Online Learning at Uni
Since about week 4 of term 2, uni has been completely online. My experience as a first year was unique because I had a period of online high school in 2020 and so I had some ideas for how lockdown would turn out. I expected lockdown to be:
- Very short (I initially hoped that it would only last 2-3 weeks)
- Not very productive academically (There were so many problems with online uni when I first started - exams were crashing, the COVID situation was poorly communicated and all in-person society events were completely cancelled)
- Really good for trying to put more time into the societies I was a part of (I had just become the secretary and treasurer of Med Revue and I was excited to be able to put more time into this and the other activities I had)
The COVID Situation
One of the most expected things for me this year was the 2nd wave of COVID. Living in Australia, the first wave was barely noticeable and by the time vaccines had become approved in many countries, I assumed that COVID would be completely gone in a few months. Looking at the logistics behind distributing a handful of vaccines to the entire world before a mutation like delta sprung up on the population, it was naive to assume that was the end.
In June, we started getting a few cases in the state and although it only started off with a few a day, the power of exponential growth led to cases climbing rapidly. One of the biggest mistakes during the delta wave was not going into lockdown eearly enough. Although it seems like a few cases are trivial, even one case can cause the entire state to go into lockdown in a matter of weeks.
Around the start of August, I told myself that the case numbers wouldn’t ever reach 1000 per day because that was well above the limit last year and it was too many cases to comprehend when we had already been in lockdown for over a month.
The situation only kept getting worse. The sluggish distribution of the vaccines and the lack of accurate or consistent information from the state government only fueled the frustrations of everyone in the state. There have been protests in Sydney, with news articles showing hundreds of maskless people gathering in the city.
There have been some moments of hope in relation to vaccines such as when Pfizer fast-tracked vaccine doses to Australia and the planned arrival of Moderna vaccines in September. These are vital to the future of the country and are sources of hope at a time when cases are reaching 2000 daily.
UNSW doesn’t have the infrastructure to manage the transition to complete online learning. One on hand it is completely understandable that something as unprecedented as a pandemic wouldn’t be something the university would be prepared for, however, the flaws with online learning are really evident. One of the clearest examples of this was the Term 1 MATH1141 exam. I remember waking up early to ensure I was completely prepared and panicking when the exam didn’t even load. This led to the exam being postponed and there was a lot of chaos about redoing an exam because of a fault in the university infrastructure. In Term 2, two out of my three finals had technical issues in them and although these were remedied by 30 minute extensions, they were still really frustrating.
Are there any positives???
When implemented correctly, online exams have so much more potential than any in-person written exam. Although I haven’t had an opportunity to formally work in computer science or maths yet, I cannot imagine many occasions without access to google or mathematics software like Maple and Matlab.
Because my exams were open-book, I had plenty of time to search up concepts and refresh my memory on different coding functions and theory. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect students to cram all the content a week before the exam for the sake of an in-person exam and I would argue that skills like researching and applying concepts are much more useful.
Before lockdown, I had a very busy schedule and usually woke up between 7-9 everyday. This changed at the start of lockdown when I had a completely different schedule and all my classes were completely online and recorded anyways. Slowly, I stayed up longer and longer until I found myself sleeping at 9am and waking up early in the afternoon. This made my day so unproductive and I always felt like the day were already over merely a few hours after waking up.
Shifting to consistency
After a while, I was able to completely flip my sleep schedul. I started sleeping at 9pm and woke up at around 5am every morning. This made my day so much more productive in every way. After 5 hours of being awake, it was only 10am and I still had the whole day ahead of me.
There were less ways for me to get distracted early in the morning when everyone was asleep and I found myself actually being productive rather than wasting my time on youtube. I started researching how to create this website early on one of those mornings and every coonsecutive morning, I’d work on shifting articles I had already written to this website, updating the features or learning how to code something new! There were drawbacks to sleeping so early - most uni students are active after 10pm so it was sometimes hard to play games or have long conversations with my friends when I was really sleepy and wanted to go to bed. Nonetheless, I am hoping on maintaining this routine for the rest of lockdown and probably beyond that as well.
Holding a Stageshow
With the start of lockdown came so many uncertainties about on-campus activities. CSE Revue had planned a show for the end of Term 2 and that had to be postponed twice with no current prospects any time soon. The situation remains extremely unclear and there is no way to know how long this lockdown will last or whether there will be future lockdowns.
Since the start of the pandemic 3 shows have been cancelled, there has been one video show by Law Revue and in Term 1 Med Revue had an actual in-person performance. This has presented a challenging situation for the entirety of revue at UNSW because amongst the challenge of funding the show, there lies so much work for the people volunteering their time towards the production of the show.
Running a theatre performance comes with huge costs. The show needs to consider venue hire, costumes, food, events, merch and so many other costs that come with the show. Because of this, minimising costs and finding ways to fund the show are really important. In previous years, in-person events have been useful ways to generate money and have been one of the primary ways to cover the cost of the show. Unfortunately, once everything shifted online, these in-person events became impossible.
UNSW’s student engagement organisation Arc has been very helpful in funding past shows and ticket sales are useful, however, in order for revues to survive through challenges like the pandemic, I think it is important to look into alternative ways to generate income.
Holding online events is extremely difficult. There are so many elements to consider, one of the biggest being engagement with society members. Med Revue has tried to be proactive in hosting movie nights during lockdown, however, with almost every society offering events like this, it is harder to stand out with a medium like revue which is primarily based on being in-person. There are a few ways to tackle this and I am confident that revue will eventually overcome these challenges.
UNSW Crypto and Blockchain Society (UCBS)
As one of the IT directors in UCBS at UNSW, one of my first tasks in lockdown was to interview people to join our team. The task itself didn’t seem challenging, however, I learnt a lot from the experience of reading applications and conducting interviews.
In the past, I put a huge emphasis on technical proficiency when filling out applications. My reasoning was that with a billion activities and awards there was no way I wouldn’t succeed. From looking at the applications to my portfolio in UCBS I realised that was definitely not the case.
Reading through each person’s application, I realised how much certain aspects of application questions matter. It didn’t matter how experienced someone was if they didn’t put time into answering the prompts and showed no engagement with the role they wanted. Additionally, the people who shone through the interviews were those who had a good balance between technical and interpersonal skills.
I’m doing a course called COMP2521 next term. From what I’ve heard so far, it is one of the most useful first year courses and a prerequisite to basically every other higher level comp course. Wanting to spread out my workload for next term, I decided to work ahead and learn some of the components of the course that I think might be useful.
I haven’t done much research into it so I might be completely wrong, however, I started refreshing my memory on concepts I initially tried to learn in 2019. These include sorting algorithms and binary searches. I read a lot of articles and skimmed through books from last year about these topics and although they had so much information, I didn’t really feel like I was getting much out of them.
I decided to try a different approach to learning and searched online for problems related to the topics I was learning. After logging into LeetCode for the first time since probably the start of the year, I told myself that I would attempt at least 50 problems related to sorting and searching before the course started. So far I have completed 24 problems and I think with some dedication and further research, I’ll be able to reach my goal!
Plans for next term
Shortly after lockdown started, I discovered the chrome extension that allows videos to be played at 4x speed. Thinking back to my recent exams, I remember rewatching 17 hours of lectures two days before my maths exam at 3.5x speed. Although I shouldn’t have been cramming right before my exam, I think I’m going to continue watching recorded lectures at 3x speed because it leaves me with more time to actually apply what I’m learning rather than simply trying to memorise theory.
Recently, I’ve been participating in a lot of Puzzlesoc events. These are a really fun way to connect with other people and are completely online. I want to continue signing up for their events in term 3.
I want to take part in the CSESoc Industry Mentoring Program for computer science. I think that learning from someone who works in computer science will be very useful in orienting my ambitions and reconsidering my goals as I move into my 2nd year of university.
Image Credit for 1st COVID Image: Brian McGowan on Unsplash