Making the Most of Online Classes

The year is 2022. A lonely wind howls across the UNSW campus, as tumbleweeds blow across the barren plains of Village Green. This is a harsh land, a land of memories and phantoms. The sun beats down on the untrod dirt. Not a breathing soul is in sight.

…Alright. I’m exaggerating, a lot. (except for Village Green, which is under construction so it’s pretty barren.) With a mix of good faith and optimism, UNSW is serving some face to face classes and events in Term 1 this year, and lots of big events like O-Week are going to be partially in person as well. So chances are it’s going to be pretty lively on campus!

Of course, though, this doesn’t mean we’ve travelled back in time to 2019. A lot of classes and courses are still running online, and depending on your personal situation you’ll probably end up enrolled in at least a handful of these, if not more.

After almost two years I’m sure everyone is very used to online classes. Still, for those of you making their entrance to UNSW, it might be good to have a bit of a refresher. Here’s our top tips on making the most of your online classes!

On learning

The great news now is that for a lot of people, right now online classes are closer to a choice than a jail cell. Take advantage of the unique benefits of online classes with the following tips!

  • Use the online lecture chat, forums and help sessions to your advantage. It’s a lot less intimidating asking a question into a chatbox than having to ask while staring straight into the eyes of your lab assistant. Even don’t be afraid to jump into online tutorials that you don’t belong to, if you want a question answered or need a refresher (just don’t waste the other students' time).
  • Keep attending your classes. It’s harder to be motivated to attend your online classes, so online tutes usually empty out pretty sharply after the first few weeks. Don’t be those people. It can be easy to say you’ll watch the tutorial recordings sometime later, but I can personally guarantee you won’t. Either attend live or make a set schedule to watch so you don’t fall behind your in-person counterparts!
  • Use scheduling to your advantage! Online classes can be squeezed around other commitments much more easily than coming onto campus. That’s not to mention all the commute time you’ll save by staying home. Here’s our guide on what to take online and offline:

Classes that are usually better to attend in-person:

  • Anything hands-on, like science labs or DESN1000. COMP labs are exempt from this, since a computer you have at home is basically the same as a computer anywhere else
  • Tutorials, especially ones where you might have a lot of discussion activities or group work. Not only is engagement much higher in in-person tutes, but they’re the best types of classes to make friends in and socialise as well, so try doing that as much as in-person as possible.

Classes that are usually better to schedule online:

  • Lectures (all kinds). In-person lectures are rarely well attended, so you’re not missing out. Not to mention it’s always handy being able to ask questions while the lecturer is explaining something without having to interrupt the entire lecture.
  • Tutorials, like maths tutorials, where the main content is the tutor going through questions. These are almost like mini-lectures in my eyes, and as long as you attend enough to ask the questions you need to ask and clarify things, there’s again not a huge difference between online and offline versions of these.

On making friends online

The biggest thing about making friends online is that it’s rarely organic. You can’t just rock up to someone and introduce yourself - you have to be shuffled into a breakout room and force small talk for the ten minutes you’re there, only to never see that person again.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here’s some tips on getting social online:

  • If all you do is sit through class in awkward silence and then wonder why you haven’t made your new BFFs, a lot of that’s on you - so it’s time to show some initiative! Break the silence in breakout rooms. Message people you saw once in class if you think you might have connected. Be active on a society Discord, and join their online events. If you’re not trying, you’ll never know who you might meet!
  • Speaking of society Discords, 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!
  • Even if your classes are online, you should still attend socially distanced events in person if you can! Most events on campus have a Covid-safe policy, so it’s a great way to meet a bunch of new people. If you’re not on campus, try picnicking, hiking, or driving by a friend’s house and yelling at each other across the fence.

On keeping your sanity

For most people, staying at home all day is hard, and all the stresses of a global pandemic and the unique environment of online classes only add onto that. It’s been said a thousand times, but managing your own mind is critical to an enjoyable online uni experience.

  • Make sure you keep your work life and your personal life separate. Things like sticking to a schedule, getting out of bed and working at a proper setup (and making sure it’s clean!), and sleeping at a proper time each night all keep your brain from slipping into perma-work mode.
  • If you feel yourself starting to fizzle out, stop to prioritise your mental health and care for yourself. Check out our article on stress and burnout for more on this topic!

It’s possible to have a fulfilling uni life without ever seeing campus! Whether or not you’re willingly in an online class, make the best of your situation. And with luck and good fortune, this year the dust will settle, life will return, and we’ll see you around on campus again :)

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