Online learning advice from the Class of 2020

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Guest writer Bianca Stanghieri – 2020 College Captain – shares advice and tips from her experience undertaking remote learning while completing the HSC last year.

We find ourselves again at a time where we have to work together whilst not being physically ‘together’. This is especially true for the current Year 12s undertaking their HSC, where working together as a cohort or ‘company of women’, as Angela Merici would say, is vital in the completion of their final year. 

The current climate that the Year 12s are facing looks very similar to the experiences of last year’s graduating Class of 2020. Having completed my HSC through lockdowns and remote learning last year whilst as the College Captain and having had my father diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, I have put together this ‘How-To’ guide. 

I hope you will take on board these key tips to help you successfully navigate the challenges of online learning, lockdown and anything else that may come your way. It is not a formula for a 99 Atar but a guide to help you achieve your own personal success!

How to stay on track with your HSC prep

Routine is everything. Epictetus said something along those lines but I’ve summed it up for you. Coming up to your Trials and HSC exams, you need to take charge of your learning and this includes maintaining a daily routine whilst at home. Not only did this help me feel more organised and less stressed but helped me make sure that the move to remote learning was less disruptive. 

This includes waking up an hour before class and not 5 minutes before you’re supposed to be in the Zoom waiting room. Thereby, you have enough time to ‘wake up’, have a good breakfast, organise your day and check social media. 

It’s not a strict schedule but a simple daily plan that’ll set you up right. Take Jessica Sepel’s night routine, for example, eat a healthy dinner, enjoy some family time, switch off technology by 8pm, relax and get at least 8 hours sleep. 

Another key tip is consistency. Without a consistent routine, it’s ineffective, right? Well, this is why your study routine needs a brush-up! Each day of the week, I allocated set times for each of my subjects to study, alongside my workouts, runs and leadership activities. 

This does not mean doing all your work in 2 out of 5 days.

  • Pace yourselves, make a weekly planner and place it somewhere in view to remind you, even use Google Calendar! 
  • Jotting down on a daily planner ‘To Do’ list and follow-ons for tomorrow is helpful. I personally categorise them into ‘Priorities’, ‘To Do’ and ‘Reading / Prep’. 
  • Something that my study routine lacked, which I think Mrs Monk can agree with, was making sure to consistently do past papers and sending them to get marked. So have confidence within yourself, give them a go, make sure they are timed and you can even exchange them with your peers to mark. 
  • A tech hack to send your handwritten work to your teacher is using your Apple ‘Notes’ App and using the ‘Scan Documents’ feature. So you don’t need to use the printer. 
  • Doing past papers is an example of active learning, something you can learn more about on TikTok. What? Yes, you can use TikTok to help you with effective studying techniques. Check out @Sarahbada_.

I also want to highlight the importance of setting up a productive learning space. You might think ‘yep, desk – tick’ but is your phone next to you? This is why I suggest charging your phone out of your sight to minimise distractions. It is important to have your books, notes and stationary organised and have a water bottle on your desk for hydration. All very simple things but they can be easily forgotten. And yes, you can find some inspiration from TikTok. Thereby, you can have an organised space for optimal online study.

How to ‘online learn’

Remember you have done it before and you can do it again! It all comes down to time management. Obviously, there are a lot more distractions whilst at home so self-discipline is key. 

I found it beneficial to use the ‘timeboxing’ technique similar to your school timetable, where you have allocated ‘boxes’ of time to a specific activity e.g. 1hr essay. This is because working for a shorter time with a targeted goal is more effective than working for 3hrs mindlessly. 

Quality, not quantity, as they like to say in English. You can research more into timeboxing online or use a personal favourite time app called ‘Flora’ and grow a real tree in Kenya whilst you study!

Actively participating is the best way to get the most out of your learning. This is especially true online, as it is normal to feel awkwardly silent, this even happens at uni too! 

  • Participate in the lesson, ask questions and discuss concepts as you will better understand the subject and engage with your peers. 
  • If you’re not a keen talker use the chat. This is another example of active learning.
  • Make sure to best utilise the time with your teacher and ask them for any support. 
  • So turn your camera on and don’t eat behind your screen even though it’s tempting to snack whilst at home….it’s not a Mukbang!

How to take care of yourself

HSC is your main priority, not your only priority, so it is important that you look after yourself during this stressful time. Make sure you find ways to get off your screen by taking regular shorts breaks around the house and even eating recess in your backyard or on your balcony. Although, keep them timed so you aren’t swiping on TikTok for too long! 

Jessica Sepel also emphasises the need to enter a ‘Stress Free Zone’ for as short as 10 minutes a day. You could de-stress by mediating using the Smiling Mind App, doing a HITT workout (yes you can find 30 minute at-home workouts on TikTok too) or simply listening to your favourite artists. 

Get more sleep. Sleep is definitely something I struggled with last year, until I read an article that emphasised the importance of sleep for learning. This is because without adequate sleep you cannot retain the information you’ve learnt or just studied. So don’t think pulling an all-nighter is a smart decision because you’re doing yourself more harm than good. Have some chamomile tea before bed to help you relax. 

It is also vital that you check in with your mental health during these times. I of all people can say that telling myself ‘I’m fine’ when I was stressed about my upcoming exams and my father being in hospital was not helpful. 

You don’t have to ‘soldier on’ but talk to someone you trust – your friends, teacher or even the College Counsellor. It’s a stressful time and negative thinking can be a burden so sometimes talking about life just helps. 

How to stay connected

Instead of checking in with QR codes, check in with each other! Remember you are a team working towards a common goal. 

  • Create a class group chat to share resources, notes and to see how everyone is doing. 
  • My favourite remote learning memories is having ‘Zoom lunches’ online with my group of friends and having a laugh. Talking is better than texting and having to fake text ‘haha’ laugh. 
  • Even plan a Zoom study group for your subjects to exchange thoughts, chat and study together.

How these challenges make you stronger

Always remember, every obstacle you overcome makes you stronger and we are each on a unique journey. So look at this time as a glass-half-full situation and make sure you are thinking about your future journey post high school. This may be university, TAFE or work. The time management skills and perseverance you’ll experience are all vital to your future journey. 

Although these obstacles seem hard to overcome, remember, the previous class survived them and even thrived during these challenging times. 

Have faith in your teachers who are already extensively trained in online learning and have plenty of resources available to help at the press of a button. 

We have done it before and we will do it again!

Bianca Stanghieri

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