Does working online have any advantages?

Working online has been a brand new experience. And we put a lot of thought and effort into how to make it work in the ways that we – as teachers – thought would provide the most supportive and engaging student experience. But has it worked?

So after several weeks of working together, and once we all knew each other quite well, we used our Check In within various modules to ask the students about what they think is working well – and what isn’t. And in our largest module, we replied to each and every Check In to ask the students if they had any ideas to combat some of the difficulties that they were reporting.

So in this post, let’s focus on what the students reported as the advantages to working online. We’ve already covered their feedback on Basecamp, so here we’ll think more generally about working online.

Advantages to online working

Many students focussed on the logistics of working online. Not having to travel or commute to campus saves students time and money. Slightly worryingly, many students reported that without wasting time on travel, they were able to dedicate more time to work – I might have preferred to hear that this saved time was being enjoyed or used to promote wellbeing – but at least the time saved was being appreciated. However, while some students just used the time to do more work, some appreciated that the extra time helped them work more efficiently.

The timetable is far more flexible and there is no travel time so more time is available for work

The advantage would be saving your commute time  to use it effectively to manage your workload.

I think the advantage of working online is you can save time commuting to campus and use that time more wisely

It encourages me to manage my time and helps me priorities tasks effectively

And a few students were using this time saved to work on their learning fitness.

flexible schedule, so we can take breaks and naps whenever we feel overwhelmed by the workload

There was also a sense that removing the need for travel made the learning experience more equitable – as students with a tighter budget would inevitably end up living further away from campus and would therefore experience the biggest travel burden. And students who may not be able to travel internationally would have the option to study in the same way as students that have travelled.

Students who live far from campus are able to save time

No geographical gap – people can choose to be wherever they want

Online learning is more timezone friendly

And still thinking about time, many students thought about the freedom of working online in terms of having more control of their own time.

Since we have the freedom to watch the lectures whenever we want, it helps us develop time management and self-study skills

Organising meetings is much easier and can be done at short notice as people’s schedules are more flexible

People can (for the most part) decide when they are/aren’t going to be working

Thinking more about freedom and comfort, many students mentioned being able to work from the comfort of their own environment – both being physically more comfortable, and having easier access to food and drink.

It’s nice to work in our own environment

You are in your own space and more likely to be at comfort. 

It’s more comfortable to be working in your own space at your own time

Less tiring as we can be in the comfort of our room

Many students appreciated being able to work at their own pace – taking more time where it is most needed.

I can learn at my own pace

I have also been able to do classes at my own pace, which has helped me fully understand the content before moving on to the next task

The accessibility of online learning was also an advantage – with materials being available for review at any time, and more dedicated recording or noting of discussions. Our virtual classroom also meant that all materials were easily navigable and well organised.

There is a permanent record of almost all correspondence/activity/discussion

It is easy to review the session

Resources are available at any time

You have all your resources available in one place

Online work can also be more easily documented for access later

Some students felt they had more privacy and space to think online.

There is private space to think about questions

Working online can have more private spaces especially for self-research

Some students felt that the online environment made them more likely to ask questions or interact in class, as it was easier to do this in different ways.

Working online prompts more in-class questions – you don’t have to physically raise your hand and speak in a classroom of people but instead you could just pop it in the chat

And some students felt that being separated from other students had other advantages.

You are able to work more efficiently when needing to complete tasks on your own.

However, many students found new opportunities and ways to communicate with each other.

It is easier for us to be researching something and discussing different sources at the same time while working online rather than being on campus and everyone working on one computer or each person working on a different computer which makes communication difficult

Develop skills using technology and working collaboratively online

It is exciting to communicate with people all around the globe

Finding alternative ways for how to communicate, display information, and collaborate develops our creative abilities.

Some students found that the barriers to communication inherent in working online had advantages.

Because being in breakout rooms online can be a little awkward, and because it sometimes is hard to speak in a group (cutting each other off, etc.) we might become more focused. As it is less tempting to small talk, share food, and chat, we might focus more on the task.

But as more effort needs to be put in to make sure everyone is included, this also improves group working skills.

And students felt that learning to work online is itself a skill that they valued.

It teaches us how to work independently which is an essential skill

Online tools can be proven to be useful so we can expand our online navigation skills

It’s made me far more adept at using new software and remote working. It’s also made me more independent.

And finally some students commented on the opportunities to really exploit features of working online to enhance their work.

It has its unique interaction, e.g. people can use virtual backgrounds and collaborative space to create together.

Interested to know more?

Find out more about Change Makers online with the following posts:

The Virtual Classroom – come on a tour of our virtual classroom

Inclusivity and Hospitality – how are we welcoming students to our virtual classroom and addressing inclusivity online

The Rolling 24 Hour Class – how have we adapted the concept of the class to engage students in every time zone

The Check In – using a weekly reflective question to enhance learning, monitor attendance and engagement and target welfare checking

Change Makers (More Than A) Handbook – creating a handbook that is accessible and encourages students to read more about their learning

Breaking Down the Barriers to Online Engagement – what challenges have emerged and how have we tackled them so far

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