By now, we are all very familiar with online learning. Hopefully, by the time you read this, your lectures abroad will be in-person, but it may be the case that they start online and transition to in-person or vice versa. It is better to be prepared and I have been the guinea pig so you don’t have to! Here are some tips to make the transition into online learning abroad a little easier.
1. Communicate with your professors
Before classes start or within the first week, reach out to your Professors and introduce yourself, as well as ask any questions you may have about how the course is run. My Professors did not post or email any information before class started, but some expected us to have lectures watched by class, so I am glad I emailed before and found this out before the first class. Additionally, it is nice to build a rapport with the Professors before the class. In all honesty, I think they appreciate it too, as they miss interacting with students. You may also have a slightly different educational background than your peers and addressing that with the Professor is helpful, as they can recommend resources to make sure there are no learning gaps.
2. Block off time for classes on your calendar
Even if your class does not meet regularly, block off the time that it should meet and either do your pre-recorded lectures during that time, meet with the Professor or a study group, or use that time to do the homework for the class. Be sure that your calendar does not adjust the time because of the time zone difference. Even though my computer and phone were set to Irish time, the Outlook calendar converted my phone calendar to EST, which means I was 5 hours late to my first class. Go into settings and adjust the Outlook calendar time zone – trust me.
3. Stay on top of your homework/lectures
Half of my classes do live lectures and the other do pre-recorded lectures. It is so easy to push off the pre-recorded lectures, or even most (if not all) of my projects and homework, since they are all due during finals week. Don’t do this. Most classes (at least in Ireland) do what is called “continuous assessment”, which means you don’t have a final, but you get frequent quizzes that culminate to your grade. If you are not staying up to date in your classes, you won’t be aware when the cumulative assessments are coming nor will you know what is on them.
4. Get familiar with the resources available to you
Unlike Northeastern, where the method of teaching is pretty uniform, here in Ireland, there is no uniformity in the method of teaching. Microsoft Teams in the main resource for live lectures, which took time for me to get used to, as I am used to Zoom. Some professors post the resources on Teams, while others post it on Canvas. Canvas conference calls are also used, which I had no idea existed. This one is more difficult because the audio only allows you to listen, so if you have a question, make sure to type it quickly! There are also pre-recorded lectures. My roommate had a teacher who was using the mouse to point to diagrams in the pre-recorded videos, but the mouse did not show up on the recording, so she had no idea what the Professor was pointing to – when something like this happens, refer to Step 1!
5. Interact in the class
This isn’t the case for everyone, but during my time doing distance learning at Northeastern, my classes were all very interactive. Most people kept their cameras on, and whether the camera was on or not, people would ask a lot of questions, or just generally interact with the Professor and with their classmates. In Ireland, my teacher asked people to do a thumbs up if they heard what he just said and a little under half of the students responded to the message with a thumbs up. No one has their camera on, asks questions (whether over audio or in the chat), and I don’t think most people are even listening. That being said, it can be a little uncomfortable to be the one to leave your camera on or ask questions, but it is so important because it keeps you engaged in that class. Not only that, but other students recognize that, and I have had peers reach out to me with questions or to form study groups or be partners for a project, and if you are there with your camera off and never interact, you will never “meet” anyone. For me at least, the majority of my semester will be fully online, and the only place I can “meet” other students is during class, and by interacting during class, I have been able to make some friends with students in my classes!