Universities and other educational institutions are currently in a scramble to move both the student body and the teaching staff to a distance learning model due to the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In something of a unique position in all this is the University of South Africa (Unisa), which has for decades already been practising distance learning as one of the biggest institutions to do so on the continent and the rest of the world.

As a student at Unisa for the past few years the recent worldwide move to somewhat emulate how Unisa operates has lead to some asking me and other students how best to go about things so let’s get into that today.

Telegram for group chats

While “group chat” is a dirty term to many it’s an unfortunate necessity of modern life. Forming group chats on familiar apps like WhatsApp may be what many will reach for at first, but Telegram is the better choice in this regard.

This is because of how Telegram archives chat messages, files and links. On a service like WhatsApp you can usually only access said information that is posted to the group after the date you joined. On Telegram all these useful pieces of information are available from months and sometimes even years before the date you joined.

I can’t tell you how many times I would go into a Telegram chat to ask a question only to find out a student from years ago had answered my question for me.

This, of course, only works if your university / study group / whatever already has a Telegram network that has been in use for some time. While it may be discouraging for current students to start fresh, you can rest assured that you’re helping others like you in the future.

There’s other reasons to use Telegram too, such as its encryption and massive amount of supported users (up to 200 000). You can find out more about the app on its FAQ page here. We suggest starting with the “How is Telegram different from WhatsApp?” section if that’s your go to messaging app.

Keep working together

Attending any kind of school is a social endeavour and, through things like study groups and classes, the effort of passing can be made easier by working with those around you.

Studying at home, then, is a rather lonesome experience. The pressure of university can become too much to bear when you feel like you’re in it alone and the support structures you’re used to aren’t around.

It’s very important, when making this change in your studies, to try and maintain the group effort of working through your courses. This is linked to the above section on group chats but any way you feel like engaging is a good thing.

Outside of your fellow students remember to keep in contact with your lecturers and other members of the school. Many students shy away from such things but an increase in emails and other messages is to be expected and should not be avoided. If you’re stressed out over work, assignments, exams or anything else, seek help from the people and structures that you were depending on before.

While it is not as personal over the internet, it’s still an important part of staying sane and productive during your studies.

Watch video lectures at higher speeds

While many lectures are being held as livestreams on various platforms such as YouTube, Twitch and Zoom, many more are instead being hosted on said platforms as videos on demand. Even strict livestreams are then uploaded as regular videos for the sake of prosperity and allowing students to go over sections they are not comfortable with.

Regardless of how your university deals with such things, non-live videos present the great opportunity to ditch the pedestrian 1X speed. Now that your classes are not beholden to how fast or succinctly a lecturer can present, you can get through classes faster by increasing playback speed.

Many video platforms include this option by default, but it can also be forced. I, for example, use the Video Speed Controller Google Chrome plugin which allows any and all webpage videos to be watched back at higher than usual speeds.

Even those unfamiliar with this don’t seem to notice 1.25X and even 1.5X speeds, but they do notice the extra time they save by getting through lessons sooner.

I just have to warn not to abuse this feature. It’s easy to stick every video on 2X speed or higher and blow through classes, but doing so will likely result in you retaining very little information. Start at 1.25X speed and go from there depending on your preference and the speed of the lecturer.

Avoid distractions

At home with no one over your shoulder it’s easy to do just about anything but your work. With no class schedules and timetables to keep your hours in check it is incredibly easy to fall behind by procrastinating.

Endless books, videos and more have been made on the topic of avoiding distractions and actually getting back to work but there’s some which are more specific to studying from home.

One of the oldest tricks is making a new user account on your PC or even phone which contains nothing but the essentials to do your work – a browser to access shared files that’s not logged into any of your other accounts, some kind of word processor and maybe some kind of editor for images. Some even go as far as making this account unable to access the internet to completely cut off that avenue of goofing off.

This double user trick means that you don’t need to do anything drastic like uninstall your favourite game or delete all your personal files to focus solely on school work.

Backup backup backup backup backup

Even before the introduction of COVID-19 most universities and even high schools and primary schools have some online file system setup for students to grab and work on files uploaded by the teachers.

Those which didn’t are now moving as fast as possible to create their own but, regardless, you never want to rely on just a single place to store files as important as those related to studies.

Anyone who has lost an assignment or a piece of homework that ate up hours of their lives will attest to the benefits of taking some extra time out of your day to make backups for all your work.

The traditional way to be 100% sure of keeping everything backup is is the 3-2-1 rule.

Finally, remember to always have a local backup that you can access without an internet connection. Should your ISP go down, your data deplete or the university’s servers become unresponsive, this copy is what you will rely on. Before making any backups, local or otherwise, make sure you are not breaking any school rules or copyright laws.

[Image – Tumisu on Pixabay]