One of the biggest changes to universities all around the world has been the recent hard pivot to online learning. To be frank, it's nowhere near as good as in-person classes were and this switch has made finding the motivation to do uni work incredibly challenging. Although CSE has adapted relatively well to online classes, there are still a lot of hurdles to face as a first year. Luckily, we were able to get 3rd year CSE student Michael Gribben (also 2021 CSESoc Co-President) to compile some tips and tricks for making the most of online classes! As a big-brain student who has gone through and survived online classes with his 100 WAM intact, his wisdom is a must read.

Check out his article below!


Making the most of online classes

Michael Gribben

At the beginning of last year, I had a conversation with a certain Computer Science lecturer who thought lectures might be better served via an entirely online format. Lectures, they argued, have always involved someone at the front of the room speaking to themselves; whatever delusions there are of active student engagement face the brick wall of the sheer nerves it takes to ask a question with hundreds of eyes watching you. It’s been an unacknowledged secret that lecture attendance is miniscule outside a handful of first year courses. If you accept these facts, then an online delivery format offers a live chat so shy students can ask questions, a recording that captures the full learning experience for those who can’t wake up for a 9 AM slot. Of course, what this lecturer did not predict was this future was days away, not years in the future.

While the first weeks of havoc COVID-19 wrought on the world undoubtedly worsened students’ learning, you benefit from a full years’ worth of experience. Personally, I’ve really enjoyed the ability to spam live chats during lectures, something that simply didn’t exist before the pandemic. In fact, after spamming Shrek so often in COMP6080 lectures I wound up the butt of a cruel joke when Shrek made a cameo in the final exam.

There’s also so much support available from the comfort of your bedroom. The School of Mathematics and Statistics has an online Drop-In Centre open every day and Computer Science and Engineering courses put on regular help sessions, ramping up their frequency towards assignment due dates. Every course I’ve done also has an online forum to ask questions, many let you ask privately and anonymously to other students if you’re like me and get embarassed asking a dumb question.

Having sung the praise of online lectures, I must confess that not everything has gone swimmingly. I never would have thought I would be amongst a 5 or so students out of 25 actually showing up to my tutorial. This does, however, present a hidden virtue; you readily got all the help you needed from your tutor! As I can attest, nothing beats one-on-one help. Unfortunately, the pesky demand of tutors to be paid put up a stone wall between it and reality… until now. All your missing classmates subsidise your lengthy one-on-one help time with a tutor!

"As I can attest, nothing beats one-on-one help. Unfortunately, the pesky demand of tutors to be paid put up a stone wall between it and reality… until now. All your missing classmates subsidise your lengthy one-on-one help time with a tutor!"

Something else you’ll find yourself doing a bit is working with others, perhaps the most valuable skill from your years of uni drudgery. Doing this online takes on a different flair; it is harder to establish a rapport with strangers on the internet but once you’ve broken down that barrier there are so many more ways you can work together! Some people have gained immensely from the ability to practice *Extreme Programming*, a stereotypical 90s term for two people coding on one computer, that is, someone types and the other reviews each line of code as it is typed.

So here is a TLDR of how to make the most of online classes:

- Engage in the live chat. It’s your opportunity to get anything clarified instantly during your lecture!

- Go to help sessions early before deadlines. These are rare opportunities to get one-on-one help from a tutor, although the wait goes from minutes, a week before an assignment due date, to hours, the day of the deadline.

- Hop in and out of labs! You don’t even need to stay for the whole lab, you can jump in and out as needed.

- Get to know others in your course. Group chats, Discord channels, etc spring up for every course and you don’t have to struggle by yourself! Check out the CSESoc Discord channel for course group chats and to talk with fellow CSE students!

CSESoc Discord Channel - Come say hi!

I should also mention that there is another effect of online classes; the gap between work and home gets concerningly small. This is not without some nice conveniences; my commute to uni went was a 30 minute train ride, 0 to 20 minute wait for the 891 (RIP) followed by a 20 minute bus ride. This has whittled down to a neat 5 second walk from my bed to my desk. Never before have I imagined the convenience of waking my at 8:50 AM for a 9 AM tutorial.

This article wouldn’t be believable without a touch of gloom and doom. I’ve talked to many students who struggled with separating their uni life from the rest of their lives. At times, I struggled too so here are some tips that helped me. Keep in mind that everyone is different so they might not work for you.

- Don’t work in your bed. Watching lectures under a blanket seems appealing until you fall asleep and have to rewatch the whole lecture the next day.

- Try to work in a different room from where you sleep. For me, it helps separate my focus time from my relax time.

- Try to catch up with each course by the end of the week. Otherwise, it becomes too easy for things to slip and you end up with 20 hours of lectures to watch 2 hours before your final exam.

- Try to keep normal sleeping patterns. It isn’t great long term to wake up at midday.

- Feel free to splurge on a good chair. If you’re going to spend hours on your computer each day, it’s worth the price.

Finally, as a last piece of reassurance - if everything doesn’t go to plan it just might not be your fault. I’ve found some people who have thrived in an environment of zero minute commutes and flexible working hours and others who have floundered from missing their friends and tiredness from staring at a screen for hours on end. It’s perfectly ok if online classes aren’t for you; as the old proverb goes, “this too shall pass”.

"It’s perfectly ok if online classes aren’t for you; as the old proverb goes, “this too shall pass”."

Choose your own adventure!

Now that you’re ready to conquer your online classes, check out where your studies can take you, whether that be as a software engineer at a big name tech company, or into another field entirely with a double degree. Or get familiar with another essential item in your computer science toolkit with this very serious guide to text editors!

Don't like these options? Check out the full roadmap below!