As an international student navigating your education in the age of COVID-19, your study abroad experience is probably looking very different from what you expected. With border closures, many international students have not been able to arrive in Australia as expected. Even onshore international students are experiencing changes prompted by COVID-19; with educational institutions having to adapt to the ‘new normal,’ many have transitioned their students to online study. Although this provides added flexibility and convenience, it does prevent you from immersing yourself in classroom learning and interacting with people on your campus.
That said, it’s still possible to stay connected with your peers, friends, and lecturers while studying online. Whether you’re studying within Australia or from overseas, these techniques can help you do exactly that.
While you may not be able to physically go to a classroom, you can still be engaged. For example, when you’re attending an online lecture, don’t hesitate to ask questions, offer new ideas during discussions, and respond to your peers’ thoughts and questions. You can also get involved through online learning apps and discussion boards by commenting on your peers’ and lecturers’ comments on those platforms.
Research shows that the more you engage by using such techniques, the more connected you feel to your peers and to the material itself, which can help you retain your lessons even better.
Believe it or not, there are actually volunteer positions you can complete from the comfort of your own home. Many universities, like Griffith University for instance, offer online volunteering programs, such as eCareerCoach and Griffith Mates, which are specifically designed to allow students to form connections with one another.
There are also external online volunteering positions through organisations like United Nations Online Volunteering, which provide you with the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded people who care about the same causes you do.
Getting involved as an online volunteer is not only an excellent way to expand your social network but the experience looks great on your CV – it’s a win-win!
Attend virtual office hours
Since most lecturers teach hundreds of students per semester, it can be hard for them to remember each one and connect with them individually. One of the best ways for students to get to know their lecturers more personally is to attend office hours. When it comes to studying online, this is a little harder to do since students can’t take advantage of in-person office hours. However, many lecturers are offering virtual office hours, so be sure to take advantage of them as a means of interacting with your lecturers more directly.
If one of your lecturers isn’t offering virtual office hours, send them a quick email to set up a one-on-one virtual meeting. In the email, be sure to introduce yourself (especially if this is the first time you’re contacting them directly), state which course of theirs you are taking, and why you’d like to meet with them. Whether it’s to get a bit of extra help on an assignment or to discuss a grade you’ve received, this meeting will help them put a face to your name and allow you to feel more connected.
Embrace social media
The purpose of social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn is built right into the name: socialisation. In fact, a 2018 Yellow Social Media report shared that 85% of Australians use these platforms specifically to keep in touch with others. So, why not use them to connect and socialise with your peers while studying online?
For example, if one of your peers said something in a virtual classroom discussion that interested you, send them a Facebook friend request and tell them! Doing so may spark a conversation, a connection, or even a friendship that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.
You can also add your classmates on LinkedIn to gain further insight into their professional identities; you’ll get a firsthand look at their skills in your field of study and which industry experts they’re connected to.
Start an online study group
Want to collaborate with your peers while also boosting your study skills? Start an online study group. It’s a great way to learn more about the course content, examine things from a different point of view, and stay motivated.
If you have access to your class contact list, send an email to your classmates to see who might be interested in joining. From there, be intentional and specific in how you’re going to effectively organise your study group. You’ll first need to decide how you’re going to connect with each other; from Zoom to Google Meet to WhatsApp, there are many platforms you can use to communicate with your study group members in a quick and simple way. It’s also a good idea to write an agenda and moderate the sessions. Lastly, don’t forget to listen to and respect other people’s opinions.
In these strange and trying times, it’s more important than ever to remain connected to those around us. In following these tips, you’ll effectively build and maintain your educational relationships while studying online.