In this third post of the Learning & Teaching Enhancement theme: “Focus on the internationalisation of teaching and learning“, Jane Wu, a Masters student at the Moray House of Education and Sport, reflects on her process with adapting to online learning as an international student at the University of Edinburgh; it’s all about the ‘small things’…
I am a current MSc Education student. The 2020/21 academic year uniquely makes me feel as a part of history as online working and learning has emerged as the mainstream for international higher education. Hence, I would like to share my international “online” learning experience at Edinburgh.
Change of learning methods has altered our ways of collaboration. Teachers and peers, without face-to-face meeting, are merely names, or little head-shot photos on Learn and Microsoft Teams, or digital images in recorded lectures. The only channels through which we make contact are our laptops or smart phones. The situation changed slightly after I arrived in Edinburgh in last November. I managed to attend offline workshops last semester at the Moray House School of Education and Sports. However, a new round of lockdown in Scotland was announced before the second semester. We had no choice but go back to online learning.
Fortunately, my past work experience has helped me a lot to prepare for online learning. Before I entered into a postgraduate programme, I worked as a full-time Chinese L2 teacher in a Chinese language centre in Shanghai, China. I will discuss below my reflections on how my previous online teaching experience has provided me with perfect preparation for my learning as an international student at the University of Edinburgh.
First of all, division of spatial functions can prevent distractions. A particular workplace, not necessarily big but absolutely neat and clean, is where I can focus my concentration on my study and work. Another useful method is self-suggestion by, for example, dressing up formally or getting to work after washing, which can subconsciously create a sense of actual working. These are quite small things that can really make a difference. Additionally, I make work-and-rest schedule and inform my parents and roommates about my schedule, which can guarantee my concentration to a great extent.
One thing I find also necessary is to regularly keep myself in touch with the outside world. I would often send a message like “hi, may I ask” or an invitation “hey, fancy a video chat” to my peers or even my personal tutor. Opening the camera, whether it is with a friend or peers whom I never met in-person, is my special way to immerse myself in a learning community. I realise that being alone is admittedly important, but talking with others, listening to other opinions and staying informed are vital in an online learning community.
However, my performance during online learning is never perfect. There are times when I find it hard to focus, which can interfere with completing certain tasks on time. Distance learning is a test of self-control and it places a higher demand on setting priorities and working efficiently. There are also times when I have negative feelings like pressure, isolation or depression, like everyone. But I try to find “spiritual highs” such as, as for me, starting to learn to play the Ukulele and spending one hour per day practicing. Reading, cooking or watching comedy shows are also good for alleviating stress when staying at home.
No one is perfect in the face of a public health emergency of international concern, nor in the face of a learning style utterly unfamiliar. But I firmly believe that we can always learn from experience. Online learning, whether due to the pandemic or not, is becoming a global trend in education. An increasing number of practitioners are seeing its potentials. As an MSc Education postgraduate student and a teacher, I believe that online learning will be a special experience for both teachers and students. If we can see deficiencies in the process as challenges that we are committed to conquer in the future, it will be a valuable contribution to education research and practice.
In relation to my future career, I deem that an online learning experience at the University of Edinburgh can pave a solid foundation for telecommuting practice, which has currently become a global trend in workplaces as well. What we learn in the process, such as how to plan our time, how to master skills of self-discipline, how to improve communication skills with our teams at work and how to better cope with anxiety, will allow us to be ready for our future career.
Jane Wu is a student of MSc Education in Moray House of Education and Sport. She holds a Master’s degree of Teaching Chinese to Speakers of Other Languages and a Teacher of Chinese as a second language.