For most students, during university most of your sessions will be held in person. However, you may sometimes have to learn through recorded lectures and seminars. Additionally, you may need to collaborate online when doing group projects, and it's likely you will spend a good amount of time revising, researching, writing, and doing other activities off-campus.
The tabs of this guide will support you in studying online. The sections are organised as follows:
In some cases, you will need to learn from recordings of lectures. The first thing to point out is that working from recordings means you actually have a lot more choice about when and where to watch your lectures. Embrace the difference! It is not better or worse, just different.
Keep your concentration and focus on the content by making your workspace as free of distraction as possible. The fact that you can pause the recording means that you are more likely to respond to a phone call or a notification than you would be at a live lecture.
Don't watch back-to-back lectures. Take breaks after each one to stretch your legs and grab a drink or a snack. Staring at a computer for a long period of time can also strain your eyes so make sure you take breaks from looking at your screen to change your focal length and flex your eye muscles as well as your aching back.
There may be fewer opportunities to ask immediate questions, so give yourself a head-start and do a bit of preparation beforehand. There may be the opportunity to ask questions via the conversation box in Teams or Blackboard Collaborate. The best way is to read something related to the lecture topic before you watch the recording. Check to see if there are book chapters or articles that are relevant. Look back at your notes from the previous lecture, too – this lecture may build on that one.
When watching a lecture recording you are usually sat at a computer or using a smart device, and you have a world of information at your fingertips. If there are things you don't understand, write the question in your notes (perhaps with a big question mark before it so you can locate it easily afterwards). You can research anything you still don't understand afterwards.
You could pause the recording and immediately look it up, but this is not really recommended as it can interrupt your concentration and the lecturer may explain it later anyway. Only do this if you think your lack of understanding is interfering with your ability to understand other parts of the lecture.
Many modules will have chat forums set up within their Blackboard site. You can use this to ask questions of both your lecturer and other people on the module. This can be a great way of keeping in touch with your peers.
If you still do not understand something or have follow up questions about the topic of the lecture, your lecturer is happy to answer these. Do not feel you are 'bothering' them. Some may have designated online 'office hours' where they guarantee to be online and monitoring their emails or any forums they have set up. If you need to ask a question, go ahead and contact them.
If you don't revisit your notes within a day or two you will forget much of the content. Look over them and conduct activities to get you thinking actively rather than passively. For example, you might...
Whilst it is still fairly fresh in your mind, why not do some reading around the topic? Your reading list may have links to e-books, digitised chapters of books, or related journal articles.
Studying at home? This article includes helpful tips for distance learning, as does the short video below. For a fuller dive into 'netiquette,' wellbeing, and more, check out this brief e-book on studying online [PDF].
Online teaching sessions delivered live can be divided up into two types: those where you can talk (and perhaps share video via your webcam) and those where you can't.
In smaller group sessions, you may be given the option to enable your microphone and webcam and therefore be able to participate verbally. Some platforms have a hands up button that you can click on to show that you would like to contribute and whoever is hosting the session can give you the 'floor'.
You can also participate by typing into chat windows. These are the place to ask questions, share short thoughts and often links to web pages and documents. They are not automatically opened by some platforms, so look for the word 'chat' or an icon of a speech bubble or something similar.
For larger sessions, it becomes unwieldy if everyone has the ability to participate verbally and therefore this option may not be available. If this is the case, then your main way of contributing is via a chat window. As mentioned above, some platforms do not automatically display their chat windows so look out for the word 'chat' or an icon of a speech bubble or something similar.
The presenter may ask you for answers to particular questions which you need to type into the chat window, or you may want to use it to ask questions of the presenter.
If the presenter wants your opinion on something they could ask you to vote in a poll. These are usually anonymous.
Participate: It seems obvious but the whole point of a live session rather than a lecture recording is that you can get involved. So ask and answer questions and speak if you can.
Prepare: Make sure you do any pre-reading. Even if you are not given anything specific, it may be worth checking reading lists or going online to see what you can find out about the topic.
Wait: There is often a time-lag or the presenter may be concentrating on something else, so if you ask a question in the chat window don't worry if there is a slight delay in it being answered.
Watch back: Many live sessions are recorded meaning you can watch them again. This can be a better time for taking notes as you are not being required to participate.
Take notes: As mentioned above, this can be easiest when you are looking back at a recording of the teaching session. Watch this note-taking tutorial for tips (UoS login required).
To succeed when studying at home, it helps to think through your personal learning environment and adjustments to your study skills. Check out these resources for support:
‘Notetaking’ should actually be thought of as ‘note creating’ or 'notemaking'. This is because good notes are unique creations that represent your thinking, learning, understanding and questioning – all of which are active processes. In contrast, ‘taking notes’ that represent exactly what you have heard or have read are actually poor for learning as they are developed passively and this does not require much thought.
Try a method of notemaking you don’t usually use, perhaps because it normally takes too long – maybe something more visual like a mind map. Being able to pause recordings means you can have more time to keep up as you create these.
If you are taking notes digitally, consider including some screen shots of particularly important slides that you can then annotate.
Incorporate timestamps into your notes (this just means noting how far the video is through when a particular topic is discussed). This will make it easier to go back and re-watch specific parts of it if you need to later.
If you currently use the traditional pen and paper method for creating notes, then you might like to consider the powerful benefits of using digital devices for notemaking.
OneNote – Microsoft OneNote gathers users’ notes (handwritten or typed), drawings, screen clippings and audio commentaries. Notes can be shared with other OneNote users over the internet. OneNote is available for free to all University of Southampton students through Office 365 (see the 'Technology' tab section of this guide for more).
Google Keep – Google Keep allows users to make and save text notes, audio recordings, sketches, to-do-lists, and images. Keep is available on iOS and online. It is completely free to use and syncs across platforms; notes can easily be categorised, searched, and pinned.
Notability – If you want to combine the features of notemaking via keyboard apps with the inking capability of a sketch app, you might like to try Notability (available on the iPad, iPhone and Mac).
Evernote – Evernote allows you to create a note which can be a piece of formatted text, a full webpage or webpage except, a photograph, a voice memo, or a handwritten "ink" note. Notes can also have file attachments. Notes can be sorted into folders, tagged, annotated, edited, given comments, searched, and exported as part of a notebook.
Evernote supports a number of operating system platforms (including Mac, iOS, Chrome OS, Android, and Microsoft Windows) and also offers online synchronisation and backup services. It is available in a paid version or a more restricted free version.
Your course lecturers are here to help you. If you have any problems or issues with a module or assessment, then it is important to get in touch with your lecturer. You can often contact them directly via email, but do check your module's Blackboard page and any syllabus provided to verify your instructor's preferred contact method.
The University provides several tools that your lecturers may use to get in touch with you and other people in a module. If you cannot see these tools, this may be because your lecturer has not enabled them. They may have a good reason for this, but feel free to get in touch and ask them.
Blackboard Discussion Board
This works just like any other community forum or bulletin board. If enabled, it allows everyone to start a discussion thread that other students can then reply to. There are lots of ways this can be used in Blackboard, including structured discussions, Q&A and assessments. Students can create threads within each discussion forum which enables them to discuss topics with both their lecturers and their peers.
Live online teaching sessions (Panopto Live, Microsoft Teams, Blackboard Collaborate etc.)
Live teaching session are often interactive, allowing you to post chat messages, ask questions and participate in discussions. Tips on how to get the best out of these sessions can be found in the 'Learn Live' tab of this guide.
Blackboard's discussion boards (described above) are a great way of keeping in touch with your peers (the other people on your module). We also have a dedicated guide to collaborating online.
Some subjects run peer leading schemes where you can seek support and advice from fellow students. These sessions will often be in-person, but they may be supplemented by online Teams sessions, WhatsApp chat groups, or other means. Keep an eye out for what's available in your subject group!
As part of your studies or assessment, you may be required to work in groups online. This page covers everything you need to get started with online collaboration and the software to support it. Even if you do not have group work, this guide will help you keep connected.
When working with others, it is important to understand that everyone will have different responsibilities and needs. Some people may have care, childcare and work to balance. You will need to consider these responsibilities when you arrange your meetings to ensure you are inclusive to everyone in your group.
When working collaboratively it is useful to have online meetings where you can make decisions, divide tasks and share progress. When choosing the style of meetings you want to use, you will need to decide between synchronous meetings and/or asynchronous meetings.
When deciding which to choose, you will need to consider everyone's availability. If you cannot find a time everyone is available, you may need to have your meeting asynchronously. The technology you choose will also depend on the equipment everyone has available. For example, you cannot use FaceTime unless everyone has an Apple product.
The term 'asynchronous meeting' means people won't attend at the same time, basically: everyone will contribute at different times. Other students in your group may have a preference for these kinds of asynchronous meetings, especially if they have work or caring commitments.
Alternative technologies such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and iMessage also support asynchronous meetings or conversations, but ensure everyone in your group has access to these and is comfortable using them before straying from options offered directly by the university.
The Blackboard discussion board is an example of an asynchronous conversation platform. A user may post a new thread (usually a question or statement calling for a response), and other users may then reply to that thread, creating a discussion. Find out more from this using a blackboard discussion board guide.
'Synchronous meetings' mean you will all be logged in at the same time. As above, we would recommend Office 365 Teams because it is available to all University of Southampton students and staff.
To make the most of synchronous meetings, everyone will need speakers and/or headphones and a microphone. We recommend sharing webcams to make communication feel more natural and human.
Some of your modules may start using Blackboard Collaborate which is a real-time video conferencing tool integrated into every Blackboard course that lets you add files, share applications, and use a virtual whiteboard to interact. Collaborate opens right in your Chrome or Firefox browser, so you don’t have to install any software to join a session. It will work on phones and tablets without needing an additional app.
Your university Outlook account is the easiest way to schedule for many people: just open the calendar, then create an event invitation with the Teams meeting option selected. You can also create meetings directly inside the calendar in Teams.
However, to find a time that everyone is free, you can also explore helpful tools such as Calendly or Doodle that let you compare schedules. They are designed to help everyone choose a convenient time, without the need for multiple messages or emails.
Just as with face to face collaboration, it is really important to communicate effectively, professionally and with respect. You should ensure everyone in your group has a role, and takes responsibility for doing what is required. When decisions are made, you should record them and everyone in the group should stick to them. This Skills for Study module provides further information on managing group work and presentations (UoS log-in required).
If you are working on a project together, it can help to have a common space where you can all share files or work at the same time. We would recommend using Office 365 Teams which can be used on computers or mobile devices and is available to all University of Southampton students and staff; viewing and editing permissions on files can be shared via OneDrive.
As you settle in to studying and working online, it is important to remember that you still need to maintain your academic integrity at all times. It may be tempting (and all too easy) to share a copy of part or all of your work to help another student who tells you that that they are struggling with the same assignment but this would be considered as collusion not collaborating. See our 'Academic Integrity Online' tab for further advice and guidance.
You don't need to visit the library physically to take advantage of its wide range of resources. When learning online, you can access e-books, journal articles, and other useful resources from your own device.
The library has produced a short video on accessing resources away from campus:
You can use the university's VPN service, Global Protect, for off-campus access to online resources. Visit the iSolutions help guide on installing the VPN to get started.
If you are used to studying on campus, you may need to get your computer ready for studying at home. This page will provide a few essential tips but, more importantly, signpost you to information and support provided by iSolutions.
A wide range of software is available for working away from campus. You can find a full list of software and installation instructions on the iSolutions 'Software for students' page.
Office 365 includes essential apps for your studies, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneDrive, Teams, and more. These are free to UoS students and staff, so check out the iSolutions Office 365 page for details.
Whenever you are taking part in an online lecture/seminar, it is important you get your device ready beforehand.
You may have to download specific software, so check any information you have been sent beforehand. You may have to go to an app store to join with a mobile device.
Do instructions to join include a link to somewhere you can test your device? If so, this will allow you to check you can hear and see everything OK well before you have to do it for real.
Make sure the device you are using has speakers or that you can attach headphones. Check these are enabled and you have not muted them.
Whilst it is often possible to follow a teaching session on your phone, you may find it harder to type into chat windows – so see if you can get access to a laptop or a tablet.
If you use an online calendar, add the teaching session in as an event and put the link you are sent into the location or the notes section.
As you settle in to studying and working online it is important to remember that you still need to adhere to the University's Academic Integrity regulations to ensure that your academic results remain accurate and meaningful.
The resources on this page are provided to help you work with integrity in situations where you are studying and being assessed online.
The advice on our what is academic integrity guide is still relevant when you are completing your studies online. It explains what are breaches of academic integrity and shows you the steps you can take to avoid making them.
This video gives you a quick overview of referencing online sources such as e-books, online journals and webpages. You can get more detailed advice and examples of how to cite and reference sources in your work from our citing and referencing guide.
A text-only version of the contents of the video is available: Referencing and citing online sources [WORD]
Sources of help, support and guidance remain open and accessible for you online and you can contact the following for advice on all aspects of academic integrity:
See the Academic Integrity (AI) Regulations document to find out more about academic integrity, good practice and your responsibilities.
The SUSU 'Academic Support' site has guides to help you understand what to expect should an allegation of an academic integrity breach arise.
'Skills for studying online'. Our pages are a derivative of Remote learning SkillsGuide available at https://libguides.hull.ac.uk/remote/home licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. We thank the generosity of the University of Hull Library for providing a CC BY-NC-SA licence and under the terms provide the same licence for our pages.