How to live like an on-campus student if you're off-campus

June 11, 2015
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One of the joys of distance education is the ability to consume knowledge without the pesky commute to campus, the laborious and maze-like job of finding parking, and the risk of damaging your eyes from bad lecture slides. But distance education also has its cons: no face-to-face contact, no sense of community or belongingness, no on-campus social groups, and no late-night study and binging on junk food in 24-hour computer rooms. That doesn’t mean a distance education student can’t recreate the pluses of on-campus university life, however. As Bruce Lee once said, “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own."

So if you’re one of these off-campus students, there are ways to still experience the uni life of your on-campus brethren - without the on-campus baggage.

Social media: digital natives' weapon of choice

Let's get the first and obvious one out of the way: social media study groups and communities. They’re free, easy to access, and allow students to interact and learn in more personalised and casual ways. Indeed, a 2015 study by McGraw-Hill Education found that more than 70 per cent of students feel the technology they used to study should be tailored as social feeds. As well as learning about the course content, you can share study tips and invite professors if you think their digital literacy skills get the nod of approval.

University student portals and hubs: be part of exclusive clubs

Ever since Apple released its first few iPhones, iPads and all its other iProducts, universities have caught on to the trend of naming their student portals using personal pronouns. Namely, My. Just look at myUNSW, myUniMelb, MyND Portal. OK, so it may not be every one of them (case in point: Sydney Student), but they do all have the common purpose of being central informational hubs for their students. For distance education hubs like Charles Sturt University, they go one step further to close that distance with services like online orientation, an Outreach Team, and social networking via UCROO. Make the most of these extra services to ensure that solitude is not the bane of your life.

Residential schools: real-life (sort of), short-term Hogwarts Schools

No matter how much technology is used to provide a campus atmosphere online, sometimes actually seeing lecturers and other students in the flesh is needed to stay sane. That's where residential schools come in—think of them as boarding schools for adults that enable you to mingle with classmates and lecturers, and roam libraries and hallways of campuses. Plus they're usually held before semester starts, so you don't have to worry about timetable clashes and losing procrastination time. If your budget is a bit tight, grants are also available at some residential schools.

Auto-reminders: continual contact with lecturers and students, no classes needed

While classes mean on-campus students get to see their supervisors and peers face-to-face, off-campus students can be proactive and set up auto-reminders (for example, weekly Google Calendar alerts) to catch up with lecturers and fellow students. It doesn't always have to be in-depth Skype sessions about research problems or structuring an essay; it can be a quick, one-question email about literature reviews. Heck, it can even be about the latest Home and Away episode if you've developed that kind of rapport with your lecturers. The main thing is to stay in touch and keep the flow of conversation going so your motivation doesn't stagnate.

Local public libraries: claim them as your campus libraries

Just because your university library may be 1,500km away, it doesn't mean your bedroom or home study office are the only places you can study. Take the plunge and go mark your territory at a local public library - you may be surprised to see that other students—from high schools, colleges, and universities—have the same idea. This is a good thing, as it replicates a university library and creates a more studious environment than your procrastination-friendly bedroom.

University clubs and extracurricular stuff

Go to any uni orientation week and you'll see a plethora of clubs and societies trying to capture the hearts and minds of students, whether first-year or veteran. As distance education students, while you may miss out on both the dazzling displays and actually getting memberships with on-campus societies, fear not. Look beyond universities. Consider groups and communities provided by your local councils or non-profit organisations; join your local council youth group or multicultural group to work with like-minded and diverse individuals, and gain some work experience in the meantime. Or you can go entrepreneurial and begin a local club or organisation based on your interests, using free resources such as Our Community.

Toby Vue

Toby is a Master of Arts (journalism) student at Charles Sturt University. He tweets at @tobyvue.

Image: Kyle Taylor, Flickr Creative Commons license