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My Experience of Online Learning and Self-Isolation

My Experience of Online Learning and Self-Isolation main image

Universities around the world have had to adjust their teaching to now be carried out online in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. To find out how this experience has impacted students, we spoke to four international students from St Petersburg University in Russia.

They shared their experiences of online learning, their tips for keeping productive during self-isolation and their thoughts on the future of education.

How has your university adjusted to online learning?

Keti Ignova (Master in Corporate Finance): From my point of view, the university did an amazing job switching to online learning. If I am not mistaken, this was done within just three days.

Janet Carr* (Master in Geoinformatics and Cartography): We still have some practical classes - teaching Bachelor students at our faculty -  that we need to conduct by using distance learning. So we ended up continuing them online.

Abdul-Kadir Ameyaw (Master in Management, CEMS): Extremely fast. I think the university was able to adjust quickly due to the amazing technical team as well as the IT inclined nature of the School of Management. Since online platforms such as Blackboard are used and all the professors are conversant with its usage, the adjustment was made easily.

How is the study process structured?

Abdul-Kadir: The studies are structured much better than I expected. I don’t really see a difference between the online and offline structures. Group work is done in separate channels, we have allocated time-slots for those discussions. When the time is over, we then join the general channel to continue the class.

My Russian language exam had to be done in a written form. The camera was switched on the whole time so that the teacher could see what we were doing. I think it was fair.

Kevin Ulrich (Master in Corporate Finance): I am generally good with IT skills, therefore it was very helpful for me to receive clear instructions on what to do. The professors know how to use the different tools accordingly and the classes were, therefore, interactive and pleasant to attend.

The exams were held online, however a couple of times we faced some issues because of the quality of internet connection and hardware used by the students. It would also be nice to have an official “video on” mode implemented by universities, in order to force every participant to switch on the video and microphone when needed. It makes the interaction more lively and human.

Janet: Right now I’m focusing on my dissertation. Even before the self-isolation, I was already practicing distance learning while working on my thesis because my supervisor is based in Italy, so it’s not something new for me. We’d already been using Skype, Whatsapp, communicating via email, so the quarantine hasn’t really changed anything.

What do you lack the most when studying from home?

Keti: I cannot say I lack something specifically, or that the quality is worse. I can only say that I miss going to the university physically, I love being there, especially knowing that it is my last semester – but it is not something that is in the hands of the university.

Kevin: I miss the interaction with people, making long-lasting friendships, which is extremely important for me during university time. These contacts are very valuable in business later and it is absolutely necessary to build those.

Janet: The fact we have to stay home affects everyone, not just me. We all need to meet up with friends, laugh and share with them, I find it healthy. But since it’s done for our safety, we have no other option than to sit inside and listen to every rule that has been implemented. Of course, it’s not something that we planned, it just happened and we need to accept it.

Abdul-Kadir: I lack human contact. I love my course mates and my interaction with them during breaks. Going for lunch together, telling jokes, etc. It isn’t the same online and I miss that.

Also, the human side of studies is lost a bit and for me it makes it a bit unnatural.

Has your personal productivity been affected by the switch to online learning?

Keti: I did not find it hard to follow the lectures and participate in group projects, etc. Thus, I would assess this experience as helpful, in terms of having an idea of how to organize my work with people who are not physically close to me. I believe that distance learning can really help us gain the skill to freely adjust to change.

Abdul-Kadir: I think I am over-productive. I haven’t had any time off since the lock-down. As a double degree student, the requirements are really high and there are so many deadlines to meet so I have no choice than to be productive.

I think my productivity has improved with the switch to online learning. I don’t have to spend time driving to university or in traffic. I can rather use that time to read an article, conduct an interview for my thesis or business project. I find the experience helpful. It could benefit me in the future in the sense that I now perceive university or work as a mindset and not a place.

Kevin: I am definitely more productive and have more time for activities besides university.

Do you have any tips on staying efficient during the quarantine?

Kevin: I follow a strict plan according to my timetable. I can suggest others establishing a timetable in Excel and sticking to it as close as possible. It is important to start early in the morning around 7AM. Also, to include personal activities, such as sports, groceries, hobbies.

A special skill, which is extremely crucial, I would say is discipline. Discipline to stick to the timetable and not lose yourself in unproductive activities, such as TV, YouTube and social media.

Abdul-Kadir: I make a plan of all the things I need to do for the day. I put the most important things on the list. Sometimes, I try to do the least demanding tasks first so I could forget about them once I am done. For a person to be efficient with distance education, you need to plan everything you do. Know when to take a break. At home, it’s hard to force yourself to take a break. That is why most of my colleagues including myself were worn-out at the beginning.

Do you think the pandemic will affect the way we learn in the future?

Keti: I do think that education could continue to function like this in the future, according to my experience. I think that universities could transfer some lectures to the online format.

Kevin: A healthy mix of online course and physical course would be good as they do in the University of Zurich.  All courses could be recorded and saved to Blackboard. Everyone who missed classes could recap with the online videos and lessons.

Abdul-Kadir: I think this pandemic will totally transform education. Most of the things we found to be impossible have now proven to be possible. Who would have thought we could have pre-defense online?

Hopefully, in the future, when a student cannot attend a class, write an exam, or present his/her thesis, we will give them an equal opportunity to do so, using what we have learnt in time of this pandemic. Going forward, I see a rise in online education that can increase efficiency and expand outreach.

*Name changed at student's request

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Written by Craig OCallaghan
As Head of Content, Craig is responsible for all articles and guides published across TopUniversities and TopMBA. He has nearly 10 years of experience writing for a student audience and extensive knowledge of universities and study programs around the world.

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