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Making the most out of a virtual University experience next semester

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Next semester is set to be one with an abundance of changes, and it’s important that we begin to prepare for a reduction in face-to-face teaching and strict social distancing measures. Although it won’t be business as normal, we can make the most out of the virtual university experience and socially distanced socialising.

In this blog, I answer some of the most common concerns from students on how to ensure that the recent alterations will not hinder their University experience.

How will next semester will be conducted?

On 11 May, all students received an email from April McMahon (Vice President for Teaching, Learning and Students) which confirmed that Undergraduate students would begin their studies in late September with staggered start dates. Lectures and some other learning aspects will be delivered online, but students will need to return to campus in order to attend small group face-to-face activities.

How can I have the ‘freshers experience’ without a traditional fresher’s week?

Fresher’s week is considered a ‘rite of passage’ for new students in the UK – it is a time to socialise and settle into university life. Although clubbing is off the cards, there is plenty of opportunity to enjoy the Manchester city nightlife at a safe distance from others.

Take advantage of all the events that are on offer from the University, Students’ Union and your school during welcome week, even if they are online, as it is the ideal opportunity to meet new people and get to grips with your new course.

How can I ensure that I stay engaged during the online lectures?

With lectures being delivered online, it’s quite easy to switch off and not take full advantage of the presentation. Try these five things to help you stay alert on your next virtual lecture:

  1. First, get your mind right. Much of how we perform any task starts with how we set up our mentality. Before your next virtual class, instead of thinking, ‘I’m tired’ or ‘this is going to be so boring’, try thinking ‘it’s great that I get to learn something new today’.
  2. Minimise distractions by creating a quiet workspace, turning off your mobile phone, and removing anything from your work area that could tempt your gaze.
  3. Ensure that you are fully dressed and ready to start a day of University. It may be enticing to stay in your pyjamas, but this is not conducive to effective work.
  4. Be active by asking questions and contributing to class discussions. This will not only help you stay alert but will help you gain a better understanding of the material
  5. Take notes of the key concepts throughout the presentation to ensure you are continuing to listen to the lecturer.
  6. Be prepared for the lecture by looking over previous work and pre-reading the lecture notes or subject area.

How can I meet up with my friends at University and stay safe?

While lockdown restrictions lifted in many parts of the UK, the area of Greater Manchester still has some local restrictions in place and this means that socialising only with your household or support bubble. If you didn’t already know, your household includes only the people you live with, so those in your shared house, family home or halls, and a support bubble is where a household with one adult joins with any other household.

You can read more about what you can and can’t do on the government website, and these local restrictions are being regularly reviewed and it’s possible we could be aligned with the rest of the country by the time semester 1 starts. If you’re living in halls, your accommodation office should keep you informed of how these restrictions will affect you and what will count as your household.

There are a lot of practical elements to my course, how can I ensure that I don’t de-skill whilst I can’t practice at University?

Individual courses with practical elements have devised their own plans with regards to how students will return to work. In Dentistry, for example, we are beginning clinical skills from September and hope to begin treating patients in the new year.

In the meantime, it’s important to look at what general skills are required for your practicals and get practicing. For example, dentistry requires a high level of dexterity and so I have been keeping my hands working by crafting (I even use my loupes for the more intricate embroidery work).  If your practical work involves interacting with people, then practice on people within your household; medics could take a medical history or trainee teachers could practice delivering lessons.

Try not to obsess over everything that you currently are unable to do and focus your energy on what can be done. The current situation is changing all the time and until you can make a full return to University, get cracking on the aspects of your course which can be delivered safely.

I want to start a new society to make new friends and try something new, is this still possible?

Societies will still be there, they might not be hosting mass gatherings, but they will be trying to accommodate students as best they can. It’s best to contact societies directly and find out what plans they have for the upcoming academic year so that you can make an informed decision on whether to join or not.

Although the usual society fair will not be taking place this September, you can still take a look at what societies are on offer by visiting the Students’ Union website.

I’m less productive at home and I’m scared of falling behind, how can I stay motivated to study at home?

If you’re worried about staying motivated while working from home, take a look at my blog post on ‘how to stay productive whilst working from home during lockdown’, where I share a few ideas for keep productivity high at home whilst not blurring the boundaries between your work and personal life.

I don’t like being on video or audio during an online teaching session, but I still want to contribute to discussions, any advice?

It’s important that you feel comfortable on any virtual meeting and if this means turning off your camera and/or audio, then you can. Many of the platforms that allow virtual conferences, such as Zoom, have a way in which you can communicate via text and so this would negate the need for audio and video. However, it is imperative to be courteous and communicate your plans to the tutor before the seminar begins.

It’s clear than our University experience isn’t going to be quite like previous years, but this doesn’t mean we can’t make the most out of it.

My parting advice to the students of Manchester is to stick to the guidelines and University advice, work hard but don’t worry about what you can’t do, and continue to have fun and make memories during these unprecedented times.

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