welcome to the world of virtual university

Jul 16, 2021

Welcome to the world of Virtual University

A typical week of virtual uni

Although it often feels a bit isolating, a typical week of ‘virtual’ or online university is much less frantic than attending university in person. Instead of travelling across town in peak-hour traffic, rushing from one end of campus to the other to get to class on time, and struggling to find a seat in the library during the post-lunch rush, university at home is much more calm and predictable. There are two main differences that contribute to this.

First, lectures are recorded by the lecturer and posted online at the beginning of the week for all students to watch and listen to in their own time. This has the benefit of enabling you to structure your day in a way that maximises productivity for you personally, instead of being subject to the whims of the university as to when lectures will be held. It also means that instead of frantically typing or writing notes as the lecturer speaks, trying to capture every bit of wisdom they impart for fear that it be covered in the final exam, you have much greater flexibility to rewatch the parts of the lecture that didn’t make sense initially and can allow yourself more time to understand complex concepts.

Second, tutorials are held over Zoom. Again, this affords students greater flexibility in the sense that tutorials can be attended from absolutely anywhere. Many tutors also successfully use the break-out rooms to foster collaboration between students within smaller groups, allowing you to still experience the collegiate atmosphere of a university tutorial. However, participating in tutorials over Zoom greatly reduces your ability to simply start a conversation with the person next to you and thus can restrict your capacity to naturally build friendships with your classmates over the course of the semester. This is why it’s more important than ever to make an effort to maintain a fun and fulfilling social life while at university. Many clubs and societies have been able to successfully transfer their in-person activities online, enabling students to meet new people and develop new interests from the comfort of their bedroom.

sitting exams from home

Another change to the university landscape has been the transition from written assessments to fully online examinations. While some of these exams are proctored through software such as ProctorU — which can bring about its own challenges through the all-too-common occurrence of technical difficulties — many of these exams are now fully open book, influencing the way university exams are constructed and thus the way they must be prepared for. In the past, a large swathe of exam study consisted of rote learning content and statistics, often to be simply regurgitated onto the page in the examination hall. For these exams, palm cards, practise questions, and enough dedicated study time was sufficient to produce a satisfactory — if not impressive — mark.

However, under the new open book format of examinations, students have access to the rich resources of the internet, including even the websites such as Canvas that house the very content of the course upon which they are being assessed. An obvious benefit of this format is that it is more reflective of the “real world” for which universities purport to prepare their students, where the internet sits comfortably in our pockets and palms, ready to be accessed during any work meeting or office problem. However, this change has forced university professors to write exams that can remain substantially challenging even with unlimited resource access — the problem of preparation has been placed firmly back into the hands of the students, for whom knowing the content is no longer enough to achieve success.

Now, students must not only know the content of their courses, but also know how to apply, refine, adapt, critique, mould, obscure, circumnavigate, and extend these theories to respond to the creative and unique challenges that are being put before them. The recent changes driven by NESA reflect the truth that universities have now adopted in a quick and unprecedented amount of time: critical thinking is the new frontier. Now, more than ever, it is vital that students in Year 12 are not only familiar but are indeed skilled at navigating the world of virtual assessments — online exams, online assessments, online weekly quizzes. While they may sit their HSC via pen and paper, the skills that are necessary for them to achieve top band results are the exact same skills that will enable them to find success in the new .com world of university assessment.

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