Top Tips to make the most out of online academia

It’s safe to say university life looks very different this year; from the introduction of virtual learning to the 10pm curfews and lockdown restrictions. Having spent the last two years at Durham, experiencing the town pre-COVID, I found it strange to imagine what virtual learning might look and feel like. After my first week of virtual learning I have reflected on my takeaways, the lessons I have learnt and things we all need to remember while navigating this new odd online world we have all been thrown into.

For me, routine and structure are really important for my mental health and staying on track so even if lectures are pre-recorded I have been trying to listen to them when they would have taken place IRL. I have also been attempting, that being the key word, to establish a daily routine for myself. 

Am I going to be in my PJs and wrapped in a fluffy blanket a whole lot more than normal this year?

The answer is yes, but I have found having set times in the day where I make a cuppa, knock on my housemate’s door to make study plans or engage in self-care activities do help to keep the day moving. We are all trying and doing the best we can, students and lecturers alike, and being patient with myself has been key.

Awkward zoom moments and tech glitches are going to happen – yes, we have all forgotten to mute our mic (oops) – don’t be too hard on yourself and allow yourself time to adapt. 

One of the biggest challenges I have found with virtual learning is the amount of free time I have in between academic commitments. As an English Lit and Politics student, I have a small amount of contact hours and when they are done, I’m sitting there wondering what to do next, other than scroll on TikTok in bed. At points, I have had to remind myself (or be reminded by my housemates) that it is okay to take a break. 

While being online all the time, we forget the natural breaks we have in the day- whether it is listening to your morning playlist while walking to the science site frantically trying to wake up for that 9am, having lunch with a friend, or going to a society social. Allow yourself breaks to do things you enjoy or to catch up with a friend, albeit virtually; make sure you give yourself time to switch off when you can. 

I have also been making sure that whenever I can and it is safe, to go outside. My favourite spot has been studying on Palace green – you can usually connect to wifi there and it’s the perfect place to take a book and read while getting some fresh air. I have also been making an effort to explore and go out walking- there are some really beautiful walks and I would recommend to pop on a cracking podcast while doing so. If you can, spending time outside of the house and switching up your setting is especially important during online learning because it can get really boring, demotivating and difficult to feel trapped in the same space, especially if that is solo in your room. 

I am living in the same house as last year with the same friends but last year, we were all really busy- whether it was involvement with college, plays and other societies to having jobs. As a result, we were always out and hardly ever got to sit down and spend time together as a house. Since coming back into third year, the virtual learning situation has allowed us to have that space and time together- to cook, sit and drink tea and have a catch up.

It’s been lovely to exist around each other without having to always be on the go.

Due to the limited time we can spend at Billy B and Tilly C (lol, yes I call it that), we have had to get creative with our study patterns- whether that is studying in each other’s rooms and working at each other’s desks or even recreating study slots at our kitchen table. For friends outside the house, we have been trying to organise zoom study dates. Although zoom can be exhausting after a day full of lectures, it can be helpful to connect to friends online and have that time to catch up. 

Adjusting to online learning platforms and new ways of working, socialising and keeping on track is going to be challenging, I hope everyone is finding ways to make this manageable. I have popped some signposting links below for university support available, though, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the university, college and other support networks through friends or family – it’s okay to ask for support and help.

Signposting: university support teams, college welfare, disability support

Check out Wellbeing Zoom Class Timetable on @durhamewellbeing Instagram

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