Lack of interaction with tutors and peers

I am a first semester student at Unimelb and have found that online delivery courses are much less efficient than face-to-face classes. I am in a lockdown situation by myself and my communication with the school is limited, which I believe has led to unsatisfactory academic outcomes. Outside the classes, there is little chance for communicating with peers or tutors. When I do ask questions of tutors by ZOOM, they are online for 20-30 minutes and I can’t get much helpful information to solve my issues. I emailed tutors for advice, but sometimes the response takes so long that I can finish my assignment before I see it. I know it is a tough time for everyone, and tutors are busy, but I really need help at this time. What should I think about writing to get good grades? In one subject, I followed exactly what the tutor suggested, but I could not even pass the assignment. How often should I collect tutors’ or peers’ suggestions? Whose advice should I follow? What is wrong about my communication and understanding? I know it is a tough time for everyone, but I am a beginner and have a huge barrier in classes. What should I do?

Dear first semester student, thank you for getting in touch and for your questions. I imagine that you are feeling pretty frustrated that you are clearly putting a lot of effort into your learning and subjects, but not getting the outcomes that you hoped for. As you say, you are not alone in experiencing challenges in adjusting to online learning and the different type of communication with tutors and peers that this entails. I think that it can be particularly tricky for first semester students who are also adjusting to the demands of academic tertiary education as well as often a different style of teaching and learning to what they have experienced before. Another common issue for students in your situation is that being new to the course and University this year means there was limited time to get to know peers in person at the start of the semester who can sometimes be good supports with understanding and completing study.

It sounds like you have already been proactive in contacting your tutors with extra questions which is great, but as you are aware the tutors are also limited in the time they can give to students and have a lot of different students to respond to. I’m not aware of your specific faculty or subject areas but here are some broader suggestions that you may like to try:

Academic Skills:
In addition to study support from your tutors and faculty, the University has an Academic Skills support service for students which includes online resources, workshops, as well as opportunities to book a one on one appointment with an Academic Skills staff member to help with specific study issues.

Peer mentoring program:
If you are an undergraduate student, the University offers a peer mentoring program that you can participate in. Part of this program is to match you with a later year student peer mentor and a group of first-year peers from your course. This can be an opportunity to receive personalized advice about study from others who have been through it or are also in the same position.

Graduate Students Association:
If you are a graduate student, I would recommend having a look at the GSA website as they offer study, work and social events and information to help support you in your University experience.

Study Melbourne:
If you are an international student, Study Melbourne is a Centre in the Melbourne CBD set up to support international students who are studying in Melbourne with a range of areas including adjusting to study.

Counselling & Psychological Services:
Some students find it helpful to book an appointment with a Uni Counsellor from CAPS. This is a free and confidential service. This can be an opportunity to talk through how you are feeling and receive tips on how to enhance your study such as support with time management, goal setting, communication and motivation. CAPS also offers regular workshops on study-related topics that you might find relevant.

The Social Connection – Social Breakouts:
If you want to chat to other students to share ideas or just for fun, there are Social Breakouts running on Tuesday and Friday nights for students to meet a few new people in a relaxed and fun way.

I think it’s great that you are motivated to improve. The first year of University is a pretty big learning curve for most people at the best of times! The additional changes with Covid-19 have made this even more so for first year students in 2020. So be kind to yourself and know you are not alone with this. I hope these suggestions are helpful and hang in there – it will get easier.
All the best.