‘Know what is expected of you before you start’
Here are some tips for students to consider when using a virtual learning environment in the coming year.
1 Course delivery How the course you signed up for is delivered will depend on the type of course you have chosen and the institution you have chosen to study at. If you’re a full-time student, most classes are likely to be designed as a mix of online classes and tutorials and in-person activities on campus. If you are a part-time student and study at night, chances are your course will be mostly delivered online. In practice, anything on campus will largely depend on the coronavirus restrictions and the degree of containment of the virus and its variants.
Most third-level institutions use a single online platform or software on which most of the online element of the course will be delivered. These online platforms (sometimes referred to as integrated or virtual learning platforms) provide instructors with the tools they need to teach lessons and monitor student performance. They include packages like Moodle, Brightspace, Canvas, and Blackboard.
It is through these online platforms that students will have access to much of the course syllabus as well as other key resources such as reading lists and homework details.
After registering at the university, you should receive advice on how to orient yourself on the platform. This should come fairly easily to anyone who is already used to everyday tech tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The college learning platform shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for anyone familiar with social media.
It is important that you use learning resources that will be made available to you as part of your student orientation.
Some colleges will offer short courses or modules on online learning, while others will have dedicated apps to help you navigate your new learning environment.
“Get involved in as many activities and resources as you can,” suggests Billy Kelly, Deputy Registrar and Dean of Teaching and Learning at DCU.
“Most establishments offer preparatory courses or support in the use of technology. You may be familiar with Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media platforms, but there are so many other technologies available to help you with your studies. “
In many cases, students will need to prepare before class. The lectures can be made available by video recording while the live element, which is really the class itself, will be devoted to exploring the material in more depth.
Some work will be done “live” and students will be assigned a task to accomplish during class. This can be done alone or in groups, as these online platforms allow teachers to create “small group” sessions where individual students or groups of students can work together. More of that later.
2 How should students prepare Students need to develop a different set of skills when preparing for blended and online learning, says Nuala McGuinn, director of the Center for Adult Learning and Professional Development at NUI Galway.
“Students need to better plan and manage their time differently, as they benefit from increased flexibility in the online environment.”
Read everything you receive. Read the course guide. This should be accessible through the online platform. Make sure you know what is expected of you before you start the course. Will there be many assessments, will you find out what format they will take, will you have end-of-term exams, or will you be assessed in some other way?
Take note of the set times for classes and tutorials. Set aside time for study and research. Use your class calendar, take note of key dates and incorporate them into your own personal calendar. Set aside time for homework and projects, and participate in the virtual classroom if needed.
Your course will demand your attention over the next several years and you will need the discipline to ensure that you devote that time to your studies.
Familiarize yourself with your college’s virtual learning environment, as this is likely where you will be viewing most of your lectures and accessing course material. Depending on the course, it will be delivered through an assortment of tools ranging from videos and quizzes to downloadable documents and simulations.
You will interact with your lecturer and fellow students through discussion forums, assignment platforms, group work collaboration options, and video conferencing tools.
3 How will I submit courses and assignments? The assessment of pupils’ knowledge is a central element in the teaching of the third level. Analyzing your performance over time gives instructors the information they need to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Measuring this data should inform any direction your instructor needs to give in order to help you improve your performance during the program.
While assessments have traditionally focused on written end-of-year exams, the virtual learning environment offers new ways of measuring skills and knowledge. You can take some tests in a live environment at specified times, while other assignments and tests can be downloaded to your computer so you can work at your own pace.
For some homework you may need to download an essay or record and download a piece of video or audio. Group homework may require you to engage with your classmates in forum discussions. Try to coordinate group discussions with your classmates to discuss ideas and the task at hand.
Stay up to date with your assignments and be sure to save your work. Take note of project and assignment delivery dates and use a study planner.
4 How can I collaborate with my classmates? Being able to share notes and discuss classes with other students has always been a priority for students and, you could say, this is how you will acquire some of the skills most in demand in the job market. – an ability to work with others. .
Nowadays, there are many technological tools that can improve communication between you and your teachers as well as with your classmates.
Teachers can work one-on-one with students to ensure student needs are met while networking and video conferencing tools allow you to collaborate with other students on projects no matter where they are.
Talk to your classmates and find the best way for you to stay in touch with each other. It may be easier to exit the dedicated learning platform. Some will use services such as college discussion boards while others will already be in touch on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
5 Class label Etiquette – or netiquette as some might call it – is an important part of engaging constructively online. Although you will use the online platform to learn more about your course and the various elements associated with it, you will also need to learn how to communicate in an online environment. Students should be comfortable interacting with their colleagues via chat, audio or video. The same rules apply to using social media – think before you type and only post the correct information.
The Internet is an extension of the real world – it is not a place where everything goes. Therefore, you must apply the same rules that we expect in public. It means no hate speech, abuse, bigotry, racism, sexism and treating others as we would expect to be treated on our own. Many platforms allow the use of chat rooms or chat boxes during conferences. Make sure not to overdo it as it can be a source of distraction for teachers and students.
Submit your exercises on time and in the correct format. Teachers will often let it be known that certain naming protocols are preferable – following submission instructions and departmental guidelines will allow your tutor to access your work easily and on time.
6 How should I study? Blended learning is fast becoming the new normal for many students. Whether you are a day student or a distance student, it is important to create a dedicated home study space and establish a learning routine.
Make sure you have good ventilation and light, a desk with enough space, and a decent chair. Have all the equipment you need on hand and make sure your electrical connection is nearby and accessible. Keep your desk tidy and as distracted as possible. Use organizers, boxes and shelves to store your documents, and don’t forget to turn off your phone when you study!
Time management can be a challenge at the best of times, but the payoff will be well worth it. Create a routine by setting aside time each day to study.
Build a study plan by first considering your own learning style. Is it more effective for you to learn in the morning or in the evening? Determine your study needs, for example, think about what you need to do for each class? Highlight upcoming classes and study sessions on your calendar. Make a plan for each topic. Allow review and take breaks.
7 It’s hard to concentrate at home, how can I stay engaged? Sitting right in front of a window can be a distraction for many. Try to position your desk so that distractions (like the outside world) are out of sight.
There are additional tools to help the modern student, and the software available for colleges these days is designed to improve student engagement. Student progress can be followed by course coordinators and they can identify those who have disengaged or who may be having difficulty with course content.
Track your own progress and assess over time if there are any changes you can make to improve your performance.
Of course, depending on the course you take, not all activities will necessarily be online. For full-time students, face-to-face teaching is likely to feature prominently in the form of tutorials, seminars, and lab work. It is important to attend as many as possible as they provide a valuable opportunity for students to engage directly with teachers and instructors.
8 What if I have a question? If you have trouble taking classes, you don’t have to suffer in silence. Take advantage of opportunities to engage and can ask questions online. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions – you are not the only one starting the third level and it is guaranteed that you are not the only one asking questions. It’s okay not to know the answer to something, ”says Billy Kelly of DCU.