From mid-March all face-to-face teaching at UCL ceased and was replaced by remote learning. As a final year student facing a series of challenging exams this was a daunting prospect. At first I felt better prepared than most as I read history which has relatively low contact hours and requires a high level of independent learning. However, as the libraries closed I grew increasingly concerned about how I would complete my dissertation, finish module syllabi, and prepare for my exams.
The history department adapted remarkably well, sending out daily email updates so we felt connected. Teaching via Skype, Microsoft Teams, and Blackboard Collaborate was introduced which helped us prepare for our exams. Recognising we could no longer access library resources, the department modified coursework marking criteria, word counts, and provided extensions where appropriate. The high level of support, alongside a lot of independent learning, made a chaotic three months far easier.
Adapting to the ‘new normal’
Writing a dissertation is difficult at the best of times, and after a few unproductive weeks in late March I soon realised I needed a quiet work environment, to structure my work hours, and to create a daily list of things I wanted to achieve. I was fortunate in that I had read or photographed most of my sources prior to the libraries closing, and many digital copies of books are available through UCL Library Services. Through lots of digging online I found scans of many other useful sources.
When I had questions, instead of visiting my tutor during office hours, I skyped or emailed them. My tutor made a real effort to be available at short notice and to respond quickly which made the process less stressful. The department was supportive, providing extensions due to our changes in circumstances.
For my other history modules, seminars continued through Blackboard Collaborate, which is an online learning platform that simulates a classroom experience. As your tutor speaks, you can see PowerPoint presentations, and if you have a question or want to participate you can virtually raise your hand. Despite some erratic Wi-Fi connections and microphones I found this a productive learning experience with the added benefit of being able to learn in my pyjamas.
I also chose to take an interdepartmental module this year in Spanish. My Spanish lessons are typically highly interactive, therefore, adjusting to online teaching was more difficult. As we had already covered most of the course my tutor decided to send us emails twice a week with tasks to complete and send back which he marked. This was really useful for revision purposes.
Despite some teething problems, overall, I think the history department adapted remarkably well and quickly embraced remote learning. Some of my friends on other courses have had similar positive experiences, but for others it has been more challenging. As UCL plans for some teaching to be online in the next academic year, hopefully the summer break will allow departments to put in place new systems of remote learning.
Issy’s tips for remote learning
From my experience I will end with my five top tips for anyone who faces remote learning next year:
- Find a quiet space to work – this is often easier said than done, but if you can find a space where you are able to focus with fewer distraction it will make a real difference. If you don’t have your own space, try noise cancelling headphones.
- Write a daily to-do list – make sure it is a realistic set of goals that you can tick off as you complete them.
- Don’t be afraid to email or ask to Skype tutors or professors – don’t spend hours agonising over questions, tutors are generally quick to respond and help.
- Remember to structure your time and take breaks – regular rests will increase overall productivity.
- Keep in touch with friends-whether virtually or in person this will allow you to relax and unwind.