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Swathi Sasikumar

Swathi is a post-graduate student at the University of Melbourne. When she's not working, she's either studying her cat or indulging in TV shows.

How to fully engage with university life while studying online

Today, with the rise of online learning options and COVID-19, studying online is not limited to just listening to pre-recorded lectures and isolated learning, but the whole university experience has moved into a digital campus.

Digital technology and social media have enabled our quick transition to an online campus by equipping us with resources to emulate a traditional classroom experience.

Universities worldwide are increasingly becoming digital, offering virtual support and transforming physical spaces into online services for students to congregate and facilitate peer-to-peer communication.

All we need to do is, discover the online options and alternatives available, and get involved! Here are a few tips to get you started.

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1. Establish connections with your classmates via Zoom meetings or through social media platforms 

Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned veteran to online learning, it’s a given fact that one of the first steps to engaging with uni life and adjusting to studying online is to make friends – and don’t limit yourself to making friends for just one subject but start building connections for the whole semester.

Studying online can be a lonely and solitary experience, but it doesn’t have to be. Networking and socialising with other students and peers are vital to overcome isolation and build college experience so it’s important to make use of the digital platforms available to you for free or through your university.

Whether it’s through Zoom, Google Hangouts, Houseparty, Facebook, e-mail or through university discussion forums, make the first move to interact with your classmates to feel connected and help each other navigate the in’s and out’s of studying online. 

2. Actively participate and interact on the weekly online discussion forums

Believe it or not, an online discussion forum is a massive opportunity to establish friendships and understand your course material since they’re the fundamental means of communication in a virtual classroom. And if you’re studying online, forums can also be a great way to ask questions or find answers.

It also gives you an opportunity to deepen your understanding of the class materials.  As you get more and more involved in forum discussions with your classmates, you’re significantly getting involved with your subject material and actively collaborating with other students in your class.

So, don’t hesitate to comment on others’ ideas and thoughts. Chances are, you’ll find a friend or a study buddy.

Additionally, keeping up with any weekly readings and actively responding to discussion questions and forum posts will help you feel productive and motivate you to keep going!

3. Create virtual study groups

It can sound challenging to assemble a virtual study group as it can be a lot harder to get to know classmates when studying online and planning virtual meetings require you to double your efforts compared to an organically built group in an ordinary classroom.

If you’re worried that you won’t find enough people, then try inviting people during your online classes. Breakout rooms during virtual classes helped me find partners for study groups. After all, I guarantee you won’t be the only one looking for study support. Sometimes, all you need to do is ask.

When I pitched the idea of a virtual study group in one of my online classes, there were almost immediate nods of affirmation. I also discovered that some of my other classmates advertised the idea of a study group on our university-hosted discussion forums that had many responses.

If you prefer to find an established group or service, then universities often offer online peer-assisted study programs for students to access.

Last semester, I was part of a student mentoring program that focused on providing academic support to new students where we helped them with providing feedback on their assignments and offered course advice.

If you’re looking for peer mentoring services, they are often advertised on discussion boards, university website and e-mails so, keep a watch out for similar programs at your uni or get in touch with your student experience team to find out if a similar program exists.

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4. Participate in online events/activities organized by your university

Now that universities have migrated to online learning, they’ve also made arrangements to transfer all the activities and events to the digital space in an attempt to emulate traditional student life. This means most student services, programs and events that typically took place on or around campus have been adapted to the digital campus environment.

Therefore, if you’re starting online studies, I highly recommend engaging with all the online events that interest you so you can feel involved with the university and student life. There are so many events that universities are moving online, including major events like orientation and open days to the specialised events such as career workshops, job fairs and seminars from industry experts.

Many different areas of the university often offer different events so it can be confusing to find all the information or events. I suggest keeping an eye on your student email or sign up to your student union and student life areas. You can also get in touch with the global mobility or international student services department to find out more about how you can get involved with uni life online.

5. Initiate communication with your professors

Virtual help from professors or tutors is readily available through e-mails and chats, which turns out to be the only medium of communication when studying online. Hence, it’s vital to reach out for their help whenever necessary.

Most professors or tutors are making the effort to engage with students. Often, they respond within 24 or 48 hours.

Sometimes, professors or tutors also stay back for a few minutes after online lectures to answer student queries, so make sure you take advantage of it to raise any concerns or to simply chat.

Also, since many professors and tutors are new to the e-learning method due to COVID-19, most professors encourage feedback from students.

So, if you have recommendations and suggestions to make online classes more efficient and engaging, feel free to send your ideas. This will not only help them identify the gaps in teaching (if any) but can also benefit both you and your classmates.

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6. Join online groups that cater to your interests

Embracing student life often means getting involved with student social events, and one the best ways to engage with campus life is to sign up to student clubs and groups to find like-minded students. Student clubs cover all types of interests, from sports all the way to Harry Potter.

Student clubs have also moved online now. Therefore, it’s worth consider joining clubs that cater to your hobbies or interests and actively participate in online meetings or events to make the virtual university experience more valuable.

Many student clubs have pages on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Follow them to check out upcoming events and save the dates!

Student unions have also moved their large social events online too. You can  enquire or research the student union at your university and sign up for ‘real-time’  events with your uni friends, which will allow you to socialise with a larger community of students from your university.

For instance, the student union at my uni hosted a movie screening through Facebook Events and it was a fun experience for us as well as a great change from our mundane routines.

After the movie, we were told about other online events we could get involved with, which provided more options for us to explore.

With all the online and digital options available to us, it’s become very possible to engage with uni life – even if you’re starting your studies online and in a different country.

However, if you’re facing a difficult time searching for your university’s networking resources, contact your university’s student support services for assistance. Once you get involved with the opportunities promoted by your university, I promise you that engaging with uni life as an online student won’t seem too cumbersome.

Did you find this article helpful?

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