The year of 2020-21 is going to be like no other for reasons we are all too familiar with. But as my previous blog tried to show, it will go ahead and it will be OK. Do be reassured that your learning will happen and also try to remain optimistic that when things become more normal, you will appreciate the freedoms of normal life even more.

But I must acknowledge that things are going to be different this year. University students are enormously capable and I have faith that this generation is completely equal to the challenge but I do want to offer some advice in order to smooth progress through this year in particular. I offer this advice not only from my normal standpoint of one who struggled at university initially, but also as one who is closely involved with working out how my university is going to be able to work this year. But in checking in with my network across the sector, I beieve there is a fair amount of consistancy but common sense says that you should really check with your own institution to make sure my advice doesn’t clash with the way they have decided to plan for this year.

The main issue is that there is going to be a lot more online than in previous years. This should not be surprising to you but it does mean you need to do some additional preparation. If you are already an expert online learner then most of this will be second nature to you. But for most of you, this is different to your normal way of study.

First. Get the right tools. And by that I really mean get a laptop. It’s an expensive purchase but I don’t see how you can get through university without one. Make sure it is a reliable, recent model with tons of storage disk space. You’ll need a built in camera and wifi as well as a reliable battery. It’s not the sort of thing to skimp on so if you are in any doubt, get a new one. Oh, and if this is something your family will struggle to afford, there are lots of ways your university will be able to help you with this. But you absolutely have to have one. iPad wont do. Laptop. Can be Mac or PC, doesnt have to be shiny and with gimicks. It’s a tool you will need. Learn how to use it well and find out how to use your university’s software. At my university this means mainly MSTeams and Moodle but you could have others. There will be materials showing how to use it so find them and become expert.

Second. Make sure you have backup. I go for automatically copying everything into the cloud – DropBox, iCloud or similar. But don’t leave it there; get a big external hard drive and back up regularly. if you’re feeling really really paranoid, store your backup hard drive in a different place to where you live so if you are burgled or the house burns down, you still have it. I know this sounds alarmist but every year I see students who haven’t backed up and they are very, very sorry people indeed. Most universities won’t accept loss of data as an excuse for an assignment being late so backup, backup and backup more. It’s what you will have to do when you get a job so you might as well get used to it.

Third. Get secure. Buy anti-virus software. And if you are on PC, get paid for, top drawer virus protection. No matter what people tell you, the free ones are never as good. Obviously! I also recommend a password protection software which means you have super complicated passwords for all your stuff. If you are left to create your own passwords, I guarantee that you will eventually fall back on using the same one for more or less everything. By using software to help you, there will be random strings of characters for all your accounts and you only have to remember one password to get to them all. Oh, but make sure this one password is insanely complicated but that you can remember by (for example) using a phrase that you will never forget and the password is the first letter of each word plus some characters and numbers.

Fourth. You really do need to think carefully about where you can study on your own. Students do tend to prefer to study in communal spaces but this year you may struggle to find the space. And it probably won’t be as nice as usual. So take some time to think about your study space so you have enough desk or table area for your books and laptop. Think about keeping this space clear of anything apart from the materials you need to study at that moment. And perhaps read through the advice in this previous blog. 

Fifth. I always go on about making sure you know what the rules are for every module and this year this is even more true. You will need to be more organised than ever before so work out how you are going to do this. You may have some face to face sessions on campus with other lectures recorded so you can watch them any time plus all manner of other online stuff to do. You must be really active in working out what you have to do every day. Plan. Get a diary. Carry it with you ALL the time. Don’t agree to doing anything without checking your diary.

And so that’s my top 5.

There is actually a sixth one too: have fun! It will be great. Honestly. University is fabulous. Go and squeeze everything you can from it.