: Think about ways you can help other students understand the ‘ground rules’ of how you will work together online.
The Centre for Learning and Teaching has ten top tips for online etiquette that may be helpful for you and fellow group members. Our blog on writing a ground rules agreement might also give you some useful pointers.
Top tip 4: Take advantage of free online tools that are available to support your productivity in working online.
If you have a disability, injury or other medical condition, there may be other types of specialist support available.
Here are a few of our favourites available to all students:
- Student Self-Service Portal: access articles about various tools and features which can help with your productivity and access support from the Assistive Technology Team.
- Creating Accessible Documents: Make sure the work you create is accessible to all people, especially those with disabilities. This will help you and your fellow students to access resources you are creating and sharing online together.
- Be more productive with Blackboard Ally: Access alternative formats to have a greater control over your studies and be more productive.
- Essay Writer: See how EssayWriter can help you to produce your work in an organised and quicker way.
- MindGenius: Never miss a deadline again, manage your work and projects and keep it all under control.
Top tip 5: Make sure you stay connected.
We know that connectivity is an issue for many students, and it can be very frustrating; try these strategies to resolve your issues and make sure you can access what you need.
It can help to download and install Microsoft Office on your personal device. If you’re still unable to connect, you can report the issue and you can call the IT Service Desk if you can’t get access to Wifi.
One of the students who engaged with us from Health said her top tip was ‘Don’t be afraid to ask for help’.
Here are other some ways to get support to work effectively online:
Help from the University
- To help you work out where your strengths lie in working online, complete the digital skills self-assessment tool to reflect on your digital skills and get a personalised report on sources of support.
- The Skills Centre has created resources in response to what you said you needed in online learning:
- watch our video on taking part in online forums and read this blog to help you plan how to take notes while listening to a recorded lecture. There are others on preparing for a recorded lecture and what to do when watching a recording.
- Check out MySkills for the full range of resources and development opportunities.
- If you have a disability, impairment, long-term health condition or specific learning difficulty, the Disability Service can provide you with confidential advice, guidance and support. Find out more about what support is available.
Help from other students and the Students’ Union (SU)
- Read how student Sasha made the most of the online learning experience and get her top tips.
- If you’re a new student, you could ask your Peer Mentor for their top tip for online learning. If your department offers Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) sessions ask your PAL leader what has worked for them.
- Check out the student-led training opportunities from the SU, now on MySkills.
Thank you to all the students who helped us reflect on what was working and what we could do better. Keep talking to us; tell us whether you’ve found these tips helpful or add one of your own by leaving a comment or getting in touch with us on Twitter @bathskills.