Moving to Online learning
One of the ways that going to University or College is changing is that a greater portion of your course might be moved online, or where you might have the option to take a blended course that you might get the choice and flexibility of sometimes studying at University and other times studying at home if that best suits their access needs. Some students have embraced the transition to a more blended style of learning, highlighting the benefits of online learning in terms of accommodating their disability or difference, in having the opportunity to learn in the way they want, and that this would open up opportunities for other people to access University where they might otherwise face barriers to doing so. This might include, but is by no means limited to, people who work full-time, single parents and people who might have caring responsibilities, for even for some people who wish to learn in a familiar, comforting environment.
In the long-term, online learning is being considered as a way of making third-level education more accessible to a wider range of students and to break down barriers to accessing education. The opportunity to learn on a laptop, smartphone or tablet would also appeal to many people who might not otherwise have the opportunity or the means to go to University, or who might otherwise would have had to move to a different city or country away from their home to study at the same course.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of online learning?
Like with any way of learning, moving to a style of learning where some if not all of your lectures, coursework and assessments comes with advantages and disadvantages, and they will be different for each student.
Advantages of Online Learning
Disadvantages of Online Learning
However there are drawbacks to online learning that you might need also to consider. These might include:
Accessible learning materials and Reasonable Accommodations
Whilst you’re learning online, you will still be able to access online academic databases and learning portals through the Library website or other means, and this can help provide you with access to the learning materials you need in class. However, learning in your home does not necessarily mean that you’re just using online materials or databases – you also need to have learning materials you can access and that is accessible to your support needs. This may be having access to a printer to print out hard copies of documents used for your course, having access to the University or College library at particular times, having recordings or podcasts of your lectures, transcripts or summaries of the material covered in your courses, access to lecturer’s notes or getting library books delivered to your home or receiving permission to visit the library at designated times to get the books you need. There are many other options you can explore to make your learning experience as accessible as possible whilst you’re studying at home.
If you feel that your materials are not accessible to you in any way, you can contact your Disability Support Service, your lecturer or Year Head about how they can make the course materials more accessible to you. It is the University’s responsibility to make sure that your course materials are accessible to you, and lecturers or Year Heads will work with you to resolve any accessibility issues you might encounter in getting the right type of learning materials for your studies.
Creating a routine
One way you can help to create a manageable experience of online learning is to create a routine that you can do when you’re at home. Having a routine helps you to be more in control of what is happening at University or College, and it will also give you greater predictability and control around what you do for the day. Try to make sure that your University routine also gives time and space towards activities that give you a break from the study environment, such as meal times, times to exercise, relax, rest or to pursue your special interests. You can find visual timetables, like smartphone apps, your Outlook or Google Calendar as useful ways of staying organised and sticking to a schedule. It might also be useful to incorporate elements of your old routine, as this can help make the transition to a new routine easier.
There are a number of strategies you can use to help you construct a routine that works for you:
Take time and space out of your day to decompress and relax
This can be useful for maintaining your mental health at any time, but can be particularly so if you’re finding the demands expected of you overwhelming and if you feel that you can’t cope with the added anxiety or stress. This might include calming activities like pursuing your special interest or doing any activity, physical or otherwise, that can calm you in stressful situations This can also include stimming which can also be a helpful way of relieving stress. These can be particularly helpful to manage feelings of anxiety or stress during difficult or uncertain times, and you can do all these things from home, safe in the knowledge that no one will judge you. Restful activities like meditation, mindfulness, yoga, breathing or exercising, are really helpful ways of managing stress, and there are apps like Calm, Headspace, BetterHelp, books, podcasts and services like MyMind that can help you to manage your mental health. If you are using a timetable it is useful to put in slots for this. If you particularly like reading around your course, particularly if it revolves around a special interest, you might find this helpful, but if not, taking time out to pursue your special interests can be a relaxing experience.
Changes to exams and assessments
If everyone at your University or college is studying from home, your University or college may decide to make changes to assignments or assessments. This might include cancelling some exams if they don’t count towards your overall grade, or moving to online assessments if they do. It can be reassuring to have exams or assignments cancelled, but it is also worthwhile to try and keep up with reading and study as much as you can, as it can be helpful information to have as you progress through your course.
If you have exams happening over the course of the semester, this will usually take the format of an online assessment. Before you begin your exam, make sure you know all the rules before going in and stick to them. Whilst some Reasonable Accommodations, like access to a room or a scribe might not be available, you might be entitled to other accommodations like extra time that can help you to complete an exam. Contact your Disability Support Advisor about this and make sure that you have all the exam supports arranged before entering the exam.
Some Universities or Colleges might decide to replace closed book exams with open book exams that may be offered over a 24 or 48 hour period. However, you will not be expected to write for the full 24 or 48 hours, and your examiner will provide instructions in advance that will tell you how much time you should be spending writing each question.
Engage with support
Your University will find ways to make the supports you use like your Academic Writing Tutor, Disability Support Advisor or Technology available to you when you are not on campus. Whilst this might mean that you need to find new ways to engage with these supports, or that you might need to use different kinds of supports, they will still be available to you. You can contact your Disability Support Advisor to find ways of making these reconstituted supports work for you.
Try to stay in touch with your friends and family
Whilst moving your College course online, or having parts of your course done online, is a way of keeping everyone physically distanced and away from direct, face-to-face contact, you’re still allowed to stay in touch with your friends and family, and particularly so if you enjoy their company. Social interaction that you enjoy can help you to relax, feel better and study effectively. However, if you find social interaction tiring or stressful, be assured that you don’t have to worry about interacting with people if you don’t feel like it.
If you like to stay in touch with friends and family, you can incorporate this into your routine and you can use platforms like Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts or Facetime to do so. You can also use platforms like WhatsApp or Facebook Groups to engage with your wider class. The best groups will show that you’re not the only person experiencing these difficulties, and some students might have good ideas about study or can explain topics that you might be having trouble with. It can also be a good way for students to work through problems together. Your University might also decide to set up a formal group through a platform like Microsoft Teams, Slack or Blackboard for this very purpose, you can choose to get involved with this if you feel that that platform works better for your needs.
Some groups can be helpful, in finding out how your classmates are managing, how they’re studying and any tips they’re willing to share that can help you with your studies. Be mindful that these platforms can also run the risk of becoming stressful, even toxic, environments if some people don’t like each other or who argue with each other frequently, which can cause great anxiety. You can engage with these groups as much or as little as you want to.
Try to limit looking at your social media news feeds if you’re feeling anxious or sensitive about what’s happening. Social media platforms are incentivized to push what’s trending -often upsetting news or news that tends to incite a negative reaction, which can make us feel worse about our lives, and can lead to greater feelings of fear, stress, anxiety and hopelessness. Because we as humans are more likely to pay attention to bad news, which can be continuous, this can lead to the habit of “doomscrolling” our social media feeds.
Doomscrolling is where we find ourselves spending long periods of time taking in the seemingly unrelenting stream of negative news, and this can have an adverse impact on your physical and mental health. Whilst it’s important to keep informed and social media can provide great platforms to stay connected, remain civically engaged and to push for change, you don’t have to do so at the expense of your mental health, particularly if you’re feeling stressed, anxious or afraid about the state of the world right now. Sticking to reputable news sources can be helpful in terms of reducing anxiety, as well as finding ways to hide these apps from your phone. There are also apps and software available, like Apple’s Screentime, that can help you to set limits on how long you spend on social media, and you can turn off push notifications on your phone or go on a social media break if you find things a bit overwhelming.
What can I do if I experience any issues with online learning?
If you are experiencing any issues with your academic studies, you can still use the same support structures you use when you were physically on campus to resolve these issues. Whilst many University and college campuses are closed, with many staff working from home, they are still there for you and you can always reach out to them over phone, email or video call if you need additional support.
If you’re unhappy with your supports, or if you need additional supports like extensions or mental health breaks, and you wish to have them resolved, contact your Disability Support Advisor as soon as possible. They will advise you and work with you to make sure that you get the supports you need.
Some Universities or Colleges are regularly emailing students to let them know what is happening. These emails can contain useful information around what is happening, and what supports are available, so it might be important to keep checking these emails over the semester.