Good organization and time management are essential for eLearning, i.e., online self-paced learning with digital media. What distinguishes virtual from regular, in-person classes is that you can “attend” them when and from where you want and you have easy access to study materials. This means that course materials will be made available on the university’s learning management platform (Stud.IP at the University of Oldenburg), but you will have to make sure to cover them yourself – in a self-paced and self-directed way. Usually it is up to you to decide when to access your course and cover the material. Flexible and customized learning experience – this sounds great, right? But what happens when your classes are held in virtual classrooms, without regular in-person meetings or discussions with your classmates and instructors? Many things will change: not only the way we are used to communicating in lecture halls and classrooms, but also the way we study, obtain information and acquire knowledge. eLearning requires a great deal of self-discipline and accountability. How can you accomplish all this?
Below are some tips that can help you succeed in your online courses.
Speaking of… Getting organized
Stet up a regular study space where you are comfortable
Choose a study and work space that fits your needs and where you feel comfortable. It is essential that you can focus on studying there.
In the virtual environment, your study space is your learning management system (Stud.IP at the University in Oldenburg). Your instructors will use this platform for teaching virtual classes. Your first step should be to explore and get to know Stud.IP. It can be useful to try out some tools in advance. What features and tools are available and what will you need?
An important project is ahead of you but you just can’t get started? Have you ever found yourself in such a situation? Are you, perhaps, even a procrastination expert? If so, try breaking up big tasks into smaller chunks so they can be tackled piecemeal. Getting familiar with your courses and syllabi at the beginning of the semester is not only recommended, but it can also help you create a good study plan. Knowing what assignments are coming up can also give you a feeling of control. You can determine the order in which to complete your tasks and set a deadline for each smaller one. If you break tasks up into smaller chunks, a huge assignment can all of a sudden appear easily doable. You can also set daily goals and have a daily to-do list, which can help you finish smaller tasks that are part of the larger project. Crossing things off your to-do list helps you see what you have accomplished and visualize the progress you have made.
Tip: There are many tools and apps for creating to.do lists: Microsoft’s To Do, Todoist, Meistertask with its Kanban board, etc. The university will soon launch a new tool (Deck) in its cloud environment with one such Kanban board.
Focus on the task: Reduce distractions
Does the following situation sound familiar: instead of being productive and studying, you idle away in the hidden corners of the internet or spend time indulging in your favorite pastimes? To prevent this from happening during your designated study time, it is best to eliminate distractions by blocking certain apps and websites during a specific time or limiting your screen time.
You can also try the Pomodoro Technique, which structures your study time so you alternate between work intervals and short breaks using a pomodoro timer (either an alarm clock, kitchen timer or an app).
Another way of setting priorities is sorting your tasks into an Eisenhower matrix according to how urgent and important they are. If your lists keep getting longer, this is a great way of evaluating your tasks to see what you need to focus on first.
Tip: Make sure to take regular breaks and make them an integral part of your study plan.
Speaking of… Communication
In the absence of social interactions on campus, keeping in touch becomes even more important for maintaining a sense of community. And studying is often easier and more fun if done in groups rather than alone! Video calling and web conferences are a great way of staying in touch. The university provides access to a reliable webconferencing systems for students: https://studconf.uol.de. Exchange information, tips and tricks with your peers about virtual classes and studying online – your fellow students have their own way of dealing with the current situation and some of their tips can be helpful to you, too!
Bear in mind that misinterpretations can easily happen particularly in online written communication due to absence of facial expressions, tone of voice and body language. When writing, make sure to write as clearly as possible to avoid misinterpretations.
Ask for help
Access to a reliable Internet connection and an adequate device (ideally a laptop or a desktop computer, and additionally a headset and camera if needed) are essential for virtual classes and studying online.
Not everyone has access to the same equipment and resources though. Some students have to use their data plan and mobile devices to access online classes. Moreover, other resources, such as libraries and labs, are currently not available. Get in touch with the university, your department and teachers if you are affected by some of these issues. There is definitely going to be a way around it.
Improving teaching together
Some students and instructors have already had a lot of experience with virtual classes, while others not so much. In addition to choosing appropriate digital tools, instructors often have to rethink and reorganize their teaching completely in order to offer effective online classes. This challenge should not be underestimated.
“Improving teaching together” can be a guiding principle in the current situation, in which we all have to learn how to best teach and study online in virtual classes. Students’ comments and suggestions can be of immense help to instructors. What are some approaches and tools that you, as a student, found effective? What was your experience like in virtual classes? If you have remarks and ideas how certain activities can be improved, share your thoughts with your instructors.
Speaking of… Tools and Resources
Stud.IP for communication and collaboration
Teachers can send messages to all students in a course through Stud.IP (the option is available under the Participants tab in the navigation menu). These messages will be sent as an email, but the recipients will also get a message notification on Stud.IP. Various types of files can be uploaded and organized into folders under the Files tab. Students can upload files, too, though instructors have to enable these permissions first.
Other tools for communication include Forum, for various discussions and questions, and Wiki, where you can collect information and collaborate on publishing it. Instructors can set up groups in each course on Stud.IP in order to facilitate group work. Each group can have their own files section and their own Wikis.
Another option for group work is creating study groups unrelated to courses. Students can set up such study groups, too. You can invite other students or members of the university to study groups you created. In the group, under Administration tab, you can activate various tools and plugins that you can use together with other group members. For instance, you can set up a WordPress blog either for yourself or for all members of the group.
Online course modules and learning units
Instructors can use the Courseware plugin to create course modules and learning units. With Courseware, instructors can create chapters, sub-chapters and sections composed of texts, PDFs, images, videos and other file formats. Small quizzes, created using the Stud.IP plugin Vips, can also be embedded into Courseware modules.
Stud.IP Tools for Quizzes and Assignments: Deadlines and Feedback
With the Vips plugin, instructors can create on Stud.IP quizzes and tests in different formats: filling in the blanks, matching elements to one another, free text (short answers/essays), single or multiple-choice questions. Students can take the quizzes and complete assignments directly on Stud.IP.
Using the Clocked plugin instructors can create assignments with a set deadline and they can give feedback in the assignment directly. You can also get peer feedback from your fellow students in the course. Students can complete assignments directly in the text fields or upload their answers as PDF files.
Working together on documents: Texts, presentations or spreadsheets in the university’s Cloud
The university provides access to OnlyOffice for its students and staff. OnlyOffice offers several office programs that you can use to create text documents, spreadsheets and slideshows. You can collaborate with others and edit documents at the same time, directly in the browser. Instructors can read, comment and edit your texts (with or without tracking changes). Students can use OnlyOffice to collaborate on texts, spreadsheets or slides.
You can access OnlyOffice through university’s Cloud-Storage service: https://cs.uol.de.
To use OnlyOffice you have to register and activate your Cloud-Storage account.