For some of us, the thought of introducing ourselves and making friends on the first day of university takes us back to our primary school days; knots in your stomach, that nervous energy mixed with excitement, and the anticipation of the night before. It’s an exhilarating time, and for many people the connections made during university years can be lifelong. Getting to meet and converse with different people from a variety of backgrounds is an invaluable part of the student journey.
But what about those of us who study online? As I near the end of my degree, I can’t help but reflect on the last three years of academic learning; the all-nighters, the late-night coffee runs, the mountains of reading – all of which have led to a challenging yet worthwhile experience that has shaped the learner I am today. When the topic of online study comes up, people often discuss the hardships of self-motivation, finding a good study space, and acing online exams. What about friendships and collaborative learning?
As someone who transitioned from on-campus study to exclusively online learning after a change in degrees, the difference between these modes is immense, and, whilst there are certainly positives and negatives to both, the social aspect of online study can be particularly difficult to approach for many students. The idea of organising a study group with peers can be daunting, particularly as oftentimes it’s difficult to put a face to a name. Still, I can’t help but think I could’ve been more willing to step out of my comfort zone.
Are other students feeling this way? You bet.
While I can certainly say that remote learning has improved my thinking around self-motivation and strengthened my abilities as an independent learner, there are times when a study buddy would have come in handy. Someone to bounce ideas, study with over a cup of coffee, provide clarification on a reading I’m having trouble with. It’s hard when everyone is hidden behind a screen, yet the era in which we find ourselves definitely lends itself to productive and valuable online relationships. What is difficult is getting past that initial awkwardness and starting a conversation. But how?
Firstly, it’s helpful to follow Griffith University’s social media pages, as well as familiarising yourself with Thrive Online. There are a number of resources out there designed for aiding new students navigating the digital space. Before week one, it’s helpful to begin personalising your online profile. Choose an avatar or profile picture, and add some background information to your profile so your peers can get to know the person behind the screen. Make an early post on each of your unit discussion boards and introduce yourself. Make sure you reach out to a student advisor if you’re having any trouble or are feeling overwhelmed. They’re there to help.
Utilising the discussion board
Ah, the discussion board. Often a place for slapdash responses in the hopes of meeting the required number of posts. At least it’s something though, right? Sure, it can feel perfunctory when the only reason you’re posting is to get points for a grade, but it’s better than nothing. But why should it only be used as part of your assessment? After all, networking is an important aspect of job hunting and landing that dream job, and as we’ve already established, most of us are hankering for that bit of human connection and friendship.
The biggest piece of advice I could give to new students is to use the discussion board as often as possible, and to see it as a place for genuine, informative conversations. Whether it’s seeking clarification on the latest assessment piece or voicing an opinion on a subject touched on in a reading, don’t be afraid of dipping your feet in and getting involved. In hindsight, this is something I wish I had done more. Your tutors are there to moderate when needed and guide the discussion, and it goes without saying that your responses should be considerate and ethical. Remember, however, that you have a right to express your views; after all, thoughtful, intellectual debates are all part of the university experience.
Beyond the discussion board
What about discussions that don’t revolve around a reading or an assignment? What if you want to chat about a new movie you saw, or a book you’re reading? Though conversations of this nature are certainly not discouraged on the discussion board platform, it can feel a little awkward posting about the latest episode of your favourite show when your classmates are in the middle of a sociological debate. If there is an existing study group set up amongst your peers, consider joining and get to know who you’re learning with. If there isn’t, put a call out and see who else is interested – you’ll be surprised how many responses you get. From here, you can use platforms and social media such as Microsoft Teams, Skype, and Facebook Messenger to stay connected. Why not set up a weekly meeting or games night?
Speaking of, keep an eye out for virtual events organised by Griffith that will allow you to connect with your peers and socialise. If you want to stay active, why not consider signing up for a social sport? Not only will you be keeping fit and healthy, but it will give you an opportunity to meet new students and become involved in the community. For students who live remotely, the Strava club runs frequent virtual fitness challenges that allow you to stay fit and compete against your peers.
Finally, use the Griffith Career Board and look out for notices regarding collaborative internships and work experience opportunities. These experiences will not only allow you to network and develop professionally, but will keep you connected to other students who might share your classes.
Of course, it’s important to set personal boundaries and keep yourself safe, so do ensure you are conscious of this when building online relationships. Griffith has guidelines and resources to give you more information about cybersafety and maintaining a respectful online community, which you can access here.
All in all, just know you’re not alone, and don’t be afraid to jump in and put yourself out there.
For more advice on the online student experience, check out this video that features voices of Griffith students and their advice on navigating remote learning.