Online learning.
I’ve done it before.
You’ve done it before.
And at UoA, you’ll do it some more.

Okay, actually, that isn’t entirely true – the University of Auckland, for one, holds all their classes in person nowadays and is probably hoping to keep it that way – but you certainly can’t escape the concept of online learning in some form over your university career. Your assignments will be on our e-learning platform (called Canvas); you’ll communicate with your classmates, tutors, or lecturers online; you’ll get assigned readings online; and so much more.

Unless your mental willpower and physical immune system matches that of the divine (and mine doesn’t!), you will almost certainly find yourself watching a lecture online at some point too.

It’s becoming so important to stay on top of your technology, so here’s an assortment of various tech tips I’ve picked up by this point in the year:

Keeping your things organized  

Storing all your files in your Downloads folder is great, but having this giant pile of hundreds of documents just sitting there isn’t great for your organization. Or your productivity. Or just, you know, having your files app look pretty.

Create separate folders for all your work: it takes only a few seconds, but it’ll save you far more in the long run – especially when you don’t have to scroll around looking for that essay.

Name your files well: assignment1.pdf doesn’t tell anyone much, and once we get to assignment1_v27_draft_actual-final.pdf, all bets are off. Including a short name for your work – plus maybe your actual name or student ID – helps your markers tell your submissions apart, and it’ll help you avoid accidentally submitting an older version of an assignment (or the wrong assignment file entirely!).

Confession: this document is currently named “blog2.docx” in my files, but I promise I’ll fix that…

Keep backups of your stuff! This doesn’t just apply to your uni work, but rather everything. E-very-thing. From your 2000 word essay to your 2000 photos of your cat, and whatever lies in between.
One of the things you can’t ever avoid is having a device randomly break on you. Total technical failures aren’t common, but nobody is immune: it’s happened to me, and I’ve seen other people lose months of work a week before the deadline. You don’t want that to be you.

If you’re using OneDrive (or Google Drive, or iCloud) for all your files, you’re already set: your stuff is sitting safely in some servers far, far away. If you’re not, and you don’t have some other backup solution sorted, then perhaps consider setting it up. At UoA, as a bonus, a terabyte of OneDrive storage is free! Woohoo!

Make good use of your browser’s organising functions: If 99% of what you do is on a browser – be it Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Edge, Brave, Vivaldi, we could go on… – it can help you! Stuff those fifty tabs for this one assignment into a tab group. Save that reading you need to do into a reading list. Keep your references bookmarked to look at later. There’s a whole heap of powerful organization features in almost all modern browsers, so be sure to use them.

Useful tools

Let’s just quickly get the disclaimer out of the way here: pen and paper is awesome. You don’t and shouldn’t need to rely on digital tools to get things done, but they can be handy. For first year university, there’s a couple key ones:

Find a good notetaking app! Beyond the simple giant-google-or-word-doc approach, a whole heap of software exists for the dedicated purpose of notetaking. Some common ones you’ll see around include:

  • OneNote, which I mostly use, is a good jack of all trades, and is cross platform (so it should work on all of your devices). You can easily categorize your notes into classes, lectures, or whatever other system you want, and type or handwrite to your heart’s desire.
  • Notion has some really powerful tools that others lack, especially if you like typing things up. On top of all the normal things you’d expect, you can build complex layouts with fancy things like subpages, databases, dynamic tables, embeds, and much more – I’d argue this is the tech equivalent of those super-fancy handwritten notes you see on social media sometimes.
  • GoodNotes and Notability are perfect and simple, with super clean interfaces and great drawing tools for those of you with tablets. You’re going to need Apple devices here, though.

Make the most of focus modes! To keep distractions where they should be – away – during your productivity time, most devices nowadays have focus modes. You can put your phone out of reach, but a focus mode on your laptop can also help keep your notifications hidden in whatever way you like, so long as you take the time to set them up.

Use Panopto wisely – it’s the University’s lecture video platform, but it’s not just a simple video playing tool! Captions and categories are usually available (albeit not always with the best accuracy), and I find it faster and easier to search or skim through the transcript of a lecture rather than painstakingly watching through parts of it. This is especially handy if you’re ever looking for that one small segment of relevant information the day of an assignment deadline, or with five minutes left on the clock in your open-book exam.

Get a good calendar and tasks app; there’s probably one built into whatever device you’re using. I like Google Tasks – anything you put on there (due dates and things) will automatically show up on Google Calendar alongside your other plans – but Apple’s Reminders works just as well. Having a to-do list easily viewable is crucial to managing your time and expectations, and is a spectacular reference for those 2am oh-no-I-have-so-much-to-do realizations.

Speaking of which, this leads us into…

Staying motivated

It can be hard to keep on top of everything you’ve got to do during university, especially when you’re trying to engage with everything through a screen. I, for one, find it way easier to click off a tab than it is to physically walk out of a class – and I think most people would agree.

Arguably, the biggest difficulty of e-learning is motivation, so do your best to keep your focus up! Take breaks where you need to (maybe don’t watch several hours of straight lectures), resist that urge to click away when working, and keep your digital workspace in a way that supports – rather than detracts – from your productivity.

And be sure to take some time away from your device each day to enjoy the world and see the sights, even if it’s just a rainy Auckland day; it’ll help keep your headspace fresh 😊.