How to Navigate Online Learning

Emma Donohoe offers a guide to making the most of College’s new online academic experience.

Emma DonohoeJunior Editor

So, you’ve survived secondary school, lockdown, and weeks of politicians and mammies ranting about predicted grades and, finally, you’ve made it to college – albeit an online one. Unfortunately, this means switching out Google Classroom for its cousins Blackboard and Panopto. Online learning is here to stay for the foreseeable future, but it’s not all doom and gloom. With – sighs – plenty of experience in the area, we’re here to help to set the record straight, step by step, on how to successfully navigate online learning. Because hey, if you can do it for your leaving cert, you can do it for anything!

Virtual Learning Platforms

Since March, current Trinity students have been transferred to various online learning platforms. Before the pandemic struck, we used a system software called Blackboard Learn. It is a little bit like Google Classroom where lecturers can upload course material, such as lecture slides, recommended reading and assignments. Your school or faculty can also post announcements to your year through Blackboard, or circulate college-wide notices about IT or maintenance and upload assignments throughout the semester.

Coronavirus has promoted Blackboard to an even more vital role because it links students to another online platform called Panopto. Panopto is similar to Youtube for recorded lectures, allowing students to access live recordings of their lecturers, type questions into a chat function, and rewatch lectures as they wish. You can download those lecture slides to make changes to them if you wish, or use Blackboard to look back over all the lectures you’ve had when revising for exams.

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For seminars and small class discussions, your professors may also ask you to use a number of interactive online platforms, such as Blackboard Learn, Microsoft Teams or – you guessed it – Zoom. Zoom may be used for tutorials or small class group learning as it enables video calls where the lecturer can also share their screen with lecture slides and allow for breakout sessions amongst students. This is a great way of engaging with your classmates as if you were in a classroom setting, thus facilitating participation. Zoom is also a good way to do group work with your classmates or presentations for independent study.

A new way of learning

College is very different from secondary school, even more so now with online learning. That age-old advice that your college professors won’t chase you up for homework like your secondary school educators is, for the most part, very true. This is never more prominent than now: online learning means students have less interaction with their professors and fellow classmates.

While your independence is never more exciting than it is as an incoming fresher, it is also never as important – and with that comes more responsibility on your part. Online learning will allow you to access tonnes of information at the click of a button, but it won’t set your alarm for you and drag you out of bed. Just as we’ve all been encouraged to form daily routines for the duration of lockdown, I encourage you to form a new college routine.

Create your study space

Everyone has their preferences when it comes to where and when they study, but for online learning, a few points hold true for everyone. Try to make a dedicated space for yourself free from disturbances and screens (apart from the one displaying your lecture slides). And yes, this means putting away your phone (for me, chucking it into another room works a treat). Checking your phone during a lecture is much easier than in a secondary school classroom, and it’s easier still to get completely side-tracked in front of a lecture recording when there is no one keeping an eye on you.

Situating yourself near natural light with plenty of air is also important for your health and concentration levels. Stay organised: keep the area where you work neat and tidy. Don’t do anything at your desk other than your work. It is also important that you have a decent internet connection.

Create your study routine

Online learning is a big change, but it can also be a welcome one. With online lectures comes flexibility, but that doesn’t exempt us all from having a study plan and a routine that involves getting out of bed early for today’s lectures and going to bed early for tomorrow’s. Be proactive: make sure that you organise a proper day of work, interspersed with whatever online lectures or tutorials you have timetabled.

Listening to lectures at the times scheduled on your timetable each day is a good idea if you think you’re not disciplined enough to study without order. For your own health and wellbeing, get plenty of fresh air and walks between classes. Try to separate out your evenings for societies or sports, and give yourself a break at the end of each day. Stay hydrated and keep on top of your reading and assignments. Unlike secondary school, it’s up to you to stay on top of things. Lecturers will help if you ask for it, but they certainly won’t be reminding you to study or be assigning daily homework.

Stay Connected

Being online doesn’t mean that you can’t communicate with people in your course. It’s important to note that although you may feel that your lecturer or professor won’t be able to distinguish you from the other 100 people in your year from a screen, they are people too. If you have a problem or question about a lecture, module or grading systems, don’t hesitate to ask them. They are the most qualified person to answer your queries and help you with any issues you may have. Use that chat function in the online lecture, or send them a quick email (all staff have a profile on tcd.ie with their contact details). For other queries relating to your course, you can also contact your personal tutor or, better still, your classmates – because they are, after all, only the click of a button away.

Now that you know all of the steps, instead of learning where all your lecture halls are across campus (and getting lost in the process), familiarise yourself with these platforms and their features so that you can navigate online learning like a pro this semester.

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