In October, I started a part time evening Masters degree as a mature student – all online. There will be plenty of you reading this who have started to do the same studying for an A level or GCSE, too. Hopefully you will share, or look forward to, the experience I have had of studying this way. Here, I discuss all the positives I have found.
Returning to academic study after many years can be daunting at the best of times. During a global pandemic, with universities valiantly scrambling to transform the way they conduct teaching on the fly, it is another thing altogether.
But I’m here to say: don’t fear! It may feel new, but it’s nothing that can’t be surmounted, and you may even quite like the brave new world of online learning.
Here’s a few top tips after my first term.
From what’s expected in an at-home exam to how to access that pesky book chapter you want online, studying in the pandemic throws up even more questions than usual – especially if you’ve been out of the game for a few years. Remember – you can still always ask your tutors. It’s their job, and they will be only too happy to support. Don’t suffer in silence, just ask!
Your classmates will be your rocks, and don’t let the ‘new normal’ take away the opportunity to inspire and support each other. In my course, we’ve created a WhatsApp group for every module, as well as one for the department. These are safe spaces for people to ask for help, post interesting links and generally have a natter about the course. And don’t be awkward about suggesting a smaller group calls in order to go through an essay or tricky reading; if you’d have done it over a coffee before, then you can do it on Zoom!
Many of us find it unnatural to speak up in class, and this can be even more so in a Zoom class. To those who might take time to pluck up the courage to raise a virtual hand, remember there’s nothing to be afraid of. Furthermore, to those who find public speaking a doddle, or have a tendency to say a bit more than their fair, share remember to hold space for others.
Being able to study entirely online has its drawbacks, but it also has many benefits. I shudder to think how much harder it’d have been to do a post-work commute to my evening classes and back again twice a week. Being able to log on from home makes it easy to fit studying around your other commitments, and means you are less restricted about where you live or what schools and colleges you can access. Plus, staying at home more makes it a great time to concentrate on learning.
Andrew Hyams is a communications and digital consultant from London with a background in politics and campaigning, having worked for the UK, Australian and New Zealand Labour parties. He studied History and Philosophy at the University of Sussex and UCL. You can get in touch with him on firstname.lastname@example.org