What to expect from an online Study Skills workshop

Photo of Tala, the author of the blog postby Tala Youhana, Law student and Bristol Futures Advocate

Whilst it is now second nature for groups to arrange meetings remotely, this has hardly been common practice for long. In fact, for many, these online venues can still feel like unfamiliar territory. “Is my mic switched on? Will my Wi-Fi hold?”, you probably resonate with these if you are no stranger to using Zoom, Teams, Collaborate etc.

Nonetheless, negative connotations aside, online workshops can have numerous plus-sides that shouldn’t be overlooked, and a good way of experiencing them first-hand is by attending an online study skills workshop. So, what exactly can you expect from an online study skills workshop?

  1. Guidance on using Collaborate

Firstly, the hosts will often assess whether anyone is having any issues with using the platform and are always happy to help if you are! These sessions are often held via Collaborate and login instructions would be provided beforehand.

  1. Unpacking of the intended learning outcomes

To ensure the most productive outcomes for the session, it is common for hosts to assess what participants’ want to achieve by attending the workshop. A slide will normally appear detailing the objective intended outcomes, but feel free to contribute your targets here, as even if the workshop may not wholly deal with them, your contribution would be considered by the team for a future session! 

  1. Lots of questions – no wrong answers

A workshop, unlike a talk or a lecture, is completed only insofar as the participants are responsive with the host- therefore, it is as much your contribution as it is the facilitator’s. Most importantly, it is an environment where you can expect no wrong answers- a safe space to exchange your personal experiences and ideas, because by doing so, it will yield optimum results for you and others in the session. These discussion-based skill-building exercises are unique because they result in a bank of resources and ideas, and it will be up to you to simply find out what works for you!

  1. Plenty of live engagement with the option of anonymity

The unique aspect of an online-based study skills workshop is that tools such as Mentimeter, Padlet, and polls truly shine in this environment. The ability to retain some anonymity throughout the session whilst still being fully engaged makes online study skills workshops unique in sharpening the skills you are looking for. For me, these tools really helped promote reflective and critical engagement with my study habits and routines.

  1. A welcoming environment

I think it’s crucial to reiterate what a friendly and welcoming environment you can expect from these workshops. They are open to all students and are designed in a way that is accessible to those who speak English as foreign language, have learning difficulties, or are still getting started on intensifying a particular skill.

You now, hopefully, have a better idea of what to expect from an online study skills workshop, but the best way to really get that insight, is probably to try it out yourself!

Student perspective: Keeping up motivation over the Easter break

Photo of Josie, the author of the blog postby Josie Rahman, Bristol Futures Advocate

Maintaining motivation over semester breaks can be difficult at the best of times – throwing in the challenge of online learning only makes it more of a struggle! Through running a peer-led workshop surrounding motivation and how we can cultivate it, it has became even more apparent just how universal this worry is for students. I hope that this blog can offer a few tips and tricks on how to keep on going with important assignments throughout the Easter break, whether that is spent at university or elsewhere.

Score a goal!

It is more important than ever when you are free from synchronous teaching over the Easter period to ensure that you have a plan and goals set for the time off. It goes without saying that you need a rest, so make sure to allocate time off in the week to catch up with friends (socially distanced!), fit in some exercise and make sure you’re getting plenty of rest to look after yourself. However, I find my motivation is at its best when I set really focused goals – I use the SMART goals acronym for this so give it a google! Check in with yourself at the start and end of each day – have you achieved the goals you set out to do? If not – were your goals too ambitious or were there other obstacles that got in the way of your studies?

What is your WHY?

To keep yourself going without the help of scheduled time with tutors over the Easter period, it can be really helpful to ensure you know WHY you are studying – what are the factors that motivate you? Motivation is split into intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is where motivation arises within yourself – you are doing something that personally feels rewarding – whereas extrinsic motivation involves wanting to do something in order to achieve a reward or avoid a negative consequence (e.g. exam deadlines!). Understanding what factors may contribute to both of these can help sustain motivation. For example, I study medicine and am lucky enough to be genuinely passionate about certain aspects of my course, such as learning more about the signs and symptoms of interesting diseases, which is my intrinsic motivation. My extrinsic motivation is the fact that if I complete my degree, I will go on to become a doctor, an external long term reward! Remember to give yourself little external rewards too – a nice meal or a walk outside after work towards an assignment can be very gratifying.

The end is in sight!

Whilst exam season and deadlines loom after Easter, Easter break is a great chance to safely catch up with friends and family, and the balance of this is paramount for motivation. After deadlines are over, Summer is waiting ahead – and fingers crossed it’ll be a Covid-free one. Making plans for after deadlines and exams to look forward to is one thing that hugely motivates me during the breaks – the light at the end of the tunnel!

 

Bringing this all together, it’s great to consider what will motivate YOU over the Easter break? Let me know in the comments!

Student perspective: Staying motivated in the lead up to and during Winter Break

Photo of Tiegan, author of this blog postby Tiegan Bingham-Roberts, Y3 BA English student & Bristol Futures Advocate

There are only three weeks left of TB1… congratulations on making it this far! I for one am certainly looking forward to a break, especially to spend some time doing activities that do not involve staring into the abyss of my laptop screen all day every day. I might do some baking, go for some walks in the countryside of my hometown (weather dependent of course, which does is not a great dependent if you live in the UK like me), read some books that are completely unrelated to my English degree, and catch up on the extra hours of sleep that ran away from me this term. I hope you are also planning on doing some relaxing activities, whatever they may be for you.

Before you can do those activities, though, you must get past the finish line. Especially with the recent updates that all teaching is going to be moved online gradually from the 3rd December, you might be feeling worried about how to stay motivated. If you are staying on-campus, the lack of in-person teaching may impact your motivation because you feel as though you are being held less accountable for how much work you put into your studies. If you really enjoyed the in-person teaching, you might be worried about being less engaged with your learning materials. In general, you may be feeling unmotivated purely for the fact that you are tired of 2020 and all the changes it continues to bring to our lives. If you are returning to your non-term time address, if you have one, you might struggle to stay motivated because you are no longer surrounded by other students and so it feels as if the Winter Break has started early, even though it has not.

However, and this is a big however, it is hard to escape from the reality that Winter Break is not truly a ‘break’, because unfortunately we cannot switch off our student status as soon as we leave the classroom. I know that every student, no matter what course they are studying or what year group they are in, will have tasks to complete over the Winter Break – whether that be essays, reports, research, exam revision, reading, proposals, job applications, internship applications, volunteering, part-time jobs, the list goes on and on…

Alongside these tasks, comes the big distraction of Winter Holiday Celebrations. During the final few weeks of term and in the month and a half that follows, you might be participating in one of the many festivals happening across the globe, perhaps in a different capacity this year due to coronavirus restrictions. Between the tasks you have been set to complete over the Winter Break, and the festivities of the season, it is understandable why many students get sucked into the intoxicating fun of it all only to soberly panic as our deadlines or exams quickly approach before our TB2 timetables start.

Here are some things you can do to stay motivated amidst all the chaos, excitement, and relaxation:

· Remind yourself of what you have achieved so far in such strange circumstances of a global pandemic, why you are here at University, and why you want to do well. Sometimes it is easy to forget how far you have come as you get wrapped up in deadlines and what can feel like aimless days of staring at your screen, but there is a point to all of it – to get your degree from a top University. This is very cliché, but the phrase ‘it will all be worth it in the end’ is apt here.

· Make sure your goals are realistic. Whether these are daily or weekly goals, have them noted down somewhere such as on a physical or virtual notepad or calendar. Make sure they do not completely fill your time, as often unexpected things come up or things may take longer to complete than you initially realised. Allowing flexibility means that you will be much more likely to achieve the goal by the end of the day or week. I get so much satisfaction from being able to tick things off my to do list and go to sleep each night knowing that I can truly relax and watch a bit of Netflix without feeling guilty for it.

· Create a study space. This is going to be easier for some students than others depending on your living situation, and my advice here is to work with what you have got to the best of your ability; try to get creative. It might be that you clear one area of the room you are staying in to be a blank canvas so that you are able to focus, it might mean stacking up a pile of academic books in your space to serve as a reminder that you are still a student!

· Check in with your peers on your course or other students you know who are studying different subjects – ask them how they are doing, what work they have managed to do, discuss deadlines, peer review each other’s work. I find that having somebody to hold you accountable for what you have been up to can be a great motivator, and even having a small conversation about University life can help to jog your memory and get you back into the right mindset of being a driven and determined student.

· Book onto one of the Bristol Study Skills Online Study Lounges. These are a fantastic way to study with and meet other students whilst studying remotely.

· Check out the Bristol Study Skills resource online about Studying From Home, which breaks down different ways of studying remotely which is what we will all be doing from between 3rd-9th December onwards until the end of January (if in-person teaching resumes of course).

I hope the rest of term goes well for you and that you have found this post useful for thinking about motivation over the Winter Break. What activities are you most looking forward to during your rest days?

Student perspective: Making lockdown happy, healthy and productive

Photo of Alby, author of the blogby Alby Stevens, Bristol Futures Advocate

The biggest threat to our studies during the next few weeks is that posed by feeling isolated and unmotivated, so I wanted this blog post to focus on staying healthy through the rest of TB1 in spite of the national lockdown that has just begun. When the pandemic hit back in March I found that despite all the time I had available to study it was so much harder to be productive. I know I wasn’t alone in feeling like this. As lockdown begins again I believe it’s worth taking some time to reflect about how you can cultivate a positive working environment over the next month or so in spite of the unnatural circumstances.

The 5 tips below are proven ways to look after both mental wellbeing and your studies, particularly over lockdown, and would be a great place for you to start from in reflecting upon what works best for you. It would be fantastic if you posted what works for you in the comments below so that we can all get ideas from each other:

  • Get ahead – Whilst it may feel a little cliché to get into a routine right from the start it is a really healthy way for you to stay in control. With so much time in isolation ahead of us, the temptation is to push everything back: work, physical health, mental wellbeing. By staying on top of things while you feel fresh you should be able take some stress off of yourself when the novelty of lockdown wears off.

It’s worth taking a look at the Study Skills time management resources to help you with this one or you could procrastinate by watching this video about how to not procrastinate!

  • Don’t wear yourself out – Do things sustainably and tend to all the little parts of your life that are important to your happiness from cooking healthy meals to getting enough exercise. Trying new things is a great way to stimulate the mind but equally the next 28 days doesn’t have to be some sort of language learning, baking or early morning yoga boot camp! I’m always tempted to start off too fast and wear myself out within a week so this time around I’m focusing on doing what I can and doing the amount that makes me feel good.
  • Get outside – Humans are not designed to spend their lives indoors and so if you are able, make sure to get outside daily. It doesn’t have to be a 12 mile hike – I prefer wrapping up warm and taking a coffee to a new street in Bristol – but the benefits of fresh air, sunlight and new surroundings are so important. Take the time to notice the trees changing colour, the days getting shorter or the people wandering around doing the same as you!
  • Engage with online society events – Even if it’s not really your thing, keeping communities together whilst we’re apart could be so valuable to someone else. There is never a bad time to join a new society and you can always try something out in the knowledge that it doesn’t have to be forever if it turns out to not be for you.

Here is the link to the SU societies page.

  • Connect with people – This one is the most important but the easiest to forget. More than ever we must make the effort to make sure that the people around us are okay and to ask for help if we are struggling. In my opinion, no piece of university work is more important than a 10 minute chat in the kitchen with a housemate that might need it. Looking out for others is scientifically proven to make us feel good too.

I’ve taken some ideas for this from a website called Action for Happiness which is well worth taking a look at. Their ‘10 Keys to Happier Living’ are really easy to understand and are always a great reminder to me that often the things that make us happy are different to what we imagine them to be.

Here is the link to Bristol University’s wellbeing services for anyone that is struggling and would like to look through some resources or talk to someone. The right kind of help is there for everyone.

 

Student perspective: Overcoming the trials and tribulations of the group Zoom call

Note: This post was written during the covid-19 pandemic. While university teaching is no longer 100% online, online learning is here to stay… whether in the form of online lectures or simply a quick Teams/ Zoom/ Skype call with your project group. So we think this blog post is just as relevant as ever! Now read on…

by Beth Robinson, Bristol Futures Advocate

‘Group work’ gets mixed reviews at the best of times, let alone when everyone’s internet connection keeps dropping and the speakers aren’t working properlyFor the most part, I’m really enjoying online meetings. But whether it be with a project supervisor, as part of a study group or yet another virtual quiz, something’s bound to go wrong at some point. In an academic sense, I’ve noticed that it can be hard to make online calls as productive as they could be. These are solutions others and I have found to the trials and tribulations of group Zoom (/Skype) calls.

When meetings are unproductive 

We’ve all been there. The calls where you speak for an hour or two without actually getting anywhere. So, ahead of group study or even 1:1 calls, make sure you set a clear agenda. Perhaps working on setting goals and/or time slots of exactly what you want to cover and when may work. Or, if you are not able to do this (or indeed don’t feel comfortable doing so), work out what it is you personally want to get out of the meeting. Because, no matter how unproductive a meeting may feel, it’s likely you’ll be able to find something valuable in it. For example, being able to empathise with what someone else is experiencing or thinking about any next steps you can take with respect to your personal development.  (One useful tool to help with PDP can be found here)

When the WiFi/video/microphones are being temperamental 

If quitting and rejoining doesn’t work, the student laptop and phone clinic at the University of Bristol is still running, so if you are having tech or connectivity problems then be sure to reach out to them. If you have very limited access to internet more generally, don’t be afraid to contact a unit or programme director – in such difficult times I doubt they’d want to see you experience an unfair disadvantage. 

When it’s hard to find the right space  

It can be difficult to find the right environment to be on a group call, especially if you’re somewhere with no desk and/or a house full of people. That being said, I’ve seen some great creative solutions out there! Pinterest has lots of cool ideas – for example ways to get creative with tabletop spaces if you don’t have a desk, and interesting lighting and sound solutions. Depending on the nature of the call, adding a green-screen background on Zoom or going around the group and sharing a ‘unique item’ from where you are living can be a nice icebreaker! 

Hope you’re all keeping safe and well, especially as we move forwards into exams! What have been your biggest annoyances and solutions to group video calls? 

Student perspective: Effective virtual group studying

Note: This post was written during the covid-19 pandemic. While university teaching is no longer 100% online, online learning is here to stay… whether in the form of online lectures or simply a quick Teams/ Zoom/ Skype call with your project group. So we think this blog post is just as relevant as ever! Now read on…

by Iskandar Bin Suhaimi, Bristol Futures Advocate

Since the lockdown, a lot of teaching and learning has been moved online. This would invariably affect your personal study sessions either with friends or your tutors. In light of this, I have compiled a few pointers on how to make virtual learning more manageable and effective, so read on!

  1. Choose the right platform

Different platforms offer different features. Skype Business has extended features which the University has made free for all students (see: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/telephones/sfb/). A rising rival to consider is Zoom; solid option in terms of stability. Alternatively, Discord offers interesting templates for studying. No shortage of options here.

  1. Set goals and a structure

The whole of first year my group study was nothing but gossiping and getting distracted. Don’t be me. Instead, try listing down your goals, allow time for discussion, and stick to it. I find using checklists especially helpful in staying focused, and tutorial guides a great starting point in creating a study plan.

  1. Delegate tasks beforehand

Ensure everyone is ready to contribute by assigning work beforehand. You’ll find discussions run more smoothly and you can focus on bolstering each other’s knowledge rather than spend awkward minutes reading silently (trust me – I’ve been there)

  1. Use a shared work platform

Trello is a great platform to centralize your group project materials although I find that it takes a while getting used to. If you prefer simpler technology, Google Drive is the way to go. You’ll be able to access each other’s notes all in one convenient place and it definitely beats having to email each other every time.

  1. Practice good online study etiquette

Turn off your mic when you’re not speaking. Update each other on your progress. Never, directly edit on someone’s original documents. A little courtesy goes a long way.

Most of all, remember that it is a difficult time for everyone so don’t panic if it’s hard to be productive! However, if you’ve managed to do so why not help other students by sharing your own tips?

 

Student perspective: Staying focused in a new environment

by Iskandar Bin Suhaimi, Bristol Futures Advocate

Gone are the café mornings, Beacon afternoons and ASSL all-nighters. Staying at home is now the new norm as we work together to stop Covid-19 from spreading further. But be it your room, living room or lush frontier-style patio, it is definitely not easy to get productive in spaces you associate with rest and relaxation. Regardless, the grind must go on so here are a few tips to help you make the best of your new surroundings:

  1. Designate a specific working space

Establish a mental connection with your workplace by studying and only studying there. In time, your brain will be automatically switch to study mode whenever you sit down.

  1. Dress for work

Whether you’re going for Elle Wood’s Harvard look or your trusty sports fleece, dressing up can help you transition into your productivity mindset. Save the pyjamas for bedtime.

  1. Spring clean your room

For those who have nowhere to study except your bedroom, there can be no better time to Kondo-up your crib. Make your bed (I see you), dust that bookshelf and for Pete’s sake take your 6th grade assignment off your desktop. Reducing clutter will minimize distractions, allowing for a clear head to focus on the task at hand.

  1. Get the ambiance right

Some people prefer silence. Some people are fun and need a little ambiance music to get in the zone. RainyMood is great for rain sounds, but you’re also bound to find something you like on YouTube or Spotify.

  1. Establish a routine

An effective routine ensures you optimize your time, attend to essential tasks and get plenty of downtime as well. The keyword is balance.

Go ahead and give any of these tips a try. Comment your thoughts below and maybe share some tips of your own!