Due to the current situation, many prospective VU students will start their university journey online, a situation that must be quite challenging and intimidating. As someone who went through remote learning for over three months at the VU, I thought it might be helpful to share my experiences, so that you can get a better idea of what may await you in your first semester.
Online classes and exams
While it differs from professor to professor, the majority of my classes used a combination of different tools for their teaching. For lectures, all of my professors either pre-recorded their power point presentations or uploaded a video that explained the topic of the week on canvas. Many also opted out of seminars and replaced them with extra assignments, but I did have two classes which chose to use zoom for weekly homework discussions. Both lectures and seminars were significantly shorter than what I’m used to from my pre-corona uni days, since instead of one class lasting 1 hour and 45 minutes, my professors usually shortened it to either an hour or 45 minutes. On the flipside, that also meant that I had a lot more reading and additional assignments to do, in order to make up for lost time. Since I’m a history major, almost all of my finals were research papers anyways, but I did have two online exams as well, which was a weird yet surprisingly positive experience. Online exams are usually done through online proctoring programmes such as TestVision, which have access to your camera, sound, and screen to make sure you’re not cheating. My first exam definitely felt a bit 1984-esque, though I got used to it pretty quickly and I don’t think it impeded my performance too much (except for when my internet stopped working in the middle of my second exam and I saw my life flashing before my eyes).
Procrastination, my nemesis
What I found the most difficult about online education is that it is so tempting to simply not watch a lecture or do all of the course reading, because there are no consequences to skipping your homework (at least for the most part). Additionally, some of my teachers were rather spontaneous when it came to their upload schedule, which made it quite difficult to stick to a routine or plan anything long term. However, if your professors are very consistent with the time they upload their lectures, their assignments etc., I would recommend to try and follow their schedule as closely as possible. In my case, I ended up splitting my week into three two-day blocks, with Sunday being my ‘catch-up’ day so that each class had their designated days and I, in turn, got a better structure. Additionally, I tried to follow a 9 to 5 routine because it allowed me to have dedicated study hours but also guilt-free Netflix time.
All in all, while I will personally always prefer on-campus education, the past three months have shown me that online learning can be pretty nice as well, mainly because it gives me more autonomy in how I want to structure my day (and because it saves me my daily commute, which is a definite plus).Taking exams online for the first time was for sure a nerve-wrecking experience and there were moments where my video call anxiety got the best of me, but overall VU online learning is definitely doable and, if you get your time management and internet connection under control, can be pretty enjoyable as well.
I know that this is probably not how many of you imagined your first few months of uni to look like, but I hope that this blogpost was able to make you feel at least a little bit more prepared for what’s to come next September.