3 Lessons Learned from Online Classes – Nicole (Ecuador)

The start of this academic year was challenging for some international students who, because of the current circumstances in the world, were not able to travel to Estonia. This was also my case; the pandemic made it impossible for me to travel to Tartu at the beginning of this academic year, so I had to attend all lectures and seminars online for two months. 

This experience taught me a few lessons on how to make the most out of my online studies. If some of you are still struggling with your online studies, follow these tips to make your experience a bit easier!

1. Create a structured environment

The first feeling I had when I realized that I was going to be an online student was fear. I didn’t think I had enough self-discipline to take the classes and do the assignments if it all was done remotely. At first, it was very hard for me to be focused on the lectures. I faced some difficulties with the time change. Where I lived, I had classes that started at 1 am, so not only was I sleepy but also, I had to be careful with the noise, because the rest of my family was sleeping. Another problem I constantly faced was that, if I got distracted by my phone in some part of a lecture, it was hard for me to follow the rest of what the lecturer explained. And the biggest issue (that is still hard to get rid of) was procrastination when doing homework.

After the first weeks, I realized that all these issues could be resolved by constructing a structured environment for my studies. What I mean is basically three main things: workspace, work schedule, and setting boundaries.

You must know how tempting it is to attend every lecture from a bed, still in PJs, and with a blanket wrapped around you. However, what I found out was that just by sitting in front of my desk my brain understood that it was time to focus and work. In other words, it is important to find a particular space dedicated to studying, far from your bed, so you won’t be tempted to go back.

Setting a schedule was also a gamechanger for me. I started to plan my days using the timetables on SIS and in Moodle to set alarms for when I needed to attend a class and to mark the assignment deadlines in my calendar. Also, I realized that if I included breaks and time to do other fun activities in my schedule, I was less likely to fall into the abyss of the internet and social media for hours and lose the trail of the lecture. It all changed because I was motivated to fulfill my day plan.

Finally, I noticed the importance of setting boundaries not only with myself, by complying with the self-imposed schedule, but also with the people around me. At home, I talked to my family about all the challenges I was facing with online classes, so we agreed that whenever I was studying, they would respect my time and space, and wouldn’t interrupt my activities. I also told my friends that I wouldn’t be able to read or answer their texts immediately because of my studies and they were very understanding.

After applying these steps to my studies, I was able to believe in myself to take advantage of my online lectures.

Photo credit: Pexels

2. Have a support network

One thing that I found particularly hard during those two months of online classes was the loneliness. The fact that I was not getting the full “student experience”, wasn’t able to communicate with my classmates and make friends really bothered me. But what I didn’t realize was that all my classmates that were also attending the classes online felt the same way. Through the channels provided by the University, we found each other and quickly formed WhatsApp and Facebook groups which allowed us to communicate with each other and form a support network of students that shared similar circumstances. Even though talking to someone online is not the same as getting to know them in person, it has surely helped as a foundation for our friendship now that we have met each other in person.

Photo: Pexels

3. Take advantage of the tools and platforms provided

At the beginning of my programme, I was very skeptical about online learning, but I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by all the tools available nowadays to help the students. As I mentioned before, some of my lectures took place in early morning hours, so it was predictable that I would fall asleep at some point during the lectures. Luckily, all the lectures, regardless of the streaming platform, were recorded and later uploaded to Moodle, where I could re-watch at my own pace, pausing and repeating as needed. 

What is more, all the slides and content of the lectures, as well as additional papers and other information regarding the topics discussed, were usually made available by the lecturers. It is also worth mentioning that most of the professors enabled forums and shared their contact information in case we had any additional questions or concerns regarding the material provided, so it was practically impossible to fall behind. Even if I wasn’t able to ask something during the class, I could always send an email to the lecturer and they would very gladly explain the material further.

Finally, it was a bit tricky coordinating and organizing group assignments with my classmates, but we started using Microsoft Teams, a tool provided by the University, and our assignments became much more manageable.

In the end, I believe that every lesson learned is still applicable now that I can physically attend my lectures. They are still helping me become a better student and make the most out of the year that my programme lasts.