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Virtual LSE: an insight into online teaching

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This year has set a precedent for higher education; with in-person teaching becoming less of a norm and office hours turning into one-to-one Zoom calls, your time at university might be a little different than you expected. Indeed, the university experience has changed this year’s incoming cohort. While things may seem quite different and may be a little difficult to get used to at first, there are many ways in which you can make small changes to continue to maximise your learning experience.

So, in order to prepare you for what to expect for your first term of digital teaching, we’ve got some tips, advice, and words of encouragement for you! This blog includes insights from former LSE students who experienced digital learning first hand last term. Everyone’s experience is different and when it comes to online learning – there is no one size fits all. These are the insights and thoughts of some of last years’ cohort, you may find some of it fits your experience and you may find some of it doesn’t. Our best advice is to take onboard the thoughts below but keep an open mind when starting in September.

Before we continue

For anyone who isn’t aware, there have been a number of changes from what has been known as the usual educational experience at university for this year. We (your Students’ Union) and the School are committed to a safe return to campus for all of our students. This includes re-working and adjusting our programmes, our initiatives, our ways of working and our different spaces. We will also be taking into account any changes in Government guidance that occur between now and September.

At LSE this year, teaching will be a combination of virtual and in-person contact time. For the full details on the changes to the student experience for Michaelmas Term, please click here to read them on LSE’s updates page.

Regardless as to how your timetable looks, it is important to remember that we all have a part to play in keeping ourselves and the LSE community safe, which is why the reccomended guidance should be followed for any contact hours facilitated in-person. It's important for all of our students to keep safe, especially those at a high risk. To find out if you fall into a high risk category and for more information about the precautions you should take, please click here.

What does a virtual LSE look like?

The shift towards online learning has tested many preconceptions of what learning is and should be. In the last term of the last academic year, students saw every aspect of teaching and learning adapt to the logistical challenges of space and time. Defying these challenges, students were able to continue working (almost) as normal; lectures, seminars, and office hours were all adapted to fit the needs of both student and lecturer.

Bearing in mind that most universities (LSE included) intend on having a “blended approach” for (at least) the first term of the academic year, meaning that university students will be able to have a mix of online and in-person learning. While some larger lectures will be moved online, class sizes will simply be smaller than usual to ensure that any in-person teaching falls in line with government guidelines. Should the recommended advice and guidelines change, then so will any forms of in-person teaching.

The change to online lectures has arguably been one of the easiest to get used to for our current students. Depending on your lecturers’ preferences, lectures may be pre-recorded or live-recorded – each have their respective advantages and disadvantages. However, the general positive of having online lectures is that you don’t have to worry about getting ready in time for lectures – you can jump straight onto Zoom at the start time attend the live lecture (with your audio and microphone off)! We do however recommend where possible, getting yourselves ready and to your online classrooms promptly in the same way as you would in-person, as this is beneficial for maintaining a good routine and wellbeing while staying in your homes for long periods of time.

In terms of virtual classes and your teachers’ expectations, you’re still expected to complete your readings and assignments as you usually would (so don’t think you can slack so easily!). However, this isn’t really deemed as an issue as students have a far more flexible timetable with more free time to complete your readings! Just think about all the time you will have saved from not having to travel onto campus and into your classrooms – utilising this extra hour or two for your readings or assignments is a good habit to start implementing. As previously mentioned, classes are likely to remain in-person though slightly smaller in size than usual.

What are the benefits of online teaching?

There's greater flexibility and convenience

You don’t have to worry about waking up super early for a 9am lecture and making your way to and from campus during peak hours. You can literally just listen to your lecture in the comfort of your home with no rushing to get the right train or bus, and what’s better is that you can re-watch them (or if they’re pre-recorded, playback something you missed)! It’s advised to give your lecture your full attention and best to not be doing tasks other than taking notes while your teacher is talking, but if you do find yourself having a late start to the morning, you can eat your breakfast with your microphone and camera off – providing it doesn’t prevent you from listening effectively! 

One of the other advantages to having online lectures is that they can sometimes be more interactive than in-person lectures as lecturers find it slightly difficult to tell how their students are receiving the session. You may find your professors and teachers double-checking that everyone is okay with the setup – they might ask you if you’re “still there?”, to which you might have to respond with Zoom’s ‘thumbs up’ feature or, if your camera is on, a little smile and nod. 

It reduces your travel and food costs

Studying from home will mean that you won’t have to worry about buying lunch around campus and getting the bus or tube every day. Typically, students spend quite a lot on these things on a daily basis, so not having to do so every day will massively help you with your budgeting concerns!

New and exciting forms of socialising

With the move online, you’ll find yourself more able to adapt to the virtual university scene. This could mean that you find it easier to organise study groups and even host virtual dinners or drinks – both of which might sound a little weird but has nevertheless have worked out for many students! Some departments even host weekly virtual get-togethers, during which students and staff are able to interact with each other outside of class time (for some LSE departments, such efforts had not been so significant prior to Covid-19).

What have been the challenges and how can you manage them?

Self-discipline and time management

While classes are still likely to be in-person but slightly smaller than usual in size, close gatherings should be strictly monitored – and while the School is implementing new practices to ensure it is safe as possible, it is also your responsibility as an individual to ensure that you’re following the guidelines. This isn’t just for your own safety, but it is also for everyone’s around you – we all have a part to play in keeping the LSE community as safe as possible.

While you may be unable to hang out with friends and course mates that are not within your household, you should try to arrange regular Zoom get-togethers to replicate the typical experiences of socialising with course mates. Even if you are tempted, it’s important to remember that we all have to work together to keep everyone safe and that the recommended advice is there for a reason – so start to create the habit of conducting your social activities through Zoom, social media and other digital means rather than face-to-face contact.

Less face-to-face interactions

With online freshers’ events and limited in-person contact, you may feel that your face-to-face interactions are a little limited in the interests of safety. Due to the bizarre nature of virtual learning spaces, your fellow course mates may not seem so active in terms of participating during classes, but it is only due to the way things are structured. There will definitely be a continuation of long and awkward silences during your classes and seminars – those don’t really go away – so we recommend that you take some extra time to prepare some questions or points to discuss in class (just to fill those awkward pauses). 

But just because your face-to-face interactions will probably be less, it doesn’t have to mean that your social interactions diminish. Remember what we said about those regular Zoom get-togethers? Really try and up your “virtual” socials and digital calls or chats with people - it’s really important to maintain a positive mental health and wellbeing during a year that will inevitably have it’s ups and it’s downs

Reliance on technology

The immediate issue with online learning, quite understandably, is that you feel like you are spending a lot of money for what is essentially a video call with a lot of jittering and awkward silences. Of course, this might not seem like the university experience you signed up for.

Try to remember that while the delivery is different, that the expertise and knowledge that you are gaining from your tutors, lecturers and departments is the same. That and the fact that we’re prioritising your safety – so being behind the screen for your lectures that are digital really is the best option for you and everyone around you.

It really just a matter of learning how to deal and adapt to these changes in interactions. Once you form the right habits, you’ll get used to the new way of doing things. So, have a quick read of the following tips to adapting to virtual learning!

Tips for adapting to Virtual LSE learning!

  1. Always test your internet connection, microphone, and speakers before attending a class! But if you’re attending a lecture, remember to turn off your microphone and camera.
     
  2. Try to maximise your contact (hours)! With distanced learning, it is even more important that you actively seek out ways to engage with people in your department: try to arrange for extra virtual contact time with fellow course mates and book virtual office hours with your lecturers/teachers (this will help you immensely during assessment periods).
     
  3. During classes and lectures, always keep something to eat/drink at your side! Remember to stay hydrated and energised with some water, a tea/coffee, and a little snack – trust us, you’re going to need it!
     
  4. It might be tempting to just lay in bed while watching a lecture, but you’ll be much more productive if you organise yourself and study in a clean and comfortable environment, ideally with a desk.
     
  5. Finally, remember to maintain a healthy balance of work and play! Take a break from studying every now and then – go for a walk or even a socially-distanced meetup with others in your household or bubble!