Top Tips From a Lecturer if You’re Studying Online During COVID-19

As several education providers across Australia transition to online study in response to COVID-19, you may be wondering how this will impact your studies and how you can adapt to studying effectively at home.

We spoke to Dr Kim Barbour, Senior Lecturer in the Media Department at the University of Adelaide, to answer international students’ most frequently asked questions about studying online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Do you have any tips on how to cope with COVID-19 from a study perspective?

Set a regular, daily timetable

Some things you can do include setting up a really fantastic routine. Having a schedule of time when you’re going to do different tasks, for example, your readings, watching online material, or being involved in discussion activities. If you set yourself up a timetable and stick to it, then you can give yourself a lot more structure to your day. You know what’s coming, and you can make sure you get through all the tasks that you need to get through.

Take breaks

As part of your timetable, I’d really recommend that you regularly take breaks. This is really important when you’re engaging with most of your content through a screen. This means that you need to get up and away from your desk, away from your screen, away from your phone, and do something else. If you have books you can read that are in hard copy, if you have games that you can play that don’t involve a screen – anything to give your eyes a break and make sure that you’re getting away from your computer and your study as well. That means when you come back to it, you’re feeling fresh and ready to go.

Take notes (by hand!) during online lectures

If your lecture content is being provided asynchronous – as in, it’s a recording you get to watch whenever you feel – schedule that time into your calendar and then as you’re watching that recording, make sure that you’re taking notes.

Don’t just write down what’s on the slides, but also write down what the teacher, lecturer or presenter is talking about as well. If you do have an asynchronous lecture, use the pause button. As you’re watching, pause, go back and look again. You can rewind and relisten – if you need to take an extra moment to write down some extra notes you can do that. If you’re getting your lectures live – so you’re, for example, in a Zoom classroom where you’re watching your lecturer and you aren’t able to press pause as you’re watching – take notes. This will really help you focus.

I really recommend taking those notes by hand, rather than typing. There’s something about the process of writing that helps embed knowledge in our brain in a different way. If you are somebody who needs to or prefers to type, do it on a different device so that you’re not sharing a screen, so you’re looking up and looking away – this will help reduce eye strain a little too.

Create a dedicated study space

Go to a specific study space when you’re working. Set yourself up a little corner somewhere – a table or a comfortable chair (not too comfortable, because you don’t want to be curling up and going to sleep instead of studying) – a space you can use just for studying. Don’t use your bed. Your bed is for sleeping. Use your study space for studying, and that means when you go into that space, over time, you’ll train yourself so that that’s where you’re concentrating on study.

Be healthy

[Make] sure that you’re eating and breaking regularly, that you’re getting a little bit of exercise if you can, whether it’s following an exercise trainer on YouTube and doing some routines with them, or whatever you can do in your own space to look after yourself. If you are able to get outside for a walk, then that’s a fantastic thing to do as well.

Set time to do other things

Another thing that I’d really encourage is not studying all the time – give yourself time to do other things. It might feel like you have an awful lot to do, [but] do give yourself a break. Watch films, call family if you can, chat to other people about other things.

Speak to friends

If you make friends in your class online, set up a group chat somewhere where you don’t talk about study, so that you’re having an opportunity to socialise. Even if it is online socialisation, that’s fantastic, too! We’re making the best of what can be a really difficult situation and so we find workarounds. A really great workaround is finding a way to socialise outside of a study setting, so that you’re looking after yourself, and you’re not getting too isolated, even if you’re not seeing people on a day-to-day basis. 

Look after yourself

A really top, general tip that I’ve got for you is that it’s OK to be frustrated or angry or sad about the situation, but it is what it is, so we’re making the best of it. That means engaging with all of the content that you’re being provided, looking after yourself as best as you can and making connections with other people however you can, so do make sure that you do all of that stuff. Look after yourself. We’ll get through this situation and come out the other side and you’ll hopefully be back to normal before you know it.  

What equipment will I need to study online? 

Course-specific necessities 

Some of [the study items you will need] will be course-dependent, so you can look at your course materials and see if there’s anything in particular that the course coordinator or lecturer or tutor has mentioned that it would be useful to have in terms of software or hardware.

A computer and the internet

For most people, as long as you have a computer and a good, reliable internet connection, you should be OK, providing you can access the university’s online learning platform. Make sure you can get reliably onto that space to watch videos and engage with the readings and complete activities and all the stuff you’ll be doing online.

A webcam and a smartphone

If your computer has a webcam, that’s great, because it means if there are collaborative activities online you can take part in those and see each other’s faces as well. It might be that you’ll do this via a mobile device instead, so if you’ve got a smartphone [and] you can access the app through your smartphone, or your university’s learning management system, that would be great too.

Office software

Obviously if you’re writing or doing any kind of activity that requires office software, like a word processor or a spreadsheet [tool], that software is fairly universal most of the time. You can also get equivalents through open access if you don’t have the Microsoft package.

Printer or PDF reader

Another useful tool that you might not have, that you might think about getting hold of if you can, is a printer. This is because it might be much easier to engage with content if you’ve got a hard copy. For some people, that’s a necessity – they can’t read off a screen easily – for other people, it’s something that might make your life easier if it’s something that you can do. If not, make sure you’ve got a good PDF reader that allows you to make comments and highlight on the screen, and you can use those tools instead.

How can I motivate myself to study online from home?

A good motivation technique that you can use is one that you might already have used in other study situations, which is giving yourself rewards. If you have, for example, a particular task that you know you’re going to find difficult – breaking that task up into bits and giving yourself a reward at the end of each section can be useful.

That reward might be a treat or a cup of tea, it might be time away from the screen once you’ve done that particular section – whatever is going to work for you. Think about what you can use as a reward system to get through different tasks and break those tasks up so that you’re giving yourself a regular reward, then you can train yourself to get through your task because you know something good is coming at the end. 

If education providers have to cease all in-person lectures and tutorials, will I still be getting the same quality of education online?

So, a lot of people are worried about the quality of their education at the moment and feeling that it might suffer. I really believe that you get out what you put in with online study. That works at both ends, of course, but you guys have control as students over what you put into the process.

This means, for a student, you need to make sure that you’re following through on all the activities, that you’re engaging with the material as much as you can, that you’re doing the readings, that you’re watching, that you’re taking part in the activities, and if you have online discussion forums, that you’re taking part in those.

It will be a different experience to on-campus study – there’s no getting around that. But I do believe that all of the staff who are involved in online teaching – some of them, for the very first time – are doing their best to get the most out of the situation for you as students. I think that providing everyone pulls together and does the work, that the content you come out the other end with is going to be the equivalent of what you would have achieved in class if you had been attending in-person. Yes, it will be a different type of education, but absolutely just as valuable. 

*This interview has been edited for clarity.